The almost complete absence of source documents relating to the REPUBLIC's cargos, discussed later [See: Loss Concealment], has left researchers with only two avenues of investigation that might verify a gold cargo of $3,000,000 in American Gold Eagles; they were the two predominant historical events that were connected to the REPUBLIC's destinations and her known cargo.
She had a passenger list of 440 persons, and besides General Cargo, there were [Theory 1] supplies for Admiral Sperry's fleet, then returning from its 'round-the-world cruise, as well as [Theory 2] relief items for the Messina earthquake victims. [Theory 3? Notice Rieseberg's distinct separation, commencing a new sentence.] And in the strong room was a large consignment of American Gold Eagles, valued at $3,000,000. ...
Coast Guard Lieut. H. E. Rieseberg,
Navy Payroll - The First Theory.
One positive support for the "Navy Payroll" theory is that it can be traced to speculation that existed at the time of the sinking. Mr. James B. Connolly, a passenger aboard the REPUBLIC, wrote in his book Sea-Borne, Thirty Years Avoyaging (Doubleday, N.Y.,1944, page 168.):
The White Star steamer BALTIC was given the right of way. She came almost alongside of us, and we thought she would be taking us off [the FLORIDA. At this point in the narration the REPUBLIC's passengers had undergone a first transfer to the FLORIDA.]; but not so. She hailed to say she would be back, then left us, and stood down to the REPUBLIC, which lay about half a mile from us and was still as high out of the water as in the early morning.
Passengers murmured: 'Why didn't she take us off?' I could guess why. In those days our navy crews in foreign ports were paid off in gold. The REPUBLIC was reported to have taken on a quarter of a million dollars in gold for delivery to our fleet at Gibraltar. That gold was to be first taken care of.
However, Mr. Connolly, in his contemporaneous reports, does not mention the proposed Navy payroll's removal; Mr. Connolly was initially uncertain as to the cause of the delay. On January 26, 1909, he told the Boston Post: "I would like to know why it was the steamer Baltic paid so much attention to the Steamer Republic after the passengers had been transferred, while the steamer Florida was standing a short distance away, for all they knew in danger of sinking with passengers on board." Boston Post, Jan. 26, 09, 3:3. In Mr. Connolly's January 26, 1909 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 2:4&5, "Why the BALTIC did not take the passengers off sooner is not made clear." In his February, 6, 1909, Collier's article, the BALTIC stood down to the REPUBLIC "looking after her company's property no doubt."
It is particularly interesting to note that Mr. Connolly does NOT mention the rumored loss of the $3 million gold coin cargo, which was well entrenched by the year of his 1944 quote. (See: "The Rumor") This World War II reference - or, more appropriately, lack of reference - might also be viewed as a dis-information item: yes, there was a gold cargo aboard, the Navy payroll, but it was removed - to protect the valuable cargo of a World War II ally. (See: Concealment)
The possibility of cargo removal from the Republic is discussed at length later in this Report.
A thorough examination of the Navy Payroll theory, as a possible explanation for the legendary $3 million American Gold Eagle shipment, indicates the following:
An inquiry made to the Naval Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC produced the following response:
I regret to say that we have discovered no mention of a Navy payroll among the cargo carried on board the liner REPUBLIC when she was lost in 1909. The annual report of the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, published as a section of the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for the fiscal year 1909, has nothing to say about the loss of any payroll money, nor do any of the accounts of the collision published in the NEW YORK TIMES. ...nor do appropriation hearings dealing with Navy legislation at the time.
If a three-million-dollar payroll had been lost in the sinking of REPUBLIC the fact could not have been kept quiet for long. Such an amount of money -- probably worth something in the order of sixty million or so in today's currency [bullion value alone - see coin valuation in this report] -- could not simply have been swept under the rug. It would have to be replaced, and this would have involved a request to Congress for a supplementary appropriation to make up the loss. Yet we see no mention of it, either in the Navy's annual report or in the Congressional hearings dealing with Navy money requests. Too, the amount of the supposed payroll sounds peculiar. '$3,000,000 in...$10 gold pieces' would be enough to take care of nearly half the Navy and Marine payroll for all the battleships in the Navy--24 ships in all--for the entire fiscal year 1909 (1 July 1908 to 30 June 1909). The total payroll for all 24 battleships for that fiscal year came to $7,472,711.05; three million dollars would thus be completely out of line as a representative payment to the crews of the sixteen battleships which arrived at Gibraltar on 31 January and 1 February 1909. It would only make sense if we were to assume that no one had been paid for a large part of the year and this, to the best of our knowledge, was not the case. Even if this had been true, it would have made little sense in that event to send what, for that time, would have been an enormous amount of money to Gibraltar by commercial vessel when the fleet was to arrive at Hampton Roads [Virginia] on 22 February. The notion that this alleged payroll was in ten-dollar gold eagles also does not seem to fit the Navy pay system of the time. I enclose an extract from the NAVY REGISTER for 1 January 1909, containing the pay table in use for officers and men at that time. You will notice that a representative Navy payroll could not have been computed in multiples of ten dollars. ...
Richard T. Speer,
Another response from the National Archives, Navy and Old Army Branch, Military Archives Division, Washington, D.C., reads:
[Dated June 5, 1984]
We regret that we were unable to assist you in this matter.
[signed] Richard A. von Doenhoff
It is clear, then, that the legendary $3,000,000 American Gold Eagle shipment cannot be attributable to a Navy payroll.
There is, however, evidence to suggest that between $250,000 and $350,000 in Navy funds (an amount corresponding to Mr. Connolly's above statement!), worth potentially fifty to seventy million dollars in today's market, for both payroll and operational expenses of the Atlantic Battleship Fleet, may have been lost aboard the REPUBLIC. This possibility is discussed in detail within the "Other Cargos" section of this report.
1 However, the government - as a self insured entity - may have been prevented from filing for the loss of funds by limitations within the Harter Act, Section 4281, relating to concealed shipments. See: Self Insured Without Recourse later in this report.