Ships 2


Ships 3


Treasure Ship Republic Sunk In 1909 Collision

By James Donahue

In the early hours of January 23, 1909, the White Star liner Republic, steaming from New York to the Mediterranean under the command of Captain William Sealby, ran into heavy fog off Nantucket Island. The steamer, laden with 742 passengers and crew, was sunk after it was struck broadside by the Italian liner Florida.

The wreck is of special interest to marine historians because the Republic was carrying  the new Marconi wireless telegraph system and its radio operator, Jack Binns, thus made the first recorded CQD distress call from a sinking ship.

The Republic was a well-made 570-foot steamship equipped with water-tight bulkheads so it took several hours before it sank. Passengers were rescued by the Florida, which  came about to assist, the U. S. Coast Guard cutter Gresham, and the White Star liner Baltic, which arrived later in the day.

There were casualties, however. Two passengers asleep in their cabins on Republic were crushed to death when the Florida’s bow sliced into the side of the steamer. Killed instantly were Mary Lynch and W. J. Mooney. Mary’s husband, Eugene Lynch was critically hurt and died of his injuries at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn a few days later.

Three crewmen on the Florida also died when the bow of that ship was crushed back into a collision bulkhead. The Florida was carrying a full complement of immigrants as passengers, but did not sink.

Among the survivors of the Republic disaster was Leonard L. McMurray who, in 1915, also survived the historic sinking of the Lusitania of the English coast.

The engine and boiler room on the Republic were the first to flood so the vessel was immediately without power. The ship was listing as the passengers were evacuated. Captain Sealby and a skeleton crew remained on board Republic while Coast Guardsmen from the Gresham attempted to save the steamer. They used collision mats to stem the flooding and attempted to take the listing vessel under tow into New York.

 In spite of the efforts, the Republic sank 39 hours after the crash. In that day it was the largest ship to have ever sunk anywhere.

There have been stories that the Republic was carrying gold and other valuables when it sank. Some say there were gold coins to be used as payroll for the US Navy’s Great White Fleet. Another story was that she carried money for the relief effort for the 1908 earthquake in Messina, Italy. And another story was that the ship carried $3 million in gold coins as part of a loan to the Imperial Russian government. If any of the stories were true, the wreck could be one of the largest salvage treasures of all time, still waiting to be recovered.

The wreck was located by Captain Martin Bayerle in 1981. It lies upright about 50 miles south of Nantucket Island in about 270 feet of water. Salvage expeditions to date have failed to locate any gold.

The Republic was launched in 1903 as the Columbus for the International Mercantile Marine’s Dominion Line. After only two voyages she was sold to the White Star Line and given the name Republic.

The Florida, built in 1905, was much smaller than the Republic at just 381 feet. It changed owners and was renamed Cavour in 1911. She sank in a collision with the Italian Auxiliary Cruiser Caprera  near Armevilla on December 12, 1917.