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Manzanillo Mexico S S Golden Gate Shipwreck

S S Golden Gate Burning Photo
The SS Golden Gate: built in 1851, burned in 1862 off Manzanillo, Mexico

The Ship S.S. Golden Gate

by Terry Sovil

Builder: William H. Webb, New York. Keel laid July 1, 1850. Engine: Two oscillating engines by Novelty Iron Works. Wooden side-wheel steamer, 3 decks, 3 masts, round stern, spread-eagle head. 2,067 tons, 269 feet x 40 feet x 30 feet 6 inches. Her wheel diameter was 33 feet 6 inches and she had a draft of 10 feet 2 inches or 13 feet 8 inches loaded. 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 last fateful trip wouldn't be completed - at least not for the 213 people lost when the ship caught fire and sank off Manzanillo, Mexico.

Golden Gate Ship Pacific Mail SS in 1850

Destruction of the "Golden Gate" by fire and frightful loss of life

- from Annual Register, compiled by Pascal Kainic -
- Maritime Heritage -

Intelligence has been received of the destruction by fire of th American paddle steamer "Golden Gate" of 2850 tons, while on her voyage from San Francisco to Panama. She was a very large and powerful steamer.

The "Golden Gate" left San Francisco with 95 cabin and 147 second-class passengers, as well as 96 men as a crew. She also had an immense treasure of US$ 1.400.000 in gold bullion.

While 15 miles off Manzanilla, she was found to be on fire in the engine room. She was promptly headed for the shore only a short distance from. The passengers were ordered to the forepart of the ship, which was yet free from the flames, but the fire spread with such rapidity that the communication with the stern was cut off and great numbers were burnt to death before the ship was run on the beach.

When this was accomplished, it seemed that the unhappy voyagers had only changed the manner of their death; for a dreadful surf broke upon the shore and rendered the chance of escape precarious.But there was no choice...

Every part of the ship was on fire and the despairing people were compelled to entrust themselves to the waves. Many of them perished; some got to land burnt and shattered; the shore was lined with corpses.

When assistance arrived, it was found that 72 of the passengers and 62 of the crew survived. In all, 204 perished or were missing.

The ship was utterly destroyed by the combined action of the fire and the breakers. By the total destruction of the framework, the massive iron boxes wich contained the treasure, sunk into the sand, but a large portion of it has been recovered by means of dredging and the diving apparatus.


It was the middle of the American Civil War, about 148 years ago, with Grant about to besiege Vicksburg. At 2:30 pm on Monday July 21, 1862 one of the fastest steamers on the West Coast left San Francisco bound for Panama. The boat was the S.S. Golden Gate, one of the fastest paddle steam ships on the West Coast. 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) averaging a speed of 12 knots. She carried 338 passengers and crew along with a reported 1.4 million in gold. It was 148 years ago on Sunday evening, July 27, 1862. The beautiful beach in Manzanillo now called Playa de Oro (Gold Beach), named from the sinking, had an unrelenting big surf up and the sight was of a burning ship and waters strewn with bodies and the screams of drowning, burning men.

The S.S. Golden Gate was 15 miles off the shore just west of Manzanillo when a fire in the engine room was reported. Only 15 miles to shore they decided to run to the safety of the beach. Passengers were ordered off the ship to lifeboats. There is some question as to exactly where the ship made land. Some say near the rock called Pena Blanca. Some say 1-2 miles farther west in front of what is now the Manzanillo airport.

Golden Gate Burning near Manznanillo Colima Mexico As the engines roared and drove the boat toward shore it pushed the flames from the engine room to the rear of the ship. The fire spread quickly and engulfed the ship in flames. Survivors were forced to jump overboard to face the surf and the waves rather than the flames. Many were too weak from exertion and/or burns and they never made it to shore.

