Three years before Titanic, on January 24, 1909, another palatial and "unsinkable" White Star Line passenger liner sank 50 miles off the coast of Nantucket. The RMS Republic sank in the most treacherous part of the North Atlantic, a heavily trafficked shipping lane, in 270 feet of shark infested water. The ripples from her loss generated the greatest legend in lost-treasure lore, the loss of wealth beyond most men's wildest dreams.
The SS Republic, a Royal Mail Ship (qualified to carry both the British and U.S. mails, hence her "RMS Republic" designation), one of the largest and most luxurious passenger liners of her era, flagship of the White Star Line steamship company's Boston-European Service and one of that line's most prized vessels, departed New York at 3 p.m., Friday, January 22, 1909, outbound to Mediterranean ports. In the early morning hours of January 23rd, 1909, in a dense fog, she collided with the in-bound immigrant ship SS Florida. The Florida struck the Republic almost a square blow port side abaft midships, at theRepublic's engine room, knocking out her engines, boilers and dynamos. She lost all power, motive, electrical, and steam. However, she did have some secondary battery power for the use of her just-recently installed wireless telegraph.
Six persons (3 Republic passengers and 3 Florida crew members) were killed as a direct result of the collision, but over 1,500 passengers and crew were rescued. The survivors attributed their deliverance to the steamship company's prompt use of the recently invented Marconi wireless telegraph to call for assistance. Within minutes of the collision, the Republic's Marconiman sent the "CQD" ("CQ" = "(Attention) All Stations," "D" = "Distress"), the predecessor to today's "SOS" distress signal, over the airwaves to the world at large. No less than seven ships, including several major liners, responded. This was the first practical demonstration of this "new" technology's ability to aid victims of disasters at sea - and this "miracle" captured the world's attention. It was the world's first "breaking-news" "live" mass-media event.
The Republic 's passengers were transferred twice, first to the less damaged Florida, then to the called-to-the-rescue White Star liner Baltic. This double-transfer open-sea rescue maneuver remains the largest on record.
The Republic 's passengers were transferred to other vessels primarily out of concern for their comfort (from the heatless, lightless Republic), with some concern for their safety (the "unsinkable" Republic's water-tight bulkheads were under a severe test, and, because she could not maneuver, with the fog, she might be hit by yet another vessel in the busy shipping lane). Ultimately, however, the Republic's bulkheads did not hold. The next day, while under tow back to New York, she sank in deep and shark-infested waters 50 miles south of Nantucket Island - beyond the grasp of that era's technology to recover. She was the largest, most technologically advanced vessel to sink in history to her day; she was succeeded in that ignominious role only by the loss of another virtually unsinkable White Star Liner,Titanic, which was to sink just three years later.
The Republic's cargos, however, did not fare as well as her passengers. All baggage and other cargos were lost. After all, there was no need to remove cargo from an "unsinkable" ship. And there was also no power to operate her winches, and no time; passengers always came first.
DiscoverSea Museum houses one of the largest collections of artifacts that have been recovered from this ship. We hope that you will visit us soon to learn the stories behind this great White Star ship.