The Rumor, The Legend
The Rumor, The Legend

The Rumor, The Legend

Rumors of the REPUBLIC'S treasure originated at the time of her sinking on January 24, 1909 and persist to this day. Although the source and intended purpose of this treasure has vacillated between only two possibilities, either a U. S. Government Battleship Fleet payroll or a relief shipment for the Messina earthquake victims, the amount of treasure and its description are most commonly reported as a cargo of $3,000,000, in American Gold Eagles1 - a shipment that could have a value today exceeding $1 billion, depending on the mint, denomination, condition and marketing of the individual coins.

Rumors that the Republic had sunk were rife in the city early in the evening.

N. Y. Tribune, January 25, 1909, 1:7

A more detailed dispatch came through about 5:30 o'clock [p.m., January 24, 1909], by way of Newport, and read:
...
An unconfirmed report has it a large sum of money was on board the Republic for the Italian earthquake sufferers, which may be one of
[sic, the] reasons the captain of Republic remained on his ship.
...

New York American, January 25, 1909, 2:7

Reports that the Republic carried a large sum of money collected for the sufferers from the earthquake at Messina were denied yesterday at the offices of the White Star Line. At least Manager Mitchell of the Mediterranean Service said that no such [our emphasis added ] money had been turned over to the steamship company for transportation.

N. Y. Sun, January 25, 1909, 2:2

RUFUS E. SMITH - How great was the loss caused by the sinking of the White Star liner Republic after her collision with the Florida?
It would be impossible to do more than approximate the loss at this time. According to one estimate the White Star Line's loss was close to a million dollars. The insurance company also lost heavily by the disaster. The loss of the valuable cargo also must be reckoned as heavy.

Queries from the Curious and Answers to Them.
New York Times, Feb. 21, 1909, Pg. X8

[Discussing several wrecks that are prospects for salvage with a described "new" technology,] Near Nantucket Light Ship lies the ill-fated liner Republic, made famous particularly because she was the first vessel from which passengers were rescued by means of the wireless. She is in 245 feet of water and has aboard a rich cargo.

Work on Bottom of Ocean
IT CAN BE REACHED BY A DIVER WEARING NEW ALUMINUM SUIT.
Washington Post, August 23, 1914, 3:4

In February 1919, principals of Twentieth Century Deep Sea Salvage Syndicate held discussions with the Commodore Commandant of the Coast Guard, Ellsworth Price Bertholf, and another Coast Guard official, a Captain McAllister. Commodore Bertholf appears to be a person who would have been in an excellent position to know the nature of the cargo aboard Republic. He was a celebrated personality of the period, a Congressional Gold Medal Recipient, and the Coast Guard's first Commandant.

Regarding the little sessions we had with you and Captain McAllister in the course of which reference was made to the White Star Liner containing $3,000,000 in American Eagles, ...

Deep Sea Salvage Syndicate, letter dated February 8, 1919
NARA, RG 26, General Correspondence
File 651 ("RE," includes Republic).

These documents and sources are posted at: Our Photo Gallery. To further enlarge a document, click the document. To see the Coast Guard's response, to proceed to the next document, click the page's angular navigation aids.

These Coast Guard Documents appear to be the basis of several of the following published sources, particularly those Coast Guard personnel who became authors.

The American seaboard is ringed round with rich treasure wrecks waiting exploitation by the modern salvor. There is the British frigate "Hussar," wrecked in the waters of Hell Gate sound, and containing $4,000,000 in gold, the pay of the British troops engaged in the American Revolutionary war. The steamship "Lexington," sunk off Bridgeport, Conn., has many thousands of dollars and much bullion in her safe and strong rooms. In Delaware bay lies: the "de Braak," with $5,000,000 in gold and silver coins; off Nantucket lighthouse is the $2,000,000 bullion wreck of the "Republic" [Emphasis supplied. 2]; while in San Francisco bay is the hulk of the "Rio Janeiro," with a freight of gold, silver, ivory, and jade worth $9,000,000.

Wilkins, H. T., On the Trail of Treasure
Popular Mechanics, v. 49, March 1928, p. 434-9.

In May 1930, apparently after having read several of the above reports, Mr. Louis Miller of Brooklyn, New York, asks the Coast Guard for information on Republic's gold cargo. His initial inquiry, and Captain Benjamin M. Chiswell's (a WWI recipient of the Navy Cross, became a Rear Admiral and considered the father of Coast Guard aviation) complete response, are posted within the Documents section of: Our Photo Gallery.

