Daily Event for January 23

Early on the morning of January 23, 1909 the White Star Liner RMS Republic collided with the Italian liner Florida off Nantucket. While wounded the Republic was not in imminent danger of sinking. The captain of the Republic, William Sealby kept order through the entire ordeal. After the two vessels were separated, Republic, hit amidships began taking on water. An engineer on the Republic activated injector valves that allowed cool water to gradually fill the boilers and lower their pressure, avoiding a catastrophic explosion that surely would have killed hundreds. Jack Binns, the wireless operator, stayed at his post for some 14 hours sending distress signals.

By 12:30 the passengers and most of the crew had been transferred to the Florida. The rescue was difficult but orderly. Early that evening the White Star liner Baltic had arrived on scene and removed the passengers from the Florida, seriously overloading the Baltic. Florida and Baltic made for New York under escort of the New York of the American Line.

Republic, still afloat was reboarded by 36 members of the crew and taken in tow by the U.S. cutter Gresham and the destroyer Seneca. Another ship, the Furnessia, of the Anchor Line ran behind to aid in steering the damaged liner. However because of the forward motion, Republic began taking on water much more rapidly than before. When it was apparent she would founder the crew, less capt. Sealby and the first mate were evacuated.

Finally the two men on board abandoned the Republic and were picked up by one of the escorting vessels. RMS Republic sank at 20:07 on Sunday January 24, 1909. It's now that a mystery begins. It seems there have been rumors about the cargo she was said to be carrying. Some say she was carrying relief supplies bound for Italy, which had been devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami on Dec 28. Over 100,000 people were killed, Messian and Calabria were all but destroyed. Another account is that  she was carrying over $3,000,000 in newly minted US double eagle gold coins. While she was carrying the relief supplies it is never been proven that any gold was on board. There have been several salvage efforts, including one that is still ongoing, since the sinking. However, the location of the ship had originally been misreported, some say deliberately, which made the search for Republic much more difficult. The wreck was not located until 1981, and a positive ID was made in 1983. Remarkably only six people were killed in this drama at sea. Three from Republic and three from the Florida. All were killed in the initial collision.

© 2006 Michael W. Pocock

RMS Republic