Shipwrecks: Past & Present

Shipwrecks of May 19

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One of today’s wrecks, the Norseman, should serve as a warning to people not to claim discoveries as your own, when they were really made by someone else. In my opinion, such false claims can come back to make the person look not only like a liar and a fraud, but totally incompetent to boot (even though I seriously doubt all of that is the case). The question of the day is whether the destroyer Whitley was carrying millions of dollars in gold when she was destroyed in less than 17 feet of water. If you are reading this in a post, go to to learn more about some of the many shipwrecks that have occurred on this day over the centuries.

Today’s Shipwrecks™

May 19

compiled and edited by Dr. E. Lee Spence

1725: The Spanish frigate Nuestra Señora de Begoña San Francisco Javier with a cargo of cacao, sugar and tropical wood was lost May 19, 1725, on the rocks at the entrance to a small bay near Santo Domingo. The bay’s entrance was said to have been about 320 feet wide. The bay where she was said to have wrecked is now known as Caleta de Caucedo and is about 13 miles from the city. She officially carried “only” 6,811 pesos that were said to have been locked in Captain Teodoro Garcés de Salazar’s chest. However, more than 20,000 pesos were seized from the survivors, and it was “obvious” that this was only a small portion of what was actually shipped and far more than originally declared. She had allegedly been bound for Europe but her true destination was the Canary Islands. The frigate, nicknamed “Las Tres Hermanas,” was owned by Don Francisco Crisóstomo, Royal Treasurer of the Spanish crown for the Canary Islands.

The frigate was said to have been lost in only two brazas of water about 640 feet from shore. Despite the shallow water, nothing of significance was recovered by contemporary divers due to bad weather and the rapidly shifting sands. However, in recent years, a cannon, two money bags of coins, silver platters, candlestick holders, forks, spoons, knives and other artifacts have been recovered by divers working with Indiana University and the Dominican Republic’s Oficina Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático. At least some of the work has been directed by underwater archaeologist and Indiana University Adjunct Lecturer John Foster.

According to one source, the Begoña was 220 displacement tons and had a capacity of 90 tons. She was 90’ in length and 23’ feet in width. She was armed with six large cannons and eight pederos (swivel guns). She carried 150 cannon balls.

Note: The Spanish braza was approximately the equivalent of 0.927 English fathoms. Since an English fathom is 6 feet then a Spanish braza would be approximently 5.562 feet. “Two brazas” would then be just over 11 feet.

1797: The East Indiaman Travancore, bound from Bombay to China, was destroyed by fire at Bombay, India, on May 19, 1797.

1813: The corvette built privateer Alexander, Captain B. Crowinshield, of Salem, with about 60 British prisoners and about $10,000 worth of goods, was chased ashore near Kennebank on May 19, 1813, by the sloop of war Rattler (rated 16 guns). The Alexander had but 40 of her men on board, the rest having been put aboard prizes, and “endeavored to reach Portsmouth; but being cut off she was run ashore.” Only about 20 of her men escaped, some by swimming. She was got off at flood tide.

1814: The British sloop of war Halcyon, 14 guns, commanded J. Houlton Marshall, was lost on May 19, 1814, on a “reef of rocks in Annatto Bay, Jamaica.” None of HMS Halcyon’s 121 men were lost.

1817: The ship John Adams, bound from Charlestown to Norfolk, was lost on Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on May 19, 1817. Her crew and part of cargo saved.

1822: On May 19, 1822, a ship with plain yellow sides reported to be ashore on Carysfort Reef, Florida.

1831: The Surprise, late Captain Hyde, bound from Jacmel, Haiti, to Falmouth, England, was wrecked May 19, 1831, at Inagua. “About half the cargo saved and arrived at Nassau.”

1863: The small English blockade runner Norseman, Captain Applebee, bound from Charleston with 250 bales of cotton, was sunk in about twelve feet of water off the present day Isle of Palms, South Carolina, after running upon the submerged wreck of the Georgiana at high tide, about 10:00 p.m. on May 19, 1863. She sank in about fifteen minutes. Her deck load of cotton floated ashore and was saved. She had made one previous successful run through the blockade.

The Norseman was a propeller steamer of under 200 gross tons. The little steamer had three masts, was schooner rigged and drew nine feet of water.