Unofficial information at the time suggested that the Republic may have had on board $3,000,000 in American Gold Eagles. The facts, however, are not known to this office.

Capt. Chiswell, Coast Guard Letter, 14 May 1930
NARA, RG 26, General Correspondence
File 651 ("RE," includes Republic).

Three million dollars in gold coins lies 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.

Diving Bell Gropes for Lost Gold, By Robert Talley
The Washington Post, June 24, 1934, Pg. M5

In 1909 the [White] Star Liner Republic was damaged in a collision. While being towed to safety she went down in over 200 feet of water. At the present all attempts to salvage the $3,000,000 in her holds have been unsuccessful.

Lusitania's Treasure of Gold and Gems to Be Salvaged
By Alexander J. Wedderburn, Jr.
The Washington Post, Dec. 1, 1935, Pg. B6

She had a passenger list of 440 persons, and besides General Cargo, there were supplies for Admiral Sperry's fleet, then returning from its 'round-the-world cruise, as well as relief items for the Messina earthquake victims. And in the strong room was a large consignment of American Gold Eagles, valued at $3,000,000. ... Her treasure of 'golden eagles' still lies in the strong room, for to date but one known attempt [in 1919, or 1929? 3] has been made to bring that vast hoard to the surface, and that was a failure because of the water's depth, and inadequate methods of salvage.

Coast Guard Lieut. H. E. Rieseberg, Treasure Hunter
McBride & Co., N. Y., 1945, Pages 228-9.

[The National Geographic Society supplied a few tips for treasure hunters. Among these,] In 1909 the British liner Republic foundered off Nantucket with three million dollars in American gold "eagles" ...

Millions in Sunken Gold Lies Along U.S. Coast
The Washington Post, Jun 27, 1948, Pg. L6

More recent additions to the list of shipwrecks in the same east-coast area are the British liner Republic which foundered off Nantucket in 1909, taking $5000,000 [sic] in American "gold eagles" to a grave far too deep for salvage;..

Geographic School Bulletin, 1948, Pg. 1947

To sample more recent times in the same East Coast area, the British liner Republic foundered off Nantucket in 1909, taking $3,000,000 in American "gold eagles" to a grave so far too deep for salvage.

 The Stanford Daily, Volume 113, Issue 48, 7 May 1948

The Italian steamer, Florida, hit the White Star liner Republic in January, 1909,  during dense fog 26 miles southeast of Nantucket. The Republic settled rapidly in 228 feet of water with $3,000,000 still locked up in her strong room.

 Unclaimed Fortunes Under The Sea, Mechanix Illustrated, Jan. 1950

  In 1909 the British liner Republic foundered off Nantucket Island with $3,000,000 in American gold.

Boys' Life, Nov. 1957, Pg. 74

The following locations are shown as they were reported to me. Research to verify locations, values and history is now in process; however, they are listed in case the reader may have or be able to obtain other supporting information.
...
The S.S. Republic, with three million dollars in gold aboard, sank in collision off Nantucket Shoals (1909), and has never been salvaged. Strong tides and currents make hazardous diving.

F. L. Coffman, 1001 Lost, Buried or Sunken Treasures
Thomas Nelson & Sons, New York, 1957, Pages 181-2.

On the evening of January 24, 1909, the British White Star Line's Republic, bound from New York to Italy, groping her way through a dense fog for eleven miles south of the Nantucket South Shoals lightship, was suddenly struck amidships by the Italian steamer Florida. The crippled liner began to settle rapidly, and seeing no hope of saving the vessel or her immense cargo of gold bullion, Captain Sealby, her master, gave the order to abandon ship. At 8:10 p.m. she sank in 38 fathoms of water.
The giant liner was carrying $3,000,000 in American gold eagles, which are still held fast in the deep. To date, the only attempt made to salvage this vast fortune, in 1919, was unsuccessful because of the vessel's depth.

Lt. Harry E. Rieseberg, There's Gold in Them There Waves
The Lookout, Seamen's Church Institute of New York
Vol. 50, No. 1, January, 1959, p. 10

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.

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.

The REPUBLIC
The iron hull of this White Star liner lies some twenty-five miles east of Nantucket Island. When it sank there on January 23, 1909, a rumor spread that $3,000,000 in gold, shipped from the West Coast, was locked in the Republic's safe. This tale needs careful evaluation before any treasure-hunting attempt is started. It is interesting to note that all but six of the Republic's passengers were saved by emergency calls sent out by the ship's wireless operator, Jack Binns - the first time radio was used in a rescue at sea.
4

John S. Potter, Jr., The Treasure Diver's Guide, Revised Edition
(New York: Bonanza Books, Original Ed. 1960, 1972), 477.