When help finally arrived 204 of the passengers and crew had already died. The ship itself was destroyed by flames and the pounding seas. The boxes of gold (perhaps iron boxes) sunk into the sand and were buried by the surge and surf off the sandy beach. It is rumored that much of the gold washed to shore but that seems doubtful with the weight and the shifting sand. Some claim money belts were abandoned by the drowning sailors due to the weight. Rumors persist of people finding golden coins but that is perhaps a self-perpetuating myth by now.

Legend is that one Bart Varelmann, founder of a hotel La Posada, salvaged a good amount of the gold in the 60's and spent it on his bed and breakfast.

Hotel La Posada S S Golden Gate

First Run of the S.S. Golden Gate

Her first run to San Francisco left New York in September 1851 and arrived in the City on November 19, 1851. (Note: A second source has her leaving New York on August 2, 1851 via Rio de Janeiro, Valparaiso, and Panama and arriving in San Francisco on November 19, 1851. San Francisco press hailed her as "the largest and swiftest steamer in our waters," and she was called the "finest specimen of naval architecture on the Pacific." She was seized on September 2, 1852 for taking taking on too many passengers. Apparently, along with the Columbia and SS Lewis, they had been placing more than two tiers of berths in their cabins and steerage. Her passage from Panama to San Francisco of eleven days, four hours, stood as a record until 1855. Unfortunately, like SS Brother Jonathan, even though she was fast, she was plagued with problems, including an outbreak of cholera in 1852, which resulted in 29 deaths (a second source reports 84 deaths). In 1853, she nearly collided with the Vanderbilt steamship Sierra Nevada off the coast of Mexico, her shaft cracked twice, and she went aground at Point Loma in 1854.

SS Goldengate Pantry January 3, 1856, Daily Alta California TWO STEAMERS--Rates of Passage--Number of Passengers.--The Golden Gate, of the Panama Line, and the Uncle Sam, of the Nicaragua Line, are advertised to sail this morning at 9 o'clock, and will probably got off about noon. The Golden Gate will take between four and five hundred passengers, and her rates of fare are in the First Cabin, $250; Second Cabin, $175; Steerage, $100. The Uncle Sam will have about four hundred passengers, and her rates are in the First Cabin, $225; Second Cabin, $150; and in Steerage, $95. There are a large number desiring to go down to Nicaragua, but up to a late hour yesterday, only twelve tickets had been sold. The parties were holding back for a reduction in the price of passage, which has been fixed for this steamer at $75. The Cortes carried down for $60. Most of these who are negotiating for tickets to Nicaragua are from the interior. The sad news received yesterday of the death of three well know young men from this city has cast a gloom over the wide circle of their bereaved friends, and this intelligence will have a tendency to dampen the zeal for those who may have been longing for the charms of Central America.

January 3, 1856, Daily Alta California DEPARTURE OF THE STEAMERS.--The Steamer Golden Gate sailed yesterday, at half past 2 P.M., carrying about 400 passengers and $1,276,928 treasure.

The Sinking - From rootsweb

S S Golden Gate Photo July 27, 1862 at about 4:45pm the crew and passengers were sitting down for dinner. The ship was between San Francisco and Panama, about 15 miles offshore from Manzanillo, Mexico in calm seas. Fire was discovered in the engine room between the engines and the aft galley. Both Capt. W.H. Hudson and R.H. Pearson went to the scene of the fire, Pearson taking command of the firefighting and Hudson ordering the ship to make a dash for the shoreline. The vessel was headed for what is now called Playa de Oro to beach. The two captains were on-board because the regular commander, Pearson, was heading east on vacation, so Hudson had command. Smoke was pouring from the engine room hatchway amidships.

About 100 first and second-class passengers were ordered forward but the position of the fire put the steerage passengers most at-risk and cut communications between fore and aft. Accelerating the ship towards shore sent smoke and flames streaming aft. Fire soon made it impossible for the captain to communicate with the engine room and W. Waddell, the chief engineer of the 270-foot long sidewheel steamer. It was Pearson who knew that the engine crew was trapped, so he broke down the bulkhead in the after-freight room to rescue his chief engineer at least a dozen crewmen.

