By Steven Danforth Singer

The year was 1866. The brig Baltic departed the port of New York in September of that year, bound for the port of Galveston, Texas. On board was a large consignment of miscellaneous goods. Capt. Maddocks followed the standard route, passing the outside of the northern Bahamas to avoid the Gulf Stream, expecting another uneventful voyage. Unlike today, there were no weather forecasts, and the captain had no idea that a hurricane was heading for the Bahama islands. The unfortunate brig got slammed by the October 1866 hurricane which ravaged many parts of the Bahamas and sank a good many ships in the area. The Baltic was caught in the storm’s fury and her cargo shifted. She started taking on water and the crew frantically worked the pumps in hopes of keeping her afloat. She ended up wrecking approximately 200 feet off Ridley’s Head on North Eleuthera, Bahamas, between Spanish Wells and Harbour Island. It’s quite possible that Capt. Maddocks ran her aground in order to save the crew, and it’s believed all of the crew did survive.

The Baltic was built in Camden in 1854. Rated at 284 tons, her dimensions were 108 feet in length, 26 feet in breadth, and her depth of hold was 10 feet. At the time of her sinking, she was owned by W.H. Hooper of Camden.

The wreck was quickly buried under the shifting sands and mostly forgotten until 1992. A local fisherman, Nick Maillis, had always been interested in sunken treasure, and had found a number of wreck sites over the years during his fishing voyages. Local fishermen were familiar with the area as they would find dead fish here with no explanation why they died. Nick suspected something toxic may be in the area that was affecting the local fish population. While checking out the area, he found what appeared to be evidence of some wreckage sticking out of the sand.

Nick filed this away in his memory until another Bahamian treasure salvor contacted him in 1992 saying he had a salvage vessel available, and did Nick have any sites they could work on. Nick had applied for and was granted a salvage lease on this area through his salvage company, Bahamas Salbos Research and Recovery. Nick then agreed to let them work on this particular site. During that summer, the 100-foot salvage vessel El Esperanza, was brought to the wreck site. The wreck was again completely buried under sand, and the salvage vessel used its prop wash deflectors to begin to move away the sand on top of the site. Nick had put them directly on top of the wreck, and soon they began to uncover an almost totally intact 19th century sailing vessel, which turned out to be the brig Baltic, which had remained completely buried for 126 years.

The El Esperanza continued to uncover the wreck, and soon the upper part of the hull was exposed. Divers were able to enter the vessel through the upper deck and found a whole assortment of cargo items to be salvaged. What they found were medical supplies and instruments, munitions, dinner ware, religious figurines, ink bottles, spirits, silverware, food stuffs, plate glass porcelain, and a large amount of English Staffordshire china.

Before long, the deck of the El Esperanza was full of the recovered cargo items. The crew only worked about three weeks, but when they were done, they had recovered over 25,000 pieces of cargo. About 6,000 pieces of china have been recovered so far. The china was packed in barrels protected with straw, with approximately 100 pieces of china in each barrel. Complete sets of dinnerware china were recovered.

About 6,000 pieces of china have been recovered from the Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

 

Other items recovered were porcelain from Germany and ginger jars of the Ching Dynasty from Chylong, China.

Porcelain from Germany was recovered from the Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

 

Ginger jars of the Ching Dynasty from Chylong, China were recovered from the Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

 

Some medical instruments recovered included brass hypodermic needles, and enema apparatus. Some of the rubber tubing for those had the patent dates, and one read, “patent by Goodyear, 1857.”

Brass hypodermic needles, recovered from thje brig Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

 

A porcelain bowl, manufactured in Tunstall, England, was revered from the Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

 

Hundreds of perfectly intact bottles of food stuffs were also brought up by the divers. Many were still in their packing crates which still had the contents legibly printed on the outside. The bottles of pickles still looked good enough to eat, though nobody attempted to do so. Bottles of apricots and capers were also recovered. Spirits bottles were still stacked just as they were 126 years ago.

Soon, the reason for the dead fish in the area became apparent. Large amounts of medical bottles began to be recovered believed to contain morphine, opium, arsenic, and other chemicals. The leaching of the chemicals from the wreck, is what had been killing the fish in the area over the years.

The identity of the wreck was determined when part of a wooden packing crate was recovered with the word, “Brig Baltic, Texas.” A wooden barrel of mackerel was also recovered dated 1866, with the packing company’s name, and “Gloucester, Massachusetts” printed on the outside. They now had the name of the vessel, the year she sank, where she was bound, and evidence she was from a northeast port.

Salvage was slowed down because of the large cargo of plate glass blocked the way to the rest of the cargo hold. The approach of Hurricane Andrew, which soon struck the Bahamas and South Florida, put a permanent stop to any further salvage work. Nick’s home was destroyed by the hurricane, and the wreck of the Baltic was buried again and temporarily forgotten. Fortunately, all the recovered artifacts were placed in secure storage and all survived.

The Bahamian government, the salvors, and Nick all got a share of the salvaged items. A Floridian, Tim Brodie, had heard of the salvage and met with Nick in the Bahamas. Tim researched the items in Nick’s possession, and was able to identify manufacturers and place of origin on much of the porcelain, china, etc. Some were quite rare and sought after by collectors. Nick’s collection was brought over to Florida and put on display for a time at the old Graves Museum of Archaeology in Dania, Fla. On May 24, 1997, most of Nick’s collection went to auction at the Sloan Gallery Auction House, in Miami, Fla.

The brig Baltic may still remain relatively intact, buried under the sands of Eleuthera.

Steven Danforth Singer is a consultant and the author of “Shipwrecks of Florida” and “More Shipwrecks of Florida.” You can find more about him at anchorexplorations.com.

[Ed. Note: This article was previously published in the Winter 1996 issue of Treasure Quest Magazine.]