THEY TRAVELED TO CALIFORNIA TO MAKE THEIR FORTUNES. THEY LOST MORE THAN THAT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.
The tale of the Central America sounds like the stuff of movies – a ship loaded with more than two tons of gold dust, nuggets, coins and ingots from the California Gold Rush and over 500 passengers encounters a Category 2 hurricane en route to New York from Panama and sinks to a watery grave. Fewer than half of the passengers, many of whom were prospectors headed back east after having made their fortunes, survived. The loss of this fabulous treasure trove of gold set off the Panic of 1857, as well as a deep depression. Nestled on the ocean’s bottom off the coast of the Carolinas, the gold was presumed lost forever.
Milwaukee Daily Sentinel
September 22, 1857
FURTHER PARTICULARS OF THE DISASTER.
The New York papers of Saturday are full of the details of this terrible disaster, though the accounts, which up to that date were only such as had been transmitted by telegraph from Savannah, or Norfolk, were necessarily more, or less imperfect. We condense from these papers the following account of the fearful shipwreck.
The Central America (formerly the George Law) a three-masted, side-wheel steamer of some 1500 tons, built in 1852, left Havana, on the morning of the 8th instant, for New York, with about $1,600,000 in gold, on freight, and an estimated amount of $300,000 more in private hands, and 525 passengers. The following statement from one of the passengers, MR. H. H. CHILDS, who, after swimming six hours in the ocean, was picked up by a vessel and taken to Savannah, tells the sad story of her loss:
I left Havana on the steamship Central America for New York on September 8th. The weather was delightful and the sea calm on the passage from Aspinwall. On the afternoon of the day of sailing from Havana, fresh westerly breezes sprang up. On the following morning the wind blew very strong, the gale continuing to increase in violence as the day advanced. At night there was no abatement in the fury of the gale, and it commenced raining in torrents. On Thursday it blew a hurricane, the sea running very high. On Friday the storm raged fearfully.
At eleven o'clock in the morning of this day, it was first known among the passengers that the steamer had sprung a leak and was making water fast. A line of men was immediately formed, and they went to work bailing out the water from the engine rooms, the fires having already been extinguished. We gained on the water so much that we were able to get up steam again, but we held it but a few minutes, and then it stopped forever. Bailing continued, however, and was kept up in all parts of the ship until she finally went down.
During Friday night the water gained gradually, but all on board being in good spirits they worked to the best of their ability, feeling that when the morning came they might possibly speak some vessel and thus be saved. The fatal Saturday came at last, but brought nothing but increased fury in the gale. Still we worked on, and at about two o'clock in the afternoon the storm lulled a little and the clouds broke away. Hope was renewed and all now worked like giants.
At 4 P.M. we spied a sail, and fired guns and placed our flag at half-mast. It was seen, and the brig Marine, of Boston, bore down upon us. We then considered safety certain. She came near us, and we spoke to her and told our condition. She laid by about a mile distant, and we, in the only three boats saved, placed, all the women and children, and they were safely put on board the brig. As evening was fast approaching, we discovered another sail, which responded to our call, and came near us. Capt. HERNDON told our condition and asked them to lay by and send a boat as we had none left. She promised to do so, but that was the last we saw of her except at a distance, which grew greater and greater every moment. At 7 o'clock we saw no possibility of keeping afloat much longer, although we all felt that if we could do so until morning all would be saved. In a short time a heavy sea for the first time broke over the upper deck of the vessel, and then all hope faded away.
Life preservers were now supplied to all, and we sent up two rockets, when a tremendous sea swept over us, and the steamer in a moment went down. I think some four hundred or four hundred and fifty souls were launched upon the ocean at the mercy of the waves. The storm at this time had entirely subsided. We all kept near together and went as the waves took us.
There was nothing or very little said, except that each one cheered his fellow comrade on. Courage was thus kept up for two or three hours, and I think for that space of time none had drowned, but those who could not swim became exhausted. After this, gradually one by one passed away to eternity. The hope that boats would be sent to us from the two vessels we had spoken, soon fled from us, and our trust was in Providence "and what better thrust could you or I ask?" I saw my comrades sink fast, and at 1 o'clock that night I was nearly alone upon the ocean, some two hundred miles from land. I heard, however, shouts from all who could do so, that were not far from me, but I could not see them. Within an hour from this time I saw a vessel, which I judged to be about one mile from me. Taking fresh courage, I struck out for the vessel, and reached it when nearly exhausted, and they drew me on board of it by ropes. It proved to be the Norwegian barque from Belize, Hondouras, bound for Falmouth, England. I found on board of here some three of my comrades, and a half past 9 o'clock the next morning we had 49 noble fellows on board, and these are all I knew of having been saved.