The ship was equipped with pumps for firefighting, with several lifeboats, and with more than enough life preservers for the Golden Gate's 1,200 capacity. Several boats were gotten off but at 5:15 pm the ship was still 3-4 miles from shore and flames were now coming from the engine room hatch. Many of the passengers sought refuge in the stern, but the flames spread in that direction, and when boats were launched in the heavy surf the occupants were crushed against the ship or drowned. Passengers were starting to jump from the ship, either with life preservers or by grabbing onto floating material.

Many of the passengers sought refuge in the stern, but the flames spread in that direction, and when boats were launched in the heavy surf the occupants were crushed against the ship or drowned; the ship broke up in the surf. Reports of between 175 and 223 passengers and crew lost their lives, together with the baggage, mail, and nearly all the cargo of $1.4 million in specie.

Ben Holladay, a New Yorker traveling with his business partner, lashed himself to a ladder. When he jumped he passed under the port paddlewheel but emerged unharmed and was picked up by one of the lifeboats. It was another 20 hours before they reached Manzanillo (often referred to as Manzanilla in earlier reports). Holladay later was one of the investors and directors of the Union Pacific RR, as it built the railroad west across the continent to join the Central Pacific RR and link the east and west coasts after the Civil War. Survivors arrived in San Francisco in August, and the Daily Alta California published reports of the disaster from those survivors and from Capt. W.W. Hudson and Capt. R.H. Pearson. August 6, 1862, Received August 7, 1862, 11:45 a.m. W.L. Halssy, care of Geo. K. Otis, 88 Wall Street:, New York:

I was saved from the burning ship by lashing myself to the forecastle ladder. I then jumped overboard; passing under the port wheel while the vessel was still underway. Fortunately I sustained no serious injury, and was picked up by the ship's boat. We were in the boat fully 20 hours before reaching Manzanilla. Poor Flint was lost. -- BEN J. HOLLADAY

Holladay's injuries weren't severe, but references by others make it clear that he didn't pass under the wheel uninjured.

Mrs. Thomas Gough, rescued in one of the lifeboats, was dining with Capt. Hudson when the word came to his table of a fire aboard ships. "Oh, nonsense! I don't believe it," he responded to the sailor with the news, but immediately left the table to investigate. She was in one of the first boats launched, which tossed all aboard into the sea during the failed lowering. A sailor jumped into the water, then righted the boat, after which the boat reloaded. The boat eventually began to take water, but encountering the boat of Mathew Nolan, first mate, he ordered the survivor to use a portion of Mrs. Gough's dress and handkerchiefs to top the leak.

Nolan also organized the boats together, as several were launched while the Golden Gate was still about two miles from shore. "The first mate then ordered one of the boats to go back and taken the surplus boats in tow, and follow in the wake of the ship, which was headed for the shore," another account in the Daily Alta California relates. "All the after part of the ship was now one sheet of flame, and her passengers were all crowded into the bow."

"By the time we had reached the ship, many were ashore. After rowing about the ship until we could find no more floating there, we then went back, still searching for those who had left the ship before she struck, and found some five or six who were floating upon boards and timbers, among whom were Ben Hollday and Mr. Storms." There were a number of men floating in life preservers; Mrs. Gough's boat was full with 28 people, so those swimming to the boat were told to hang onto the sides. They rowed through the night for Manzanillo, encountering a thunderstorm around midnight. Finally the boat reached harbor around 1:30 p.m. on Monday. Other lifeboats continued to arrive through the afternoon.

At 5:30 pm the ship had run aground about 300 yards offshore in heavy surf at what is now called Playa de Oro, 14 miles northwest of Manzanillo. Capts. Hudson and Pearson were the last to leave the ship, according Pearson's written report made the day that he was rescued.

The foremast and the upper deck caved in to the fire at this time, but still the engines kept working. Hudson and Pearson tore off their clothing, then hung from the bowsprit, awaiting a chance to jump and not be crushed by the 2,000-ton ship rolling in the surf. A rope that the senior officer was holding burned through, dropping him into the surf, which carried him ashore safely.

