Treasure Hunt

The Islander Sunken Gold
In Stevens Passage between Admiralty and Douglas Islands in the southern reaches of the state's Pacific coast the steamer Islander went down on August 15, 1901, with a reported $3,000,000 in gold and $400,000 in currency aboard. Forty people lost their lives.


In 1898 the Islander, once the presumed unsinkable steel hulled flagship of the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, struck a submerged rock or iceberg while steaming at 15 knots and went under in less than 20 minutes.  Numerous attempts to salvage the wreck were made, but it was not until 1934 that the remains of the Islander were raised from 300 feet.  Both the Islander and the Griffson now rest ashore. 


The steamer ISLANDER and schooner barge GRIFFSON, whose histories are intertwined, are located in state tidelands south of
Juneau.  The ISLANDER sank in deep water after hitting an iceberg or uncharted rock in August 1901.  Most of the 170 persons on board were lost.  With reports of gold on board, talk of salvage began almost immediately, but the depth of the wreck exceeded the limits of contemporary diving equipment. 
 
It wasn’t until 1921 that the wreck was discovered in 300 feet of water.  It was viewed from a diving bell in 1929, and in 1934 a monumental salvage attempt was undertaken by use of the GRIFFSON and another barge.  By cradling the ISLANDER on cables run between the two barges and using extreme tide cycles for lifting, the vessel was moved to the beach.
 
Not enough gold was found to pay for the massive salvage effort, and it is speculated that most of the gold was in the bow, which broke off during salvage. 


The wooden hull of the GRIFFSON was abandoned on the beach, where it remains today, along with remnants of the steel-hulled ISLANDER.  The wrecks were documented by project scientists during a low tide cycle.
 
Reports of lucrative amounts of gold on board the sunken ship led to many early salvage efforts and several lawsuits. The main portion of the hull was discovered in 1934, but the bow section, where the gold was located, eluded the latter-day 'gold rushers' until 1996.
 
Examination of photographs taken at the time, revealed an unexplained mystery: the whole bow section of the ship - from the stem bar to the passenger accommodation forward bulkhead - was missing!  According to statements made by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Constables who were onboard to guard the shipment, the gold bullion was stowed in a locker on the port side of the forward well deck, just abaft the break of the focsle. An area located within the 'missing' hull section, which remained missing until August 1996.
 
In 1929 the Willey group teamed with Frank Curtis, a professional house mover with extensive experience in transporting large structures. Their plan was to string 20 sturdy steel cables beneath the sunken liner that were connected to surface vessels.
 
The cables were cinched up with each low tide, enabling the shipwreck to be inched toward shore with each high tide. This grueling operation took two full salvage seasons until, on July 20, 1934, the Islander once again broke the surface near Green's Cove, Admiralty Island, Alaska.

In the cruelest of disappointments, however, the Islander would yield the paltry sum of $75,000.00 worth of gold nuggets and dust. When cleared of muck, the long anticipated Purser's Office proved to be a truly bitter washout: none of the reputed ironbound strong boxes of bullion ingots were found; its safe contained a handful of U.S. $10.00 and $20.00 gold pieces and a stack of rancid
U.S. and Canadian paper currency.
 
After 33 years of virtual nonstop, back-and-spirit breaking toil, the Islander, having been laboriously wrenched from her frozen tomb, had the last laugh: her priceless tons of gold bullion lay undisturbed on the bottom of Lynn Canal, still ensconced in the Mail and Storage Room, in the unrecovered bow of the shipwreck.

Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)
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