1875 West Coast Shipwreck Found in 'Remarkable Condition'

More than 300 people went down with the SS Pacific
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2022 7:46 PM CST
After 147 Years, West Coast Shipwreck Is Found
A drawing of the SS Pacific from soon after it went into service in 1850.   (Wikipedia/Public domain)

Mysteries surrounding the 1875 sinking of a steamboat off the coast of Washington state—including whether gold was aboard—could soon be cleared up. An exploration company says it has found the wreckage of the SS Pacific and a federal judge has approved a salvage operation. More than 300 people went down with the 223-foot, side-wheel steamer, Courthouse News reports, making it the deadliest disaster ever along the Pacific Coast of the US. The Pacific sank in less than an hour after colliding with the Orpheus, a sailing ship, about 80 miles south of Cape Flattery, Washington.

"The wreck is in remarkable condition," Jeffrey Hummel of the exploration company, Rockfish, tells KIRO. "And we believe that it is going to be just an absolute treasure trove of artifacts from this era. You know, an absolute time capsule." Hummel said he'd been looking for the wreck for about 30 years, hampered by the size of the search area, which was hundreds of square miles. He enlisted commercial fishermen, whose nets sometimes pull in unexpected finds, such as coal that tests showed came from an Oregon mine. The same people owned that mine and the Pacific, so the coal "would have been part of the fuel that the ship had," Hummel said. It's possible gold will be found, he said, because the cargo was something worth insuring.

Matt McCauley, who has worked with Hummel for decades, recovering sunken boats and planes, says the ship was packed with miners returning to San Francisco from a gold rush in Canada. "They were jamming people into the end of the vessel," McCauley tells KIRO. "The carpenters were nailing up bunks in the Salon Deck to accommodate all these people." It's not clear how many people were on board, but historians believe it could have been more than 400. Only two survived after clinging to wreckage for more than 40 hours. (More shipwreck stories.)

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