Step aside Snooki and Pauly D – Florida diver Allan Garner may be set to become the Jersey Shore’s latest celebrity. Garner has filed an admiralty arrest claim on the wreck of the SS Ella Warley. The ship sank in 1863 after colliding with the SS North Star off the New Jersey coast. The North Star, owned by Commodore Vanderbilt, survived the collision and made it safely to New York City. The reason for the collision was disputed, although there were allegations of the Ella Warley’s captain and some of her officers being drunk at the time. Concerning the accusation of drunkenness, the New York Times editorialized, “we believe [it] has not the slightest foundation in truth.” Six crew members of the Ella Warley perished while the North Star suffered no casualties.
Built in 1848 as the SS Isabel, the Ella Warley displaced 1,115 tons and carried cargo and passengers between Charleston and Havana. Following the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, the Ella Warley ran the blockade several times between Charleston and Nassau until it was captured by the USS Santiago de Cuba.
At the time of its sinking the ship was laden with a cargo worth $175,000 and a safe containing $5,000 belonging to Adams Express Company. In addition, a passenger had $8,000 in gold aboard. While the cargo, which according to contemporary accounts consisted of hay, leather, provisions, dry goods and “express matter,” is most likely worthless, the safe’s contents and gold are quite valuable. Assuming the safe’s $5,000 was in gold, then there is the possibility of ~687 ounces of gold lying on the seabed floor amidst the wreckage. At today’s prices, this would mean the wreck is worth more than $1.2 million.
If no one objects to Garner’s claim by Thursday, then the US District Court for the District of New Jersey will award full ownership of the wreck and its contents to Garner. Successors in interest to the insurance company which paid out any claims for cargoes lost on the wreck, Adams Express Company and descendants of the passenger who lost $8,000 in gold are potential claimants and could be awarded a percentage of any recovery. Considering the wreck has been known among New Jersey’s diving community for 20 years, the likelihood is quite high that Garner has found something worth arresting.
Update: The $1.2 million value is for melt value and not the value of the gold if it were in specie form. If the gold were recovered in specie form, then the wreck could be worth upwards 20x of melt value as shipwreck specie commands a significant premium in the collector market.