THE TREASURE OF THE REPUBLIC

Riches beyond most men's wildest dreams - $3,000,000 in the American ten dollar[?]1 gold pieces known as 'Eagles' - reportedly lie in the hulk of the liner Republic, about 12 miles southwest of Nantucket Lightship. ...

Coast Guard Cmdr Adrian L. Lonsdale and H. R Kaplan
A Guide to Sunken Ships in American Waters
Compass Publications Inc., Arlington, VA, 1964

... The story of the Republic is one that's well known to treasure hunters. Some $3.000,000 in gold eagles couldn't be removed before the ship went down. It's still aboard, thus far protected by swirling currents at 40 degrees 25' 30" N, 69 degrees 40" [sic] W. ...

Cameron S. Foote, Broken Water Ahead!
Yankee Magazine, December 1970, Page 103.

Off the coast of Massachusetts, the Old Bay State, at a point about 12 miles southwest of Nantucket South Shoals Lightship, lies one of the richest undersea treasures ever lost in American waters. It is a multi-million-dollar consignment of United States $10 gold pieces, commonly known as golden eagles.  ...

Although millions in $10 gold pieces is just too much wealth to be completely forgotten, it is nevertheless true that only one attempt to recover this rich hoard is on record. In 1919, 10 years after the Republics watery demise, the Twentieth Century Deep Sea Salvage Syndicate of Chicago made an effort to find and bring up the lost wealth. The effort was fruitless, and although the would be saviors gave out little information regarding their venture, it is probably true that their attempt failed due to the type of equipment then in use.  ...

Al Masters, Missing Millions In $10 Golden Eagles!
True Treasure, February, 1971, Pg. 16.

About 25 miles east of Nantucket Island on the Atlantic coast lies the wreck of the old White Star passenger liner, the S. S. Republic.

This wreck could well be called the wreck of the "golden eagles," for in her huge walk-in safe she took to the bottom many kegs of United States ten-dollar gold pieces, then called golden eagles. For 67 years, $3,000,000 worth of golden eagles have lain in the sunken hulk beneath 240 feet of water.

...

The golden eagles still lie awaiting a crew with the technique and the courage to break through to the treasure. The task will be perilous and expensive, but the reward will be $3,000,000 in ten dollar gold pieces worth considerably more today than they were 67 years ago.1

Teddy Remick, Wreck of the Golden Eagles
Lost Treasure Magazine, January 1976, Page 39.

There are thousands of wrecks off the East Coast of the U.S. that divers would rejoice in finding, some with precious cargoes and others with historical significance. With the help of world renowned shipwreck authority, Jean Haviland, I chose ten enticing, virgin wrecks, scattered along the East Coast of the U.S., just waiting for a diver.
The Republic -
[Original emphasis, and at the top of author Boyd's list.] In 1909, $3 million in $10 gold pieces1 went to the bottom of the sea 12 miles S.W. of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Imagine what that treasure would be worth today!
The 15,000 ton White Star liner , Republic, sailed from New York on January 22, 1909, bound for Gibraltar and the Mediterranean. There were 440 passengers aboard, many of them wealthy and socially prominent people who looked forward to cruising the warm climes of the Mediterranean. In addition to her general cargo, the Republic carried large quantities of supplies for Admiral Sperry's fleet, returning from its triumphant cruise around the world. A payroll of $3 million in American $10 gold pieces (called Gold Eagles)
1 was locked securely in vaults below decks.

Ellsworth Boyd, Top 10 [Undiscovered] Wrecks of the East Coast
Skin Diver Magazine, September, 1980, 20:1

[Discussing a planned salvage attempt on the Andrea Doria] While they are down there, the men will also try to find the Republic, an American steamship that sank in the same region in 1909 in what Mr. Gross described as "a mirror image of the Andrea Doria collision."
The Republic left New York bound for Gibraltar and reportedly carried $3 million in American $10 gold pieces.
1 At today's price of gold, Mr. Gross estimates the hoard to be worth $80 million to $120 million.

New York Times, April 12, 1981, NJ, 2

Some people have furnished clues.  Seventy-seven-year-old Philip Thornton, the son of Republic's second officer, heard Bayerle being interviewed on the BBC and excitedly called up his sister to say: "Apparently the stories that Father told us about the gold are true!" 