Note by ELS: In the mid 1960s, while using a rented plane to search for shipwrecks from the air, I spotted the mud plume from what I suspected was this wreck. My later work confirmed that I had indeed discovered the Norseman. I shared this information with novelist Clive Cussler in 1980 and he subsequently announced that he had discovered the wreck, taking all of the credit (even though he had deserved none, and even though I had already been credited in the papers with this discovery over a decade earlier). What unmitigated gall. I probably wouldn’t have minded, if he had at least given me credit for telling him about it. The funny thing is, he apparently had failed to understand my directions to the wreck (which I had described in relation to houses on the nearby shore) and the longitude/latitude coordinates that he came up with and published in his NUMA News bulletin were incorrect. There is some scatter to the wreck, but he totally missed it. A couple of years ago, I went to his coordinates and found nothing there but mud and sand, so I have no reason to believe that he located another wreck that he might have somehow misidentified. Its claims like this, which have convinced some people that I was at least in part the basis for Cussler’s fictional Dirk Pitt character in his novels. Of course he would disagree with everything I have written here.

1906: The Belgian training ship Comte de Smet de Meyer, foundered in the Bay of Biscay in latitude 47°12′ north, longitude 12°10′ west while on just her second voyage. Thirty-three people were lost.

1915: The British fishing trawler Chrysolite, Captain J. Flint, was captured and blown up by the German submarine U-23 on March 19, 1915, off Kinnaird’s Head in the North Sea, 25 nautical miles southwest by south of Lerwick, Shetland Islands. Her crew took to their boats and survived. Her location was said to be latitude 59°48′ north, longitude 1°35′ west.

She was built in 1900 at Beverley by Cook, Welton & Gemmell Ltd. Her official number was 110791, and she was owned by the Kingston Steam Trawling Company. She had a single screw, driven by a triple expansion, compound, steam engine with by a single boiler. She was 222 gross tons.

1916: The Norwegian cargo ship Hermion caught fire and sank at New York, New York, on May 19, 1916.

1928: The Canadian four masted schooner Arthur H. Zwicker was abandoned at sea, off the Bahamas, on May 19, 1928. Her crew was saved.

The Arthur H. Zwicker was built at Chester Basin in 1918. Her official number was 141046. She had a wood hull, was 574 gross tons and 479 net tons.

Note: The schooner was named for Arthur H. Zwicker who was one of the enterprising merchants and public-spirited citizens of Nova Scotia. He was born at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, on August 12, 1856, and over the course of his life was president and head of the firm of Zwicker & Company Ltd., manager of the Lunenburg Marine Railway Company, and president of the Lunenburg Marine Insurance Company.

1940: The British destroyer HMS Whitley was attacked and badly damaged by German dive bombers two nautical miles off Nieuwpoort, Belgium, forcing her to beach herself on the Belgian coast between Nieuwpoort and Ostend to avoid sinking on May 19, 1940, while at the disposal of the French Navy and engaged in operations in support of Allied ground operations in France and Belgium. Then, to prevent her capture by the advancing Germans, the British destroyer HMS Keith destroyed her with gunfire in latitude 51°09’04” north, longitude 02°39’34” east, in just over sixteen feet of water.

Note: Shipwreck researcher Alan Riebe has speculated that the Whitley may have been the unidentified destroyer that was mentioned by a British treasury agent in a telegram to Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the United States Treasury, as lost with 57,144 troy ounces of gold.

The Whitley was built by William Doxford & Sons, at Sunderland and was launched in 1918. She 1,100 tons, 312 feet between perpendiculars, 26 feet 9 inches in breadth, with twin screws. She was armed with 6 torpedo tubes,  4 quick firing 4-inch naval guns, and two quick firing 2-pounders. She had three Yarrow type water-tube boilers feeding Brown-Curtis steam turbines.

1942: The passenger/freighter SS Heredia, Captain Erwin F. Colburn, bound from Cristobal, Panama, for Texas and Louisiana, was torpedoed by the Type IXC German submarine U-506 in latitude 28°53′ north, longitude 91°31′ west in the Gulf of Mexico on May 19, 1942. Thirty of her crew were lost.

Although built by Workman, Clark & Co. Ltd., in Belfast in 1908, she was registered as an American passenger liner with a crew of 62. She was owned by the United Fruit Steamship Company in New York but may have been carrying cargo more  than just fruit and passengers. She was armed with one 3-inch gun, and two 30-caliber machine guns. She was 4,732 gross tons, 2,732 net tons, 378.8 feet in length, 49.8 feet in breadth, 29.6 feet in depth of hold. At the time of her loss, her official number was 212605, and her signal letters were KDAH.

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NOTE: This is by no means meant to be a complete list of the vessels lost on May 19, as there have been thousands of ships lost for every day of the year. All of the above entries have been edited (shortened) and come from various editions of Spence’s List™. The original lists usually give additional data and sources. Those lists are being updated and are or will be made available for a fee elsewhere on this site.

Click here to check out Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Facebook page on shipwrecks and treasure.

© 2013, 2017, 2018 by Dr. E. Lee Spence for composition, content and compilation.


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