We cruised about the place until we thought that all alive had been rescued and then set sail. We found the barque short of provisions and the crew living on gruel. We had some tea and coffee to refresh ourselves, and at noon on Sunday we spoke the American barque Saxony, bound for Savannah, which supplied us with provisions, and took five of us on board.
The following statement shows the whole number of persons on board when the steamer left Havana:
Officers and crew - 101
Passengers - 525
Total - 625
Number reported saved - 95
Lost, or missing - 511
Of those saved, 49 were rescued by the Norwegian bark Elise and 46 by the American brig Marine. Five of those picked up by the Elise were afterwards transferred to the American bark Saxony and taken into Savannah. None others are, as yet, known to have been saved, and there is but too much reason to fear that the above meagre list includes all who escaped a watery grave. It is however, positively stated, that all the women and children were safely transferred to the brig Marine before the steamer sank. The following imperfect list of those known to have escaped is published in the N. Y. papers of Saturday:
On Board the Bark Elise, bound to Norfolk:
Capt. THOMAS W. BADGER.
A. Y. EASTON.
JOHN M. CABOR.
R. L. BROWN.
W. F. FLETCHER.
J. A. FORRESTER.
JOSEPH H. ROSS.
CHARLES A. VOSE.
E. P. MALONE.
J. V. CLARK.
W. A. OSBORN.
J. W. CASEY.
JOHN D. EMEN.
L. W. FULLENS.
JOHN W. CRAFTS.
H. T. G. CONNER.
HENRY A. RUNNEL.
J. C. TAYLOR.
F. A. WALLS.
On Board the Bark Saxony, bound to Savannah:
MESSRS. CHILDS, HOWE, LOOK and ROBERT RIDLEY.
On Board the Brig Marine:
Of the crew:
JAMES M. FRAZER, 2d officer.
HENRY REEFOR, 2d assistant-engineer.
JOHN JONES, fireman.
J. McCARTY, fireman.
A. R. HOLCOMB.
TIM. McKUGH are all saved.
Of the specie lost, about a million was insured in London, and the remainder, say $500,000, in Wall Street, divided among nine offices, which have signified their intention to pay the losses at once, on presentation of proper proof. The steamer, which was valued at $200,000, was uninsured.
Persons known to have been on the Central America, and supposed lost:
WILLIAM LEE, Canada.
BENJAMIN COLT, Hancock County, Ill.
HANSON HERNE, Missouri.
JOHN HERNE, Missouri.
MR. MARTIN, California.
RICHARD WILTON, Quincy, Ill.
JAS. E. BIRCH, Fall River.
GABRIEL BRUSH, baggagemaster, New York.
CHARLES TAYLOR, North Carolina.
SAMUEL SHREVE, San Francisco.
DR. BEGANNI, San Francisco.
DR. GIBBS and MR. MARIN, California.
MR. PARKER, San Francisco.
MR. BOOKER, Boston.
Purser DOBBIN, North Carolina.
MR. WHITE, Sacramento.
Purser HULL, of the Central America, New York.
MR. HULL (Pursur HULL'S brother) California.
MR. VAN RENSSELAER, first officer.
Capt. W. HERNDON, U.S.N., commander.
JAMES F. TENNISON, doctor of the steamer.
WILLIAM BARNES, New York.
MR. O'CONNOR, type-founder, New York.
WILLIAM YOUNG, Ohio.
Son of MR. ROBINSON.
PETORES (colored), Bermuda.
MR. McNEIL, hardware, San Francisco.
JAMES BURKE, San Francisco.
MR. STEVENS, Jersey City.
J. V. HUTCHINSON, Massachusetts.
MR. PHILLIPS, a German, going to Europe.
LAURENCE DARCY, on his way to Pennsylvania.
GEORGE GALE, father a brewer in New York.
MR. HOLLY, bound to Pittsburg.
WILSON WHITE, Soenino.
MR. SMITH, Aspinwall.
MR. ZERONI, San Francisco.
MR. LOWE, California.
MR. VAN HAVEL, Penn Valley, California.
MR. ROBERTS, Grass Valley, Cal.
HENRY DUSENBURY, Grass Valley, Cal.
ROBERT TAYLOR, Wisconsin.
JAMES WOODWORTH, Keokuk, Iowa.
DAVID STEWART, Maysville, Ohio.
JOHN LEECH, Stockbridge, Mass.
JOHNSON CARR, Marion County, Va.
STEPHEN MURCH, Portland, Maine.
CHARLES GILKIE, Portland, Maine.
JAMES GILKIE, brother.
JOHN RUDWELL, Grass Valley, California.