"I was alone, exhausted, physically and mentally, with both hands, left arm and right shoulder burned," Pearson says. "Though I am a good swimmer, I doubted if I should reach the shore if I abandoned my life preserver." Luckily a wave threw him clear of the hull and onto the beach.

Some survivors clung to boats, including J. Enba, an Italian sculptor who had worked in San Francisco. Enba spent four hours in the water and clung to the side of a lifeboat until one came along that wasn't full.

Four Catholic fathers, who had recently been ordained in San Francisco, were aboard the ship. One, Padre Cardenas, was credited with pulling 24 people from the surf, where exhausted passengers were unable to gain a foothold and come ashore.

About 80 people had reached the shore that evening with the two ship's officers, as well as at least four dead. The fire continued to break up the ship, so that by dark the ship had broken up and both bow and stern had come ashore. In the morning, baggage from the wreck was found strewn along the beach, including several kegs of ale for the exhausted and isolated survivors.

The dead were buried at the beach, including at least four women (one of them Mrs. George McMullen). The group started towards Manzanillo but were blocked about 11 miles from town at an area called "White Rock," [Pena Blanca] then spent a 2nd night outdoors and with no food or water.

On the afternoon of the 28th the Manzanillo customs boat picked up two of the survivors from the group. It was another day before the steamer St. Louis managed to rescue the balance of the survivors, most of whom went back to San Francisco on the St. Louis (except a few of the Golden Gate crew).

Still, another 23 were missing from a lifeboat commanded by James Scott, the ship's 3rd officer. They drifted about 80 miles to the south of Manzanillo and didn't reach San Francisco until Aug. 18, when the steamer Orizaba brought them to the city. The passengers on-board this lifeboat unanimously described both Mathew Nolan, first officer, and James Scott, third officer, as heroes for leading passengers from the ship.

Follow-up after the sinking, The Incredible Mr. Yates

Bodies were taken from the water by the St. Louis crew in the days right after the fire. Some two weeks later, the American consul at Manzanillo took five men and managed to bury another 25 of the dead. People at the site continued to find and bury other bodies for at least a year after the incident.

Daily Alta California, January 23, 1863
From the Wreck of the Golden Gate

The pilot boat Potter, of San Francisco, arrived here on Sunday last from Manzanillo, having recently visited the wreck of the steamship Golden Gate. T.J.L. Smiley, of San Francisco, who was one of the party accompanying the pilot boat on her expedition to the wrecked steamer, has given us some interesting particulars of the excursion. Mr. Smiley says portions of the wreck are still visible, but from observations made around and about it, he is of opinion that the sides of the vessel must have given way since the wreck, and that the treasure aboard the ill-fated steamer has drifted out, and been buried in the sand. The New York and foreign underwriters had been to the wreck endeavoring to obtain the treasure, but had abandoned the enterprise before the Potter reached the ground.

Mr. Smiley also gave us an interesting account of a man names Yates, an old resident of Manzanillo, who has been near the wreck a greater part of the time since the steamer was burned. About ten days after the disaster, Yates, prompted by a desire to recover the steamer's treasure, went to the beach near where the wreck occurred, and there erected a tenement, in which he now lives. His hopes of obtaining the treasure not having been realized, he has devoted himself to the humane occupation of interring much of the lost by the sad disaster as he might chance to fall in with. Yates keeps a careful record of each body interred by him, taking from each an article of clothing or other mark of identification, to which he gives a number corresponding to the number of the grave in which the body is buried, and thus is enabled to assist materially such parties as may be in search of the remains of lost kindred or friends. One instance only of the efficacy of Yates' plan of procedure we will mention in detail: Mr. Isaac Josephi, of San Francisco, had a brother who was among the lost by the Golden Gate disaster. Immediately after learning the sad intelligence of his brother's death, Mr. Josephi telegraphed New York to ascertain if there was any particular mark about the deceased which would aid in identifying the body. In reply he was told that his brother had had some teeth inserted by a dentist, who had placed a certain number upon the gold plate used by him. With this information, Mr. Josephi started for the wrecked steamer, and on his arrival at the scene of the disaster, he sought and obtained an interview with Mr. Yates, and ascertained that the latter had taken the gold plate from the mouth of the deceased, and had numbered it correspondingly with the number of the grave in which he had placed the remains. This enabled Mr. Josephi to recover his brother's body without further difficulty. Such humane conduct as Yates has displayed is certainly commendable in a high degree, and we trust that for the troubles and privations he has sustained in his no less singular than humane undertaking, he may meet with a commensurate rewards.

