The Sinking of the S.S. Golden Gate
by Andrew Czernek, aczernekATcomcast.net
At 2:30 pm on Monday July 21, 1862 – in the midst of the American Civil War – one of the fastest steamers then on the West Coast left San Francisco with 338 passengers and crew, plus $1.4 million in gold, bound for Panama.
The S.S. Golden Gate held the record for the trip of 11 days and four hours for its first four years on the route (1851-1855), covering the distance at an average of 12 knots. The owner, Pacific Mail Steamship Company, had an excellent record for safety in an era when at least one ship each day was reported lost in American newspapers. This trip wouldn't be completed – at least not for the 213 people lost when the ship caught fire and sank off Manzanillo, Mexico. As first class passengers and the ship's captain were sitting down to dinner around 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, July 27, the alarm went out that a fire was raging near the galley amidship. The fire was also near the purser's secure storage area where shippers and passengers had stored gold mined in California.
This account lists each of the victims – as well as listing those known to have survived.
NEW: A 1903 article in Popular Mechanics magazine on a salvage effort by C.W. Johnson, of Boston, MA, in Manzanillo. Johnson would claim that $1 million in gold was recovered from the purser's safe room mid-ships. The Popular Mechanics cover from May, 1903 shows a pier built to enable dredging in the turbulent waters. Joe Kelly Hughes, a diver involved in later salvage attempts, notes that, "shortly after the picture was taken, a hurricane knocked it down and all was lost; we actually recovered many of the pumps and other equipment that had been mounted on the pier."
NEW: Two song writers would popularize the sinking using the account of A.H. Bates or encountering eight-year-old Addie A. Manchester on deck as the flames approached. Frank Soule (lyricist) and P. R. Nicholls (composer) published the song shortly after the sinking, possibly before the end of 1862.
Sheet music for "I Don't Want to be Drowned", written about Addie A. Manchester, one of the surivors.
A transcription of the Aug. 7, 1862 Daily Alta California, complete with survivors' accounts of the fire and the initial list of survivors, dead and missing. Note that the initial list has many inaccuracies resolved in this final list.
The letters of Capt. Francis W. Lodge, a representative of Lloyd's of London sent to San Francisco to salvage the wreck, are now online here. Lodge would spend virtually all of his time embroiled in court cases with salvage teams that beat him to the wreck. The journal tells the story via his correspondence, notes and expenses during the period of 1863-1865. Several letters cover the period after his return to London at the end of 1864.
C.E.D.A.M. (Conservation, Echology, Diving, Archaeology and Museums), a museum on the commercial plaza of Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, has built a replica model of the SS Golden Gate -- and written a book about the shipwreck. (Puerto Aventuras is located 1 hour drive south of Cancun, 18 kilometers south of Playa del Carmen and 26 kilometers north of the archaeological site of Tulum.)
"Legend of the Golden Gate" was published by museum in 2003 and written by museum director Roman Rivera Torres and Joe Kelly Hughes. It was limited edition printing.
CEDAM is open to the public 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day and is free of charge.
Howard Nurse has done a video about the Golden Gate sinking. His ancestor were a great great uncle and aunt, David A. Nurse and Harriet Nurse. He would die in the wreck and she would survive, return to San Francisco and eventually marry her husband's brother, Stephen. In a small world coincidence, Howard and I worked together at Heath/Zenith during the earliest days of the personal computer industry.
In 2005, a customer of Google Answers asked how much gold had been retrieved from this beachside wreck: