Known as the “Millionaires’ Ship” because of the number of wealthy Americans who traveled by her, RMS Republic was a “palatial liner” and the flagship of White Star Line’s Boston service. She was a steam-powered ocean liner built in 1903 by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The ship was equipped with some of the latest technology of the time, including a new Marconi wireless telegraphy transmitter. All that new equipment would come in handy when disaster struck.
In the early morning of January 23, 1909, while sailing from New York City to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports with 742 passengers and crew. Captain Inman Sealby was in command, when RMS Republic entered a thick fog off the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. True to her reputation, RMS Republic was carrying a number of illustrious passengers, such as James Ross Mellon, his wife Rachel Hughey Larimer Mellon, their daughter Sarah of the Mellon banking family and family maid; Mrs Sophie Mansfield Curtis, wife of George Munson Curtis (treasurer of the International Silver Company); Mrs Mary Harriman Severance, wife of Cordenio A Severance; Professor John M Coulter, his wife and children; General Brayton Ives; St. Louis millionaire Samuel Cupples; historian Alice Morse Earle; and Mildred Montague, Countess Pasolini. Also, travelling in first class were Mr Leonard L. McMurray, who, in 1915, would survive the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania; and Mrs. Bessie Armstead Davis, daughter-in-law of senator Henry G. Davis of West Virginia with her two children.
At 5:30am, disaster struck when RMS Republic collided with the Lloyd Italiano liner SS Florida just off Nantucket, Massachusetts. It took a while, but by about 8:40pm on January 24, 1909, RMS Republic slipped beneath the water and landed on the bottom of the ocean floor at a depth of about 250 feet. While the evacuation process was praised as flawless at the time, a total of six lives were lost, nevertheless. It has been rumored that RMS Republic was also carrying a treasure ranging from $250,000 to $3,000,000 in estimates of the value. Of course, it would likely be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and maybe even a billion today. The SS Florida survived the collision and was later repaired.
These days, the wreck is owned by father and son Martin and Grant Bayerle, and a television series entitled “Billion Dollar Wreck” is in the process of recovering the contents of the ship. Some of the contents have been recovered, yielding significant amounts of gold and artifacts and brought to the surface by an ROV built specifically for the recovery. The total value of the recovered gold was estimated at $100–150 million. Of course, that is just rumor at this point. The shipwreck itself is 250 feet under water and much of it has deteriorated. It is said that the vaults that contain the alleged treasure appear to be very much intact. Again, time will tell.