Lost Gold: The S.S. Republic

Estimated Value: $75,000,000 – $180,000,000 (75 – 180 Million Dollars)

Shipwreck

The SS Republic sidewheel steamer sinking

When the sidewheel steamer SS Republic left New York in October of 1865, she was carrying 62 passengers and a cargo of $400,000 (1865 face value) in gold and silver coins. She was headed for New Orleans where the money would be used to help pay for reconstruction of the South after the Civil War.

On the fifth day of her voyage, a hurricane off the coast of Georgia proved too strong for the ship. By evening, her hull was leaking so badly that the fire in the boiler was extinguished. She stalled in heavy seas, taking on water faster than her crew and passengers could bail. The Republic sank beneath the waves.

While most of the passengers were able to abandon ship, the precious cargo of Gold and Silver Coins plunged to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean where they remained until…

Rediscovery

In the summer of 2003 Odyssey Marine Exploration, a commercial treasure hunting company out of Tampa, Florida, discovered the wreck of the SS Republic 1700 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean approximately 100 miles off the Georgia coast.

Odyssey was awarded title and ownership to the shipwreck and it’s cargo, including the hull, artifacts and all the gold and silver coins that were on board when she sank.

Search and Recovery

A high-res side scan image of the SS Republic site.
A high-res side scan image of the SS Republic site.
The Bell from the wreck of the ss republic seen at the bottom of the atlantic ocean
The ship’s bell was recovered in October 2003.

The discovery of the SS Republic wasn’t just dumb luck, it took 12 years and thousands of man hours to finally pinpoint the wreck site.

Like a scene stolen from a Clive Cussler Novel, the search area was systematically narrowed down using information from old newspapers, survivors reports, ships’ logs and computer simulations.

The resulting data predicted potential locations for the ship’s sinking, based on combinations of surface current speed, effect of winds upon the ship’s movement after the engine failed, and effects of wind and current upon the movement of the ship’s boats and raft after they cast off.

All the research paid off; In July 2003, side scan sonar revealed a promising target, an initial video inspection was conducted which revealed a sidewheel partially buried by sediment, the ship’s rudder sheathed in copper, and a large field of artifacts and bottles, including preserved bottles of fruit or other food with corks still intact.

The ship’s bell was eventually located and recovered to positively identify the shipwreck as that of the SS Republic.

And there was much rejoicing!

COINS AND ARTIFACTS

Coins recovered from the SS Republic shipwreck site. Each coin is picked up individually to avoid marring the surface.

To date more than 51,000 coins have been recovered from the wreck including $20.00 Double Eagles, $10.00 Eagles, Half Dollars and Quarter Dollars. The retail value of coins recovered so far is expected to exceed $75 million dollars.

The collection includes many of the finest examples of United States gold and silver coins from the period. To see samples check out featured coins from the SS Republic on Odyssey’s website.

In addition to the coins, approximately 14,000 artifacts have been recovered from the SS Republic, literally bringing the past to life. Many artifacts and rare items of cargo will be kept in Odyssey’s permanent collection for display and study.

The search and recovery effort was depicted in a National Geographic Society TV documentary called Civil War Gold. There is also a book about the search and recovery –  Lost Gold of the Republic.

Discovery Channel is making an 11-part series about Odyssey and their salvage operations that will air sometime in 2009 – think “Deadliest Catch” but with Gold instead of Crabs as the prize. You know I’ll be watching!

Resources

View Pictures and Video Clips of the search for and the archaeological excavation of the SS Republic on Odyssey’s official website (NOTE: You’ll be required to create an account before you can view the media).

As part of the pre-disturbance survey, the Odyssey team created a detailed photomosaic. Small areas of the shipwreck site were photographed and then the individual images were ‘stitched’ together. For a comprehensive view of the SS Republic photomosaic please click on the following link: “SS Republic Photomosaic“, courtesy of National Geographic Magazine.

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About the Author

CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
CM Burns
CM Burns
CM Burns has been a music video director, a cameraman for Nat Geo, has recorded ancient Tibetan chants in India and swum with whales in Baja, California. Currently living in the Philippines you will find him anywhere Adventure happens.
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