Treasure Ship: The Legend and Legacy
of the S.S. Brother Jonathan
Caught in tumultuous seas off the coast of Northern California in 1865, the 220-foot sidewheeler S.S. Brother Jonathan skidded down the face of a massive wave and slammed into an uncharted reef. Her nine-story mast crashed through the bottom of the ship and within forty-five minutes she went under, taking with her 225 souls and millions of dollars’ worth of newly minted gold bars and coins. Only nineteen people in a battered lifeboat made it to shore, and over the next several weeks, bodies and pieces of the ship washed up along a 125-mile stretch of the coast. For more than a hundred years the ship’s treasure would remain one of the Pacific’s great secrets.
Countless expeditions searched for the ship and her treasure. However, storms in the area are notoriously unpredictable, and the seas are so treacherous that a 160-foot wave once blew out the top windows of the lighthouse that was erected after the tragedy. In 1942, following a monstrous storm, whiskey kegs from the ship washed ashore, yet her final resting placed remained a mystery—until 1993.
Treasure Ship tells of the harrowing tale of the last voyage of the Brother Jonathan and her passengers, which included prospectors, dignitaries, card sharks, young families, and even a notorious madam with seven of her “soiled doves”. The final moments as the ship went down were filled with acts of steadfast courage and quiet dignity.
This book chronicles the epic quest of the Deep Sea Research team, whose unique thinking and application of technology led them to the ship’s resting place. They brought up well over one thousand gold coins and a lot of trouble, as descendants of the passengers, shippers, the state of California, and the salvors vied for ownership of the treasure. The dispute raged all the way to the Supreme Court, where a crucial precedent was set that now governs all treasure hunters. Another battle broke out over the authenticity of historic gold bars secretly recovered from the Brother Jonathan in the 1930s—a battle that still resounds among collectors and gold experts.