Survivors / Deceased from the S.S. Golden Gate - webroots

Of those lost, the burden fell most-heavily on steerage passengers, where only 33 of 134 survived. According to the victim and survivor lists published after the accident, these are the statistics for survivors:

1st Class: 27 (41%)
2nd Class: 25 (47%)
Steerage: 33 (25%)
Crew: 61 (62%)

In one case, an entire Scots family would have been lost but for their inability to send the entire family back to New York at once. (The fares for an 1856 trip one-way between San Francisco and Panama were $250 for 1st class; $175 for 2nd; $100 for steerage.) As it was, A. Smith, his wife, sister and four children were killed. Smith had lost a considerable amount of property in the winter of 1861 and its floods. So daughter Jane Smith, 17, was attached as a nurse with another family, left on Aug. 1 onboard another ship - before learning of the loss of the rest of her family aboard the Golden Gate.

Two of the children of John and Ella Given were also saved, including an infant. Afterwards a passenger named John Charte told stories of John Givens offering $3,000 to anyone who would save his 8-week-old child, Ellie Oceanae Wandesford Given. Little Ellie ended up coming back to San Francisco after being nourished on beer during the period that the survivors were marooned. She was the subject of fund-raising as her grandmother was the only relative in San Francisco -- and she was nearly destitute.

However, Ellie would only live another 8 weeks before dying on Sept. 30.

One Person's Research Narrative on the S.S. Golden Gate:

My two cousins, Donna Fry and Vicky Forbush, put me up to the task of finding out what had happened to a great-great uncle, John Fry, who'd gone west in 1856 to mine for gold. He was actually one of three brothers who were in California in the 1850s -- Josiah died there in 1869 and George Washington Fry went on to be a pioneer in Lassen County, CA.

John had gone to California from Ashland, Ohio before the Civil War and was reportedly lost on board the sinking of the S.S. Golden Gate in 1862. A biography written about founding families of Ashland County during the 1870s notes, "While returning home on the Golden Gate, the vessel was burned. He buckled his money about his waist and clung to a rope until it was burned off, when he jumped into the water with two children he was bringing to New York." The identities and fate of the two children is unknown at this writing.

The Internet had some incorrect leads on the date that the ship had sunk, putting it as early as July 15, 1862. But I was determined to get the actual accounts from the newspapers of the time, so obtained microfilms of the New York Herald Tribune from July and August of that year. After slogging through three weeks of newspaper accounts of the Civil War, I was about to give up. Was it so unimportant that the New York newspapers didn't care?

Suddenly on August 8, 1862 the news is splashed across the top of the New York newspapers. It had been delayed by the break in the telegraph lines!

The news shocked New York City, even with the country at war and Grant about to besiege Vicksburg. New York financial news tracked shipments of gold from California closely, so it was immediately known that $1.1 million bound for New York and $270,000 bound for England had been lost.

It was Aug. 6 before the St. Louis carried the survivors and the news back to San Francisco. The telegraph line break delayed its arrival in New York by two more days.

The names of those killed or missing were published on Aug. 10; a more complete list several days later. The San Francisco Bulletin published a more complete list several days later, though there are indications that some of those lost may not be on the lists. In particular, Raphael Myers, who apparently went to California from England with his wife Mathilda (nee Cohen) was lost and none of the names on this list resemble his. Mathilda Myers and granddaughters were not lost in the sinking; they'd preceded him back to England.

