RMS Republic (1903)

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Career (United Kingdom) UK Civil Ensign White Star Line Ensign
Name: Republic ex-Columbus
Operator: Oceanic Steam Navigation Company d/b/a White Star Line
Builder: Harland and Wolff Shipyards
Yard number: 345
Launched: February, 1903
Christened: Columbus
Fate: Sunk after 23 January 1909 collision with SS Florida on 24 January 1909. She remained afloat for 39 hours after the collision.
General characteristics
Tonnage: 15,400 tons
Length: 570.0 ft (173.7 m)
Beam: 67.8 ft (20.7 m)
Draft: 34 ft 1 in (10.39 m) .
Depth of hold: 24 ft
Propulsion: twin propeller
Speed: 16 knots
Capacity: 2,830 passengers
Crew: 300

RMS Republic was a steam-powered ocean liner built in 1903 by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, and lost at sea in a collision six years later while sailing for the White Star Line. A CQD distress call was issued on the new Marconi radio device, the first recorded, resulting in the saving of around 1200 lives. At the time, she was one of the largest and most luxurious liners afloat, though she was designed more for safety and sturdiness rather than beauty.


White Star acquisition

The ship was originally built in Belfast, Northern Ireland for the International Mercantile Marine's Dominion Line (a sister company to the White Star Line) and was named SS Columbus. After two voyages with Dominion, she was sold to White Star and renamed Republic (the White Star's original Republic of 1872 had been sold over a decade earlier).

Collision with SS Florida

File:SS Florida.jpg
Damage to the bow of the SS Florida following the 1909 collision with the Republic. Note how the deck was pushed down into the hull

In early morning of 23 January 1909, while sailing from New York City to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports with 742 passengers and crew and Captain Inman Sealby (1862–1942) in command, Republic entered a thick fog off the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Amongst the passengers were plenty of illustrious people such as Mrs. Sophie Curtis, wife of George M. Curtis, Mrs. Mary Severance, wife of Cordenio A. Severance, Professor John M. Coulter, and Lady Katherine Van Loo. Travelling in first class were also Mr. Leonard L. McMurray, who, in 1915, would survive the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania, and Mrs. John T. Davis, daughter-in-law of senator Henry G. Davis of West Virginia with two children.

The steamer reduced speed and regularly signalled its presence by whistle. At 5:47 a.m., another whistle was heard and the Republic's engines were ordered to full reverse, and the helm put "hard-a-port". Out of the fog, the Lloyd Italiano liner SS Florida appeared and hit Republic amidships, at about a right angle. Two passengers asleep in their cabins on Republic were killed when Florida's bow sliced into her, including liquor wholesale manager Eugene Lynch's wife Mary and banker W. J. Mooney. Eugene Lynch was critically injured and died as a result of his injuries at Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn, January 26th. On Florida, three crewmen were also killed when the bow was crushed back to a collision bulkhead.[1]

The engine and boiler rooms on Republic began to flood, and the ship listed. Captain Sealby led the crew in calmly organizing the passengers on deck for evacuation. Republic was equipped with the new Marconi wireless telegraph system, and became the first ship in history to issue a CQD distress signal, sent by Jack R. Binns.[2] Florida came about to rescue Republic's complement, and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Gresham[3] responded to the distress signal as well. Passengers were distributed between the two ships, with Florida taking the bulk of them, but with 900 Italian immigrants already on board, this left the ship dangerously overloaded.

The White Star liner Baltic, commanded by Captain J. B. Ranson, also responded to the CQD call, but due to the persistent fog, it was not until the evening that Baltic was able to locate the drifting Republic. Once on-scene, the rescued passengers were transferred from Gresham and Florida to Baltic. Because of the damage to Florida, that ship's immigrant passengers were also transferred to Baltic, but a riot nearly broke out when they had to wait until first-class Republic passengers were transferred. Once everyone was on board, Baltic sailed for New York.

File:RMS Republic sinking.jpg
The Republic sinking by the stern after having been hit by the Lloyd Italiano liner Florida.

Captain Sealby and a skeleton crew remained on board Republic to make an effort to save her. Crewmen from the Gresham tried using collision mats to stem the flooding, but to no avail.[4] By this time the steamers New York and Lucania (from Cunard) had also arrived, and waited while an attempt was made by Gresham to take Republic under tow. This effort, too was futile, and on 24 January, Republic sank. At 15,378 tons, she was the largest ship to have sunk up to that time.[5][6] All the remaining crew were evacuated before she sank.

Rumoured cargo

There are many rumours that the Republic was carrying gold and/or other valuables when she went down. One rumour is that she was carrying gold worth $250,000–$265,000 in American gold coins to be used as payroll for the US Navy's Great White Fleet.[5][7] Another theory is that she was carrying money for the relief effort for the 1908 earthquake in Messina, Italy.[8] A third theory, put forward by Captain Martin Bayerle, is that she was carrying $3,000,000 in gold coins as part of a loan to the Imperial Russian government.[9] All of these values, of course, are in 1909 dollars when gold was $20 per ounce. Today, the coin values would bring the recovery to at least many hundreds of millions of dollars, and some experts have estimated that the recovery (with proper marketing of the recovered coins) could approach $5 billion or more, making the Republic salvage the largest treasure recovery of all time.[10]


The wreck of the Republic was found by Captain Martin Bayerle in 1981. She lies upright approximately 50 miles (80 km) south of Nantucket Island[5][9] at 40°26′0″N 69°46′0″W / 40.433333°N 69.766667°W / 40.433333; -69.766667 in approximately 270 feet (82 m) of water. Two salvage expeditions in the 1980s attempted to locate the gold, but were unsuccessful. However, the ship contains many other treasures. In addition to the gold, many ship and personal artefacts remain. To date, however, none of the rumoured Tsar's treasure has been found.

The wreckage of the SS Andrea Doria, another liner sunk as the result of a collision with a ship, lies a few miles to the northwest.

The salvage continues

In 2005, Captain Bayerle's exclusive salvage rights to the wreck were reconfirmed by the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts.[11] a re-survey of the vessel is planned for 2009 followed by a major salvage for the summer of 2010. A "section lift" of the vessel is planned.[12]

See also


External links

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