Jack Borden, Liquid Assets
1.6 Billion in Gold off the New England Coast
Oui Magazine, March, 1988

 

[Discussing Tommy Thompson's shipwreck selection process in the early 1980s, ultimately selecting the treasure ship S.S. Central America as his salvage target,] Tommy now allocated more and more of his free hours each month to studying ships that had sunk in deep water, like the Titanic, the Republic, the Andrea Doria, the San José. For each ship he wanted to know: Was there enough historical documentation that the ship carried a cargo of substantial value when it sank, and that it sank in a roughly definable location?
... Was there anything on board
[each of the wrecks he considered] worth recovering?
[After discussing and dismissing Titanic as a potential target,] Other deep-water ships presented similar problems. Myths had arisen around some of them that tons of gold lay stored in secure compartments. But no historical data supported the myths. In 1909, the British White Star luxury liner Republic had gone down fifty miles off Nantucket, and for decades, rumors had circulated that it had taken millions in gold coins with it. But no official records existed. "Sure, there were a lot of rich people on board," said Bob [Bob Evans],"but how much was in the purser's safe? Nobody knows."

Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea
(The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998) 152, 154-5.

... and many other reports and speculative rumor - which have grown into legend.

 

FOOTNOTES

1 Gold coins at the time were commonly referred to as Eagles, and were denominated as quarter-eagles ($2.50), half-eagles ($5.00), eagles ($10.00) and double-eagles ($20.00). Bankers routinely shipped gold bars (packed in kegs) in international exchange, and resorted to the shipment of gold coins only when gold bars were unavailable but the transaction still remained profitable. There were higher transaction costs in the shipment of coins rather than bars. When coins were shipped, bankers would generally select double eagles of "full weight" - coins which had not been in circulation; gold coins were packed in boxes. See: The Bankers' Costs of Foreign Exchange and Operations of the Assay Office and Sub-Treasury, infra. The shipment aboard Republic, if it exists, would most likely consist of uncirculated double eagles, twenty-dollar gold pieces shipped in boxes.

2In his 1937 book Pirate Treasure (E. P. Dutton & Co., New York, 1st Ed.), author Wilkins describes the Republic's cargo as follows: "Other American treasure wrecks claiming the attention of the up-to-date marine salvor include ... the Republic, off the Nantucket Lighthouse, with two million dollars in gold; ... ."
In addition to the $3,000,000 gold eagle (specie) shipment, another gold shipment, a potential bullion (gold bar) cargo aboard Republic, is discussed at Other Cargos - Gold Bars.

3"To date, only one attempt has been made to salvage this vast fortune and that was in 1919, when, because of the vessel's depth - 228 feet - the effort was unsuccessful." Lt. Harry E. Rieseberg, TREASURE!, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1957, p. 20. And, "Only one known attempt has been made to bring this cargo to the surface, in 1919. It failed because of the depth and the inadequate salvage equipment." Lieut. Harry E. Rieseberg and A. A. Mikalow, Fell's Guide to Sunken Treasure Ships of the World, Federick Fell Inc., N. Y., 1965, p. 123.
Rieseberg's depth is incorrect. However, Rieseberg may have been writing not about a 1919 attempt, but about a reported 1929 salvage attempt. Teddy Remick, in the January, 1976, issue of Lost Treasure Magazine, at Page 39, and with the correct depth, wrote:
"For almost twenty years, the wreck of the Republic remained undisturbed. Then a salvage crew from England located the wreck and began operations to recover the $3,000,000 in golden eagles. At a depth of 240 feet, it was a monumental task. Divers reported that the ship lay on her side.[? See comment below.] Slowly, the crew began to burn through the hull to get into the companionway that led to her safe. Once through her hull, they found the companionway cluttered with a tangle of steel girders and plates blocking their path. The depth the divers had to work in, the undependable weather, and the huge sharks infesting the water eventually forced the salvage crew to give up and return to England.

...
"The golden eagles still lie awaiting a crew with the technique and the courage to break through to the treasure. The task will be perilous and expensive, but the reward will be $3,000,000 in ten dollar gold pieces worth considerably more today than they were 67 years ago."
Incidentally, although the wreck actually lies upright with a slight starboard list, certain portside parts of the hull have collapsed inboard, folding over collapsed decks, giving the appearance that the ship is lying on her starboard side!

4 Potter's text contains several errors. The Republic lies south of Nantucket Island, sank on January 24, 1909, and three Republic passengers (as well as three Florida crewmen) lost their lives as a result of the collision. Also, gold was routinely shipped within a specie (bullion) room. There is, however, some information to suggest that the eagles believed to be aboard the Republic were minted at San Francisco.