The three lists from August, 1862 have been reconciled to the extent possible here.

It appears that any of the bodies found were buried in Manzanillo; at least one victim (Edward Josephi) was taken back to the U.S. two years later.

Names of the Lost


Dr. Henry W. Jones, surgeon of the ship
Mrs. G.O. McMullen, two infants and servant
The servant of J. Whitney, Jr.
E. Flint (of Holladay & Flint, New York)
B.J. Denchla and niece
Mrs. A.T. Greene and infant
Rev. C. Keith, returning missionary from China
Mrs. Cyrus Adams and infant
E. Levine and servant
J.E. Cook
Capt. J.W. Rickards, wife and two children
L. Bacigalupi
Mrs. Wright and child
Mrs. C.A. Morrison
Mrs. Harriet Horton
Dr. J.N. Bodinier (French)
H.B. Davis
Miss C.E. Cogswell
Charles J. Theis, German merchant (Theis and Knibbe)
Mrs. B. Darsh and two children
D.A. Nurse
Edward Josephi (his brother would go to Manzanillo in 1864 to disinter his brother and take the body home)
T. Faus
P. Schener
Edward Roepke
J. Cramer, wife and infant
J. Drey
Henry Gerstung, wife and child (German merchant)
Son of A.J. Nichols


John Forbes
John E. Given and wife Ella Thompson Given (originally from Baltimore; two children survived)
Mrs. Leavenworth and child
Mrs. J.L. Hulse and child (J.L. Hulse survived)
George Henry Fulton and three nephews (Julian, 9; Walter; and Edward) -- 1 child saved
Mrs. S. Babcock and infant
J.R. Bird
J. Carlinas
Mrs. A. Stone
Mrs. I.W. Geer and infant
S. Francis
Miss L.C. Brier
J.C. Lancaster
R.T. Hawkins
Miss G. Barker
C. Mudie
R. Voener and wife
F.A. Rhodes
Mrs. E. Scott


G. Harris
D. Long
G. Downey
J. Shay
M.W. Harrisman
W. Brown
M. Massey
M. Olson
J. Gaurley
T. Walcott
R. Smith
R. Travers
R. Bernard
E. DeBret
G. Jichom
P. Conley
T. Wallingbrook
A. Jackson
J. Harkin
J. DeBar
V. Columbia
S. Wilkinson
John Fry, Ashland, OH
A. Briller
F. Clare
A. Smith, sister, wife and four children
Mrs. Mary Clark
A. Fernlough
Miss A. Chambers
C.H. Hill
L. Grapum
H.P. Stevens
G.W. Kinzer
T.B. Sweeney
James Hewitt
John Vrup
P.H. Moran
O.G. Farwell
P. Webster
P. Rivari
Lewis Andrews
J. Broad
Miss Hartland
J. Henry
Michael Pierce
M. Pierce
P. Pierce
T.O. Ryan
T.J. Shore
H. Winkleman
S.D. Goodall
J. Brackbill
J. Chambers
J.B. Moore
L. Bacon
L.P. Cuddiboc
F. Carroll
F. Esfelt
J. Holm
T. Herberst
P. Downey
G. Newton
Mrs. Daley
S. Gilbert
A. Peterson
George Weller
J. Sheridan
D.H. Prebble
George Ramsay
Alexander Pettigrew
Thomas Midling
John Magher
J. Borovich
J. Croft
J. Groves
C. Galiedy
Daniel O'Leary
A.M. Clark
H.W. Bracey (colored)
W.J. Davis
L. Blum
O. Bradley
G. Mathison
V.S. Moore
E.H. Williams
John Gordis
G. Bruso
A. Bremner
T. Morcam
E. Hilbert
J.W. Shaw
George Ramsey
C. Sallody


