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Arabella Flagg and her 14-year-old brother, Jack, are left orphaned and penniless when their grandfather dies in Boston in 1849. Determined to make his own fortune, Jack stows away aboard a ship bound for the California gold rush. He is followed by the family's very proper butler, Eric Griffin, who becomes the ship's cook. Also aboard is the nefarious Judge Higgins, a thief with a disguise for every imaginable crooked caper. As the ship approaches San Francisco, the judge steals the map of a gold mine from Quentin Bartlett, a Shakespearean actor, and sneaks ashore in the only lifeboat. Griffin, Jack, and Bartlett take pursuit and recover the map, only to find it riddled with bullet holes. Nevertheless, they strike a rich gold deposit but lose the gold in a river when the judge, disguised as a Chinese coolie, tries to steal it from them. Arabella arrives in San Francisco to look for Jack and takes a job as a dancehall singer. Griffin, now nicknamed "Bullwhip" because he accidentally knocked unconscious the town bully, "Mountain Ox," decides to enter a boxing match to earn some money. Encouraged by kisses from Arabella, Griffin wins the prize money and proposes to Arabella. The judge, disguised as a bookkeeper, tries to steal the money, but he is caught by the spectators and forced to lock himself in jail to avoid being lynched.