RMS Republic (1903)

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RMS Republic.jpg
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: Republic ex-Columbus
Operator: Oceanic Steam Navigation Company d/b/a White Star Line
Builder: Harland and Wolff Shipyards
Yard number: 345
Launched: 26 February 1903
Christened: Columbus
Completed: 12 September 1903
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 (7.3 m)
Propulsion: twin propeller
Speed: 16 knots (30 km/h)
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. Known as the "Millionaires' Ship" on account of the number of well-known and immensely rich Americans who traveled by her,[1] she was one of the largest and most luxurious liners afloat, though she was designed more for safety and sturdiness rather than beauty.[dubious ]


White Star acquisition[edit]

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. She was launched on 26 February 1903 and made her maiden voyage in October 1903 from Liverpool to Boston.[2] After two voyages with Dominion, she was sold to White Star and renamed Republic. (White Star's original Republic of 1872 had been sold over a decade earlier.)

Collision with SS Florida[edit]

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 William 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 with wife and children, General Brayton C. Ives, St. Louis millionaire Samuel Cupples, and Mildred Montague, Countess Pasolini. Travelling in first class were also Mr. Leonard L. McMurray, who, in 1915, would survive the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania, and Mrs. Bessie Armstead 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 26. On Florida, three crewmen were also killed when the bow was crushed back to a collision bulkhead.[3] Six people died in total.

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.[4] Florida came about to rescue Republic's complement, and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service cutter Gresham[5] 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.

At the time of Republic's sinking, ocean liners were not required to have a full capacity of lifeboats for their passengers, officers and crew. It was believed that on the busy North Atlantic route assistance from at least one ship would be ever-present, and lifeboats would only be needed to ferry all aboard to their rescue vessels and back until everyone was safely evacuated. This scenario fortunately played out flawlessly during the ship's sinking, and the six people who did die were lost in the collision, not the sinking. However, another White Star Liner, RMS Titanic would founder on her maiden voyage in 1912; she too did not carry enough lifeboats for all aboard, and as a result only 711 survived, about 32 percent of those on board. The closest ship, RMS Carpathia did not arrive until four hours later, much longer than anyone could have expected such a rescue to take.

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.[6] 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.[7][8] All the remaining crew were evacuated before she sank.

Rumoured cargo[edit]

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[9] in American gold coins to be used as payroll for the US Navy's Great White Fleet.[7][10] Another theory that she was carrying money for the relief effort for the 1908 earthquake in Messina, Italy.[11] 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.[8] Captain Bayerle has recently released his book, The Tsar's Treasure,[12] which supports both the $3 million Russian gold shipment and an actual $800,000 US Government in-coin currency shipment, as well as other valuable cargoes. 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[who?] 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.[13]


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[7][8] at 40°26′0″N 69°46′0″W / 40.43333°N 69.76667°W / 40.43333; -69.76667 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[edit]

In 2011, Captain Bayerle's exclusive salvage rights to the wreck were reconfirmed by the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts.[14] A re-survey of the vessel was performed during 2012 and MVSHQ is preparing for a major recovery effort during summer months of 2015-2017. A "section lift" of the vessel had been planned but recent surveys (2009) have determined that the ship is in such fragile condition that she would break up under any strain. Instead, Bayerle will excavate the section of the ship which contains the specie room.[15] In 2013, MVSHQ, Inc. retained Etoile Blanc Consulting, LLC to manage investment and media properties related to the anticipated RMS Republic recovery.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Republic and The Delhi, Daily Telegraph of London, Tuesday April 16, 1912. (In regard to the loss of RMS Titanic.)
  2. ^ Dunn, Laurence (1964). Famous Liners of the Past Belfast Built. London: Adlard Coles. pp. 70–71. 
  3. ^ Ship Wrecks of New England - SS Republic
  4. ^ "Rescue at Sea". The American Experience. PBS. Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  5. ^ Gresham, 1896
  6. ^ TITANIC - A Voyage of Discovery (allships)
  7. ^ a b c Pickford, Nigel (1999). Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-7922-7472-5. 
  8. ^ a b c "Treasure of the RMS Republic". New York: MVSHQ, Inc. 2009. Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
  9. ^ CONNOLLY, James B. (1945). Sea Borne - Thirty Years Avoyaging. Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc. ISBN 978-1406768947. 
  10. ^ RMS Republic - The First Theory
  11. ^ RMS Republic - The Second Theory
  12. ^ Bayerle, Martin (2013). The Tsar’s Treasure. Miami Beach, FL: Barnburner Books LLC. ISBN 978-0-9888760-0-2. 
  13. ^ The RMS Republic Forums :: View topic - The Most Valuable Treasure Recovery? A Brief History
  14. ^ RMS Republic - Legal
  15. ^ The RMS Republic Forums :: View topic - Raising the Republic!
  16. ^ Etoile Blanc Consulting, LLC website

External links[edit]