Timothy O'Brien, 3rd assistant engineer
Sam Jones, water tender fireman
John Cunningham, fireman
Wm. Denny, fireman
George Ogden, coal passer
Henry Baden, coal passer
William Low, sailor
Sam Dowling, sailor
Robert Pino, cabin waiter
Charles Miller, cabin waiter
P.H. Sullivan, cabin waiter
Thomas Bolster, cabin waiter
George Smith, coal passer
William McKenzie, fireman
Thomas Smith, fireman
Frank Marlay, coal passer
Mike Keegan, coal passer
A. Hennessey. sailor
Antonio Ferris, cabin waiter
William Carey, cabin waiter
Martin Owen, steerage waiter
Henry Johnson, mess boy for engineers
Henry Johnson, carpenter
S.K. Valentine, second steward
Charles Cobb, carpenter
Benjamin Strobel, pantry man
Bernard McKune, second pantry man
Henry R. Schaeffer, second porter
John Brown Zeni, 1st cook, afer galley
John Peterson, colored second cook, forward galley
George Rose, colored second cook, forward galley
Sam Burris, colored third cook, forward galley
Charles A. Belford (working passage)
John Johnson, cabin waiter


Gold valued at $300,000 was recovered from the wreck and brought to San Francisco by the Pacific Mail steamship Constitution in February 1863.

Pier built from shore to SS Goldengate to help recover treasure

Mazatlan Cosmopolitan, Jan 1st.
Daily Alta California, Sunday, February 8, 1863


Recovery of part of the Golden Gate's Treasure -

The steamer Constitution, which arrived yesterday, touched at Manzanillo on her upward trip, where she took aboard a large amount of specie, consisting of Mexican dollars. After leaving that harbor, the steamer ran down to the scene of the wreck of the Golden Gate. Here fifteen boxes, containing the sum of $820,000, being a portion of the treasure sunken on that ill-fated vessel, were taken on board. This unexpected recover was effected by the party which sailed from this port two month since, on the clipper schooner William Irelan. The gentlemen of that name was the superintendent of the enterprise, and with him a party of ten assistants. The dumb agent, which took the most active part in the securement of the money, was Commodore Allen's steam engine, called the Andrew Jackson. This being fastened on a scow, was run into the breakers and secured. The water here is about twelve feet deep. The dredger was then set in motion and the dredging process began. The engine worked so quickly and powerfully that twenty-eight hundred pounds of sand or other materials were raised per minute by the dredger. This work was done over the supposed locality of the treasure vault, which, although broken up, the boxes would, of course remain in a narrow compass. The sand being partially removed, the diver would descend; and finding a box, fasten it ot the lines, when the machinery would hoist it aboard. A steam pump and hose were also used in cleaning off the sand from the submerged boxes. The weather was fine, sea calm, and everything favorable for continued successful operations. After seven days labor the sum of $820,000 was secured, and when the Constitution left, the work was progressing so favorably as to justify the sanguine expectations of the Company, who believe that a million of treasure will be saved. We have been informed that a number of the boxes as soon as hoisted, were seized by a bank of prowling Mexicans and bore off. The amount thus stolen, as represented to us, was $200,000. The Constitution passed within two or three ships' length from the wreck. The schooner lay at anchor some fifty or sixty yards from the shore. It is not impossible that the entire amount of treasure still buried will be recovered within the 60 days next ensuing. The sum brought up on the steamer, and which belongs to the enterprising experimentists of the city was duly deposited in the banking house of Parrott & Co. We are not surprised that other unsuccessful parties, who had embarked heavily in a similar expedition, feel somewhat chagrined that they came so near reaping the first fruits of their pioneer efforts in endeavoring to draw up the drowned dollars.

Finding the wreck / Diving the wreck

Asked by: yyz2112-ga

I need to know who and how much gold has been recovered in salvage operations from the wreck of the "SS.Golden Gate" steamer ship near Manzanillo, Mexico, in 1862.Here is all the info i have so far;

Answered By: omnivorous-ga on 19 Mar 2005 20:22 PST
Yyz2112 --

Since that web page is mine, I can answer this question with some authority: certainly less than half of the gold was recovered in any of the operations in the 1860s.

