Doomed Ship of Gold’s ghostly portrait gallery is finally revealed after surviving a century at the bottom of the sea

SS Central America/National Naval Museum

In 1857, a steamship sank in a storm off South Carolina. Loaded with more gold than had ever been placed on a boat, passengers opted to take pictures of family and loved ones before trying their luck with Davy Jones.

Thanks to a recent expedition, dozens of these 150-year-old photographs under glass have been recovered, putting a face to SS Central America‘s unhappy.

If the Titanic was the “Ship of Dreams”, Central America was the “Ship of Gold”, and of its 425 lost souls, most were miners returning from California’s gold fields rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Dr Sean Kingsley, a British maritime archaeologist, has been funded by private investors who have been trying to recover the treasure for over 30 years, to dive a mile and a half off the coast of South Carolina and recover what he could.

He partnered with Odyssey Marine Expeditions to perform the dive, and the Kingsley co-wrote a paper on the find with an Odyssey scientist.

These tinplate photos – daguerreotypes and ambrotypes – are types of wet collodion photography and consist of panes coated with chemicals. Ambrotypes produced a negative image that could be seen against black material, while daguerreotypes produced positive images visible against backlight.

“When you look at people’s real faces, it takes you right there. You’re looking at people who’ve been through it, and they’re just like us, although clothes and fashions have changed,” Dr Kingsley said. at the Guardian.

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One individual he called the “Mona Lisa of the Deep” is a young woman whose image is amazingly, almost strangely preserved. She stands with a half smile, bare shoulders, wrapped in jewelry and lace.

The wreckage and tintypes are there to be seen in the magazine run and published by Dr Kingsley called Wreckwatch.

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“This is the largest cache of ancient photographs found at sea, and unpublished until now. It is a once in a lifetime experience to see faces from the depths,” he said.

153 people are said to have survived; especially women and children who filled the lifeboats. Of the other 425, the Wreckwatch the review includes the words of a survivor.

“Many of the passengers were miners, carrying with them considerable sums of gold, the product of years of labor. But the love of gold was forgotten in the anxiety and terror of the moment and many men unbuckled his gold-stuffed belt and threw his hard-earned treasure onto the deck, some hoping to lighten their weight, and thus more easily stay afloat. , while others threw it away in despair, thinking there was no use in the watery grave they were going to.

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Julia P. Cluff