The Baltic

Recovering treasure from an 1866 shipwreck

1866 shipwreck Baltic recovery in the Bahamas

Posted by Historic Sites and Shipwrecks Inc. on Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Brig “Baltic” was an American general merchant ship, a wooden two masted vessel with brigantine rig. Her weight was 281 tons. She was built in Camden, Maine in 1854. Her owner was William H. Hooper of Camden, Maine.

On September 17th, 1866 she was headed for Galveston,Texas after clearing customs in New York and loading additional cargo and medical supplies along with her European cargo of porcelain, china, alcohol and food stuffs. The great Bahamian hurricane of October 1st, 1866 caught the “Baltic”, she floundered and sank on the reef off Eleuthera, Bahamas. It was believed that as she was in a sinking condition her master John Maddocks decided to beach her in order to save his crew. As she settled in shallow water during the storm she was completely buried in sand and her top cabin and masts with sails set were broken off and blown onto the beach at Eleuthera.

Her decks had been stacked with cargo crates and a portable saw mill as well as shoe shine kits. A small number of these cargo crates, which had been washed ashore, were saved and taken into Nassau with the Master and crew.

"On The Water" with Bill Hyde

TV interview about items recovered from the 1866 shipwreck Baltic in the Bahamas.

Posted by Historic Sites and Shipwrecks Inc. on Thursday, September 28, 2017

The crew consisted of the master of the Brig Baltic John Maddocks of New York with his wife Francis R. Maddocks and the crew Robert C. Wooster and Gilbert Sinclair (mates) W.M. Boyd, John Morrison, Manfred A. Dyer and John S. Ferris who were seamen.

This hurricane had winds of 140 mph and killed hundreds of people in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti with massive mudslides. When it hit the Turks and Caicos Islands it killed 63 people and destroyed over 700 homes, toppling trees and sinking many ships before it finally hit the Bahamas where it wrecked over 200 ships and killed more than 387 people.

Nassau was hit with massive 60 foot waves that washed over Hogs Island (Paradise Island) and destroyed most of the 200 ships in the harbor. The storm was over 23 miles across in diameter and in twenty four hours the city of Nassau looked like a city that had been sacked and burned by the enemy.

It was reported that as many as 100 dead bodies were found floating along the shores of San Salvador and Cat Islands. A correspondent at Great Harbour stated that the hurricane had ruined all the estates, destroyed the cisterns of water, public schools and the poorer classes are being exposed to starvation. The schooner “Victory”, schooner “President” and barque “Ticker” of New York were also lost here.

In a report to Washington on Monday November 12th,1866 the United States Consul at Nassau, Mr.Kirkpatrick stated that as to the losses to shipping in this vicinity “The old American brig Baltic, John Maddocks, master of New York from New York for Galveston Texas with a general cargo, struck on Eleuthera and was totally wrecked, on the 1st inst. A small part of her cargo with officers and crew as follows: John Maddocks,master; Francis R. Maddocks and Robert C. Wooster, mates, and Gilbert Sinclair, W.M. Boyd, John Morrison, Manfred A. Dyer and John S. Ferris, seamen” were all brought into Nassau.

For many years the natives on the Island of Eleuthera had known of a large wooden stump that stuck out of the bottom sand off shore of Eleuthera but had assumed that it was a large tree stump and the coastline had probably been washed away in that area.

When the salvage crew arrived in this area and began examining this stump they decided to back the salvage vessel over it and turn on the blowers to blow away the sand surrounding it.

When the water cleared after running the blowers for 15 minutes there was a fully intact ship buried under the sand in about 30 feet of water.

It was the old American brig Baltic and she was still fully loaded with barrels and crates and a large cargo of window glass with straw still protecting her cargo after being under the ocean for 130 years.

The brig Baltic was found almost fully intact in 1995, buried under a protective layer of sand. The “Baltic” is probably the only vessel of its era to be found in such pristine condition in the Western Hemisphere. HSS transported a large portion of her cargo to the United States where HSS conducted research and preservation of the thousands of items recovered. A showing of a portion of the items was held at a Southern Florida museum. A docu-drama has been produced on the history of the ship and her cargo for the Discovery Learning Channel by Andrew Solt Productions of Los Angeles California called “The Hunt For Amazing Treasures” hosted by Mark Hamil of Star Wars fame as Luke Skywalker.

The job of researching and identifying all the thousands of artifacts recovered continues to this day and will go on for many years by the staff of Historic Sites and Shipwrecks.

Fifteen English Staffordshire manufacturers and numerous American glass and pottery manufacturers as well as medical suppliers for the Civil War have been identified to date and the search goes on.

Anyone who is interested in reading more about the Great Bahamian Hurricane of 1866 should consult a wonderful book written by Wayne Neely of the Bahamas who is a meteorologist and has done extensive research on this, and other great hurricanes. The book is called “The Great Bahamas Hurricane of 1866” and is available for purchase at www.iuniverse.com. Some of the information on the hurricane was obtained from Wayne’s book.

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