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VIDEO: 1888 wreck rediscovered

A 202-foot steamship that sank in 1888 in the shadow of where San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge now stands was recently rediscovered and should shed new light on American society during the Gold Rush.

The City of Chester had just left San Francisco and was headed north to Eureka, Calif., with 90 passengers Aug. 22, 1888, when it collided with the steamer Oceanic, which was arriving from Asia, at about 10 a.m. The City of Chester sank in six minutes; 16 people aboard the ship died.

The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, NOAA’s predecessor agency, located the wreck later that year during a routine charting survey.

Last May, while San Francisco Bay was preparing for the America’s Cup, a sweep for hazards that involved the use of sonar identified the City of Chester in 200 feet about a quarter-mile from the Golden Gate Bridge. NOAA presented its findings last Wednesday after months of sorting through data and sonar imagery, according to the agency announcement.

Local historians are using news of the wreck to highlight the bigotry toward Chinese immigrants that was rampant at the time. James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Marine Sanctuaries, told NBC Bay Area News that the collision was initially blamed on the passengers and crew of the Oceanic, which was carrying Chinese immigrants.

Click play for a news report on the shipwreck.

Only later was it revealed that the Chester was at fault — the captain turned into the Oceanic’s course — and that the Chinese crew worked to save the lives of those on board.

“The Chinese crew saved a lot of lives,” Delgado told NBC. “They pulled people onto their boats. If not for them, more people would have died.”