Famous Shipwrecks in the Caribbean Sea : RMS Rhone

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RMS Rhone was caught in a hurricane and sank off the British Virgin Islands in 1867. She now forms part of Rhone Marine Park and is visited by hundreds of fascinated divers every year.

Probably the most visited wreck site in the Caribbean Sea is RMS Rhone, in the Virgin Islands. The luxurious ship sunk in 1867 after encountering a hurricane, killing the majority of its passengers and crew. Today the wreck of RMS Rhone has become a marine park spreading over 798 acres and it is home to an abundance of marine wildlife.

RMS Rhone was a Royal Mail steam packet ship that was built at the Millwall ironworks in the Isle of Dogs, London in 1865. Little expense was spared in fitting out her 253 first class cabins; plus 30 second class and 30 third class. She was powered by steam and sail, with a top speed of 12 knots. She was 310 ft long and 40 ft wide.

RMS Rhone initially carried cargo between England and Brazil for her first two years in service. After which she traveled the route between England and the West Indies. On the 29 October 1867, the Rhone had made port at Great Harbour, Peter Island. Captain Robert F. Wooley noted that the ship’s barometer had a very low reading at 30 in. Captain Wooley was concerned about the possibility of a hurricane. He then communicated his concerns to the captain of RMS Packet Conway, which was also moored at the harbor.

RMS Rhone.

A decision was made to transfer all the passengers from the Conway to the larger and presumably safer RMS Rhone. Passengers were also strapped to their bunks, as was standard practice, during a storm. Captain Wolley’s plan was to head for the northern Islands where the ship could find safer anchorage. As the Rhone tried to leave the harbor the hurricane hit, forcing the ship against Black Rock Point near Salt Island. Although many drowned others were killed when the boiler exploded. Because the ship had been driven against the rocks it did not completely sink. Four crewman managed to survive by holding onto the rigging, which was above the water.

Ghostly image of RMS Rhone.

124 passengers and crew died. The ship was also carrying over $60,000 in gold, which was subsequently recovered by Jeremiah Murphy and his brothers from the Turks Islands.

The second sager of RMS Rhone’s famed history was in 1979 when Columbia Pictures chose the shipwreck for the treasure diving sequences of the movie, based on the book by Peter Benchley, The Deep. The movie stared Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte. The diving scenes are more memorable for Jacqueline Bisset’s wet tee shirts, (which is thought to have popularized the wet tee shirt contest) than for the wreck itself.

The stern section of the Rhone is the shallowest part at 30 ft deep, with the wreck descending to 80 ft. 130 years of tropical waters and the wrecks proximity to the open sea means that a wide variety of marine life has made its home on and around the wreck. These include a large variety of corals, tube sponges and sea fans. Reef fish as well as other species can be seen, including ; tuna, tarpon, threadfin pompano, goliath grouper, eagle rays, jewfish, parrot fish and squirlfish.

In 1989 bones were discovered and a plaque was placed on the wreck to honor the dead. Ironically the bones became visible, after hurricane Hugo. The plaque reads; ‘A hurricane took me down; a hurricane brought me up’ The bones were buried on nearby Salt Island.

Images from commons.wikimedia.com

If you liked this you might like the following articles.

Shipwrecks and treasure: the Ines de Soto wreck.

British Royal Navy shipwrecks: HMS Griffin.

Shipwrecks and treasure: the story of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha.


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