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On 6th May 1866 The American Clipper "General Grant" left Melbourne bound for England via Cape Horn. On board were 83 passengers and crew, and a cargo of wool, hides, wood, spelter and 2,500 ounces of gold.
After ten days at sea the ship was wrecked on the west coast of the Auckland Islands in the early hours of the 14th May. The sinking was unusual in that the ship, following a period of becalment drifted inshore and, after striking the cliffs was washed into a cave where she was sunk by virtue of the mast being driven through the decks on impact with the cave roof.
Thinking it unwise to abandon ship in darkness the Captain waited until morning before launching the longboats. By this time the swell was high with hazardous backwashes, only two partially loaded boats were able to clear the wreck and all but 13 men and one woman were lost. The survivors were shipwrecked on the Island for 18 months, until they were rescued by a passing Whaler.
Despite many attempts to salvage the wreck, she has never been found and is still one of the most famous wrecks. Estimates of the amount of gold on board vary greatly. One reason being that prior to her sailing, the steam ship "London" which was bound for Melbourne to take on a cargo including gold, was lost in a storm in the bay of Biscay.
Many believe that the General Grant being the only ship to be returning to England at that time took on this valuable cargo.
Two of the survivors are my great great grandmother's brother Joseph Harvey Jewell and his wife Mary Ann Hewitt.
I have carried out years of research to identify all the main publications relating to the wreck.
I believe that I have in my possession a unique collection of articles some of which will not have been seen by many researchers.
Such an article is a book published by the Ballerat Salvage company and sold to raise funds for a unique salvage attempt. The book contained two certificates one to be sent back to them registering the owner who would receive a real artifact of the wreck and the second, entry to a cinema near them to view the intended film production of the story entitled "The Wreck of The General Grant and the Gold of Ballerat"
The story of the wreck is by James Teer with a forward by his nephew Jack Teer.
Rather bizarly the book contains the Prologue and Sequel of the intended film.
I will be reviewing this and a number of other publications.
Most people will be familiar with the narratives of James Teer and Joseph Jewell, but many will not realise that both Patrick Caughey and William Sanguilly had their storys published in separate articles.
The story of Patrick's travel to Australia and some astonishing chance meetings with friends and relatives from his home town are well worth reading about.
Finding so much more information about the story and those who played a part in it, have convinced me that I should produce a site which could become a focus for information concerning descendants and relatives of the crew and passengers.
There is no doubt that the definitive publication relating to the General Grant is Keith Eunson's book "The Wreck of the General Grant" which is extremely well researched and written. No one interested in this story should be without this book.
The latest publication about the loss of the General Grant is "The General Grant's Gold" Shipwreck and greed on the Southern Ocean, by Madelene Ferguson and Ken Scadden. An excellent reference book which covers in detail the numerous salvage attempts.
(I would like to correct one item. The original Joseph Jewell letter in in my possession and not in the Te Papa museum as listed in the book).
I will publish a section of the letter in the near future.
What is of great interest, is the amount of information about the survivors which is still available and has still not been published. I will soon be in a position to publish these on this site as well as another little known fact about the General Grant.
I hope that this site will serve to direct interested viewers to sources of further reading, and encourage exchanges of information. The response so far has been, fantastic, for which I am most grateful.
I hope you enjoy viewing this site and, if you do, please record your comments at the pages provided for this purpose at the end of the story.
© Philip Boulton 2010