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Rescue at Sea | Article

The Launch of the "Republic"


The "Republic," owned by the British White Star Line, first began service in February of 1903. In January of 1909, the "Republic" collided with the "Florida" near Nantucket Lightship. Despite strenuous efforts to tow the damaged ship back into New York harbor, the "Republic" sank in the deep waters just west of Nantucket. White Star Line and marine officials declared that retrieval would never be attempted, but nearly 100 years later, treasure seekers still dream of salvaging the wreck and its rumored cargo of gold.

The White Star Line started out as a modest fleet of trade ships that, in the 1850s, sailed an Australian gold trade route. It was purchased in 1867 by partners Thomas Henry Ismay and Sir Edward Harland. After Ismay's death in 1899, his son, Bruce Ismay, took over the line. 

Three years later, the International Mercantile Marine (IMM) owned by J. Pierpont Morgan, purchased White Star Line. Of the many lines owned by IMM (Dominion, Red Star, Leyland, Atlantic Transport, and the Inman and American Lines) White Star became the group's premier division. 

After its first two transatlantic trips, the Dominion Line's 15,380-ton "Columbus" was transformed into a White Star luxury liner and renamed "Republic." In 1903 the liner began traveling the Liverpool-Boston and Boston-Mediterranean routes. A brochure at the time read, "The White Star Line services from New York and Boston to the Mediterranean provide the ideal entry into this vast treasure-house of the art, history and literature of untold ages." 

When the "Republic" departed on its final voyage on January 22, 1909, it carried not only passengers, but relief supplies for the survivors of Italy's Messina earthquake. The devastating quake had hit southern Italy a month earlier and taken some 200,000 lives. Additionally, the "Republic" carried some $60,000 in military supplies to be shipped to Admiral Sperry of the Great White Fleet, stationed off Gibraltar. 

It is widely rumored that a fortune in gold was also aboard the "Republic" when it sank -- which makes the "Republic" a treasure hunter's dream. In 1987, nearly 80 years after the sinking, an American salvage expedition entered the "Republic" wreck for the first time. The expedition retrieved artifacts such as dishes and portholes -- but no gold. Divers maintain hope that advanced technology will someday allow the lengthy dives necessary to uncover the ship's treasure, whatever it may be. Meantime, the "Republic" lies in wait.

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