The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 1, January 7, 2007, Article 17


Leon Worden writes: "Thank you for providing a forum that allows me to
engage in some wild & crazy speculation. I came across the following item
in the Aug. 25, 1854, edition of an old broadsheet newspaper from New York,
The National
Intelligencer: "The steamer George Law arrived at New York yesterday with
San Francisco dates to the 1st inst. She brings three hundred passengers,
and about $1,200,000 in gold."

"As you may know, in 1857, the George Law was rechristened the S.S.
Central America, and later that year, loaded with 500 passengers (578
total passengers and crew) and $1.6 million in gold that had been
consigned to banks in New York, she sank.

"In his 1998 bestseller, "Ship of Gold," author Gary Kinder writes that
the bow of the S.S. Central America was riding high off the water when
she departed Panama for Cuba. I ask: Why? I mean, sure, maybe her engine
and boiler works weighed 750 tons, but so what? If her passenger count
and cargo weight were within design tolerance and evenly distributed
throughout the ship, wouldn't she have been riding at even keel? (Or
whatever you call it - I'm not seaworthy.)

"Kinder suggests that because of the way the ship was riding, the
boiler room flooded more quickly than it might have, after she sprung a
leak in a Category 2 hurricane. The bucket brigade couldn't bail fast
enough, and if my memory serves, it took her three days to sink, by
which time the storm had subsided.

"Within months, the insurance companies that covered the banks' gold
shipments had covered the banks' losses. One hundred thirty years
later, when Tommy Thompson began to pull the $1.6 million in gold
(face value) from the bowels of the ocean, the successors to those
insurance companies filed a claim in federal court against the gold
itself and eventually won a percentage of it.

"Now for my crazy speculation. Why was the S.S. Central America riding
high? Why was she carrying more than half again as many passengers and
one-third more gold (by weight, since it's gold) on a trip in 1857 than
she carried in on a trip in 1854? Was she stuffed beyond design capacity?
If so, was it the steamship's standard operating procedure at the time
to overload her?

Alternately, did some enthusiastic bankers (notice I didn't say "greedy")
convince (notice I didn't say "bribe") some dockworkers and ship's crew
to overload the ship with gold?

"And if she was overloaded, with or without the complicity of the
bankers, were the insurance companies that covered the bank's losses
entitled to a share of Tommy Thompson's treasure?

"I wonder. If the steamship company's employees overloaded the ship
beyond her design capacity, it would seem to me that they could be
guilty of criminal negligence at best (not to mention wrongful death),
and the proper claim would be against the steamship company or its heirs
and assigns -- not the gold. And if the bankers played a role in the
overloading of the ship, surely they would have been in breach of
contract under their insurance policies, and the insurers would have
borne no responsibility to cover their losses. The insurance companies'
payout would have been improper.

"My own problem with this theory is that I have only two points of

I have only two sets of numbers -- an 1854 shipment (300 passengers,
$1.2 million in gold) and an 1857 shipment (500 passengers, $1.6 million
in gold). I don't know what was "average," and I don't know the ship's
design capacity. Does any E-Sylum subscriber know these answers?

"Finally, why should anyone care after all these years? Well ... Kinder's
book, "approved" by Tommy Thompson prior to publication, reports that
there is a lot of gold that Thompson left down there at the bottom of
the sea. A couple of years ago, Thompson formed a new "exploration"
company, ostensibly to bring it up. The insurance companies could come
knocking again. Maybe I should run this one past Tommy Thompson's

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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