And it's complicated by several aspects of the history of the time:

  • Gold and silver coin were still the dominant currency of the time, so there's no way to know how much coinage was lost with the passengers. Multiple reports indicated that passengers jumped overboard with their money belts, then abandoned them when they started to sink.
  • many of those returning from California had been involved in the Gold Rush, including my great great uncle and a friend of his, among the 330+ passengers on board. They'd likely have been carrying gold.

Reports still indicate that an occasional gold coin washes up on Playa del Oro -- though it appears that the myth now self-perpetuates itself. There have been more recent efforts in the past 20 years to seek out a large concentration of gold in the area, but it's been frustrated by the fact that the currents are heavy in the area and sand deposits heavy as well.

By the way, the sources of reports are pretty clearly indicated in those Rootsweb pages, should you wish to pursue the matter further.

Best regards,

Request for Answer Clarification by yyz2112-ga on 19 Mar 2005 21:31 PST
Hi omnivvorous, how can i find out about the recovery operations of
the last 20 years you mentioned?And by whom? thx, yyz2112

Clarification of Answer by omnivorous-ga on 20 Mar 2005 01:29 PST YYz2112 --

The information that I have regarding more recent explorations came from Jorge Sosa, the owner of Neptune's Diving, in a personal e-mail that was written about a year after I posted that original account in 2001:

The Playa del Oro is a mile or more north of Pena Blanca, a large rock on the coast that's well known to divers. The rock is mentioned in survivors' accounts from 1862, as it represents the southern end of the beach and is an obstacle to their continuing on foot towards Manzanillo.

Jorge, who's been in Manzanillo for decades, mentioned that several attempts to use modern metal detection equipment had been tried but didn't yield much. Depending on sand movement -- and the area has very active currents -- the iron structure of the steamer might be buried deeply or even have rusted away in 140+ years. Of course, the steamer was run virtually onto the beach in an effort to save the passengers.

One other item that's worth knowing: Sosa indicated that a professor at the local university had written a thesis on the shipwreck pre-1960, a research paper that he's been unable to locate. I've also made an attempt at finding it, to no avail.

The best resources that I've found have been newspapers of the time, in which there are accounts of survivors and of salvage attempts. Little of that information is online, though you can see from the Rootsweb pages that little pieces keep turning up. The California State Library is a core resource, particularly since some of the newspapers of the time are available. You may wish to obtain the San Francisco newspapers like the Daily Alta Times on microfilm via inter-library loan. There's quite a bit written that's more "personal" and even speculative than you'd find in typical news columns today, but I think that you'd find August-December, 1862 particularly rich. And since salvage operations, some of which were conducted with the support of the U.S. Navy, resulted in court battles over ownership, you probably will find additional information in 1863-1865:
Best regards,

Rootsweb Scans of News Article - Norma F. Jennings:

Andrew Czernek has a neat website complete with a photo of the SS Goldengate. I first heard of the SS Goldengate when George Fulton sent me the writeup on it with his family's background and connection to it. The link below has been added to the Fulton Index page as well.

George Richard Fulton 51 born 4 July 1855; died 6 Jan. 1901; married Mary Jane Berry a.k.a. "Jennie" (b. 22 Feb. 1859; d. 15 Feb. 1935). Lone family survivor of the burning and sinking of the SS Golden Gate. Swam to shore to Mexico and lived during drowning incident with his brothers and uncle. Scanned copy of the article "When the Golden Gate Went Down-A Semi-Centennial Reminiscence by Jennie Berry Fulton originally from "Sine Nomine", Vol. 2, No 3, pp. 71-73 published in Chester, Pa. on March 1, 1913. Page 74; Page 75; and Page 76

Norma Jennings

Reference Links:

  • - Photo of the following family.
  • El Naufragio del "SS. Golden Gate", Una Leyenda Dorada.
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