Researchers with the Endurance Exploration Group, a Clearwater, Florida-based marine survey, search and recovery firm, say they have discovered in waters near Boston the wreck of Connaught (1860), a 380-foot iron-hulled side-wheeled ocean liner that sank on her second voyage in 1860 after she caught fire en route to Boston.
The Galway Line liner left Galway, Ireland, on 25 September 1860 carrying 50 first-class passengers, 417 steerage, and a crew of 125. Connaught was also reportedly loaded with £10,000 in gold coins, possibly bound for a visiting member of the British royal family.
As her voyage neared its end, Connaught ran into a storm; then a fire broke out below deck. Smoke and flames forced passengers and crew to the top deck. Lifeboats were lowered, but were smashed to splinters by the waves. Fortunately, a small merchant ship, a fruit boat, arrived on scene to help. A line was thrown across decks, transferring women and children first, then the male passengers and crew. Eventually, so many people boarded the tiny fruit transport that they stood on every available patch of deck—some even clinging to the tall masts and rigging.
Once everyone was off Connaught, the captain joined them. Safely aboard the merchant vessel, they watched as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. Incredibly, nearly 600 people had been transferred from one of the largest ocean liners of the time to a tiny ship without incurring a single loss of life. The rescue ship arrived at Boston’s India Wharf the following day.
The attempt to find Connaught began with a 2013 Summer sonar search covering over 700 square miles, roughly equivalent to scanning an area of ocean bottom 30 times the size of Manhattan. Endurance returned this month with a remotely operated underwater robotics vehicle (“ROV”) to inspect the prime target, identifying the wreck by its distinctive iron hull, paddlewheels and artifacts within the debris field.
“It was a real thrill for me to be on board for our inspection mission and see the images of the S.S. Connaught paddle wheel come up on the screen, seen for the first time in 154 years,” said Endurance CEO Micah J. Eldred in a statement issued by the company. “This is what we methodically worked for as we built our research data, patiently conducted our first search and now enjoy our first shipwreck find. Now, on to the recovery phase.”
Endurance says it has petitioned the U.S. Federal Court for the Middle District of Florida for an arrest of the shipwreck, an appointment of Endurance as substitute custodian of the shipwreck and a salvage award or title to the shipwreck and its cargo. If granted Endurance says it plans to return to the site next spring or summer to begin a systematic and well-documented recovery of cargo and artifacts. The company says it also intends to make a documentary film or television special to tell Connaught’s story.