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RMS Republic (1903)

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United Kingdom
  • Columbus (1903)
  • Republic (1903–1909)
  • British & North Atlantic Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. (1903)
  • Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (1903–1909)
Port of registryLiverpool
BuilderHarland and Wolff, Belfast
Yard number345
Launched26 February 1903
Completed12 September 1903
FateSunk after collision with SS Florida on 24 January 1909
General characteristics
Tonnage15,400 gross register tons
Length570.0 ft (173.7 m)
Beam67.8 ft (20.7 m)
Draft34 ft 1 in (10.39 m) .
Depth of hold24 ft (7.3 m)
PropulsionTwin propeller
Speed16 knots (30 km/h)
Capacity2,830 passengers

RMS Republic was a steam-powered ocean liner built in 1903 by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, and lost at sea in a collision in 1909 while sailing for the White Star Line. The ship was equipped with a new Marconi wireless telegraphy transmitter, and issued a CQD distress call, resulting in the saving of around 1,500 lives. Known as the "Millionaires' Ship" because of the number of wealthy Americans who traveled by her, she was described as a "palatial liner" and was the flagship of White Star Line's Boston service.[1] This was the first important marine rescue made possible by radio, and brought worldwide attention to this new technology.


White Star acquisition[edit]

The ship was originally built in Belfast, Ireland, for the International Mercantile Marine's Dominion Line (a sister company to the White Star Line) and was named 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 the Dominion Line, Columbus, along with three other Dominion liners: New England, Commonwealth, and Mayflower, were sold to the White Star Line for use on their new service between Liverpool and Boston. Columbus was renamed Republic, the second ship under White Star livery to hold the name (White Star's original Republic of 1872 had been sold to the Holland America Line in 1889 and renamed Maasdam), while her three fellow former Dominion liners were renamed Romanic, Canopic, and Cretic, respectively.

Collision with SS Florida[edit]

In the 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 some illustrious people, such as James Ross Mellon, his wife Rachel Hughey Larimer Mellon, their daughter Sarah of the Mellon banking family and family maid, Mrs. Sophie Mansfield Curtis, wife of George Munson Curtis (treasurer of the International Silver Company), Mrs. Mary Harriman Severance, wife of Cordenio A. Severance, Professor John M. Coulter with wife and children, General Brayton Ives, St. Louis millionaire Samuel Cupples, historian Alice Morse Earle, and Mildred Montague, Countess Pasolini.[3] [4] 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.

This picture of SS Florida was taken by Martin & Ottaway, a New Jersey marine consulting firm, after Florida collided with Republic. Florida survived the collision and was repaired in 24 days.[5]

Taking standard precautions and maintaining her speed, the steamer regularly signaled her presence in the outbound shipping traffic lane by whistle. At 5:47 a.m., another whistle was heard and 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 on her portside, at about a right angle. Two passengers asleep in their cabins on Republic were killed when Florida's bow sliced into her, liquor wholesale manager Eugene Lynch's wife Mary and banker William J. Mooney. Eugene Lynch was critically injured and died as a result of his injuries at Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn, 26 January. On Florida, three crewmen were also killed when the bow was crushed back to a collision bulkhead.[6] 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 John R. Binns.[7] Florida came about to rescue Republic's complement, and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service cutter Gresham[8] 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, Baltic was not able to locate the drifting Republic until that evening. 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. On the busy North Atlantic route, assistance from at least one ship was believed to be ever-present and that lifeboats would be needed only to ferry all aboard to their rescue vessels and back until everyone was safely evacuated. That scenario, unlike during the RMS Titanic sinking, played out flawlessly during the ship's sinking, and the six people who died were lost in the collision, not the sinking itself.

Republic sinking by the stern after the collision

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.[9] By this time, the steamers New York and Lucania (from Cunard) had also arrived and waited while a futile attempt was made by Gresham to take Republic under tow. On 24 January, Republic sank stern first; at 15,378 tons, she was the largest ship to have sunk until then.[10][11] All the remaining crew were evacuated before she sank.

Reported cargoes[edit]

Some reports indicate that Republic was carrying gold and other valuables when she sank. One report is that she was carrying gold worth $250,000[12] in American gold coins to be used as payroll for the US Navy's Great White Fleet. In addition to the US Navy coin-monies shipment, various sources reported [13][better source needed] on a much larger cargo, $3,000,000 in US gold double eagles ($20). Among these, The Washington Post reported, "Three million dollars in gold coins lie in the rotting hulk of the White Star liner Republic, lost off Nantucket in January, 1909. The Republic, damaged in a collision, was being towed toward New York by the Coast Guard cutter Gresham, when she sank in 240 feet of water. A salvage attempt in 1919 was unsuccessful."[14] And again one year later, "In 1909, the [White] Star Liner Republic was damaged in a collision. While being towed to safety, she sank in over 200 feet of water. At the present, all attempts to salvage the $3,000,000 in her holds have been unsuccessful."[15] The New York Times reported, "The White Star Liner Republic, lost off Nantucket Shoals in 1909, carried $3,000,000 in gold eagles. However, the Republic rests in 185 [270] feet of water."[16]


The wreck of Republic was found by Captain Martin Bayerle in 1981. the wreck lies upright roughly 50 miles (80 km) south of Nantucket Island[10][11] at 40°26′0″N 69°46′0″W / 40.43333°N 69.76667°W / 40.43333; -69.76667 in a depth of around 270 feet (82 m) of water.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Republic and The Delhi". Daily Telegraph. London. 16 April 1912.
  2. ^ Dunn, Laurence (1964). Famous Liners of the Past Belfast Built. London: Adlard Coles. pp. 70–71.
  3. ^ "RMS Republic II People On Board". WRECKSITE. 25 November 2010. Retrieved 11 October 2022.
  4. ^ "RMS Republic Passenger List". RMS Republic. 30 May 2021. Retrieved 11 October 2022.
  5. ^ "SS Florida / SS Republic Collision (TBT)". Martin & Ottaway. 13 August 2014. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Ship Wrecks of New England - SS Republic". att.net. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006.
  7. ^ "Rescue at Sea". The American Experience. PBS. Archived from the original on 9 November 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  8. ^ "Gresham, 1896" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2012. Retrieved 16 November 2010.
  9. ^ "TITANIC - A Voyage of Discovery (allships)". Archived from the original on 24 May 2006. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  10. ^ a b Pickford, Nigel (1999). Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-7922-7472-5.
  11. ^ a b "Treasure of the RMS Republic". New York: MVSHQ, Inc. 2009. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  12. ^ Connolly, James B. (1945). Sea Borne - Thirty Years Avoyaging. Doubleday, Doran and Company, Inc. ISBN 978-1406768947.
  13. ^ "The Rumor, The Reports, The Legend | RMS - Republic".
  14. ^ Diving Bell Gropes for Lost Gold, By Robert Talley The Washington Post, June 24, 1934, Pg. M5.
  15. ^ Lusitania's Treasure of Gold and Gems to Be Salvaged By Alexander J. Wedderburn, Jr. The Washington Post, Dec. 1, 1935, Pg. B6.
  16. ^ Clarence E. Lovejoy, Maps Give Skippers Chance at Sunken Gold - Week-End Cruising Can Now Include Treasure Hunt New York Times, July 10, 1959, 18.

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