American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

SHIP OF GOLD IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA (1998). Blending a harrowing account of the September 1857 foundering of the S.S. Central America during a storm off the Carolina coast with a chronicle of engineer Tommy Thompson’s recent efforts to locate the wreck and recover its treasures, this nonfiction narrative by Gary Kinder (1946- ) examines the intricacies and technology of deep-sea exploration and shipwreck* archaeology.

When the Central America, a three-masted side-wheel steamer, left Panama on its scheduled passage to New York, it carried nearly 600 passengers and crew, many returning east from the Californian goldfields with vast sums of both registered and undeclared stores of gold, estimated at up to twenty- one tons. Using eyewitness testimony and newspaper coverage of the sinking to provide the historic underpinnings of his narrative, Kinder dramatizes the heroic efforts of Captain Herndon and company to save the sinking vessel. Although 149 passengers and crew were rescued by passing vessels, hundreds drowned when the steamer with its stock of gold ultimately foundered.

Moving the narrative forward more than a century, Kinder introduces Thompson, an innovative engineer whose training, experimentation, and marketing skills enable him, with the financial backing of the Columbus*- America Discovery Group, to search for, locate, and recover the Central America’s riches from a depth of more than 8,000 feet. Kinder’s narrative combines the drama of high-risk adventure with the carefully orchestrated, scientific approach to exploration and recovery efforts in a deep-sea environment as well as accounts of the legal challenges over the ownership of the wreck and its contents.

Daniel W. Lane