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Letters of Francis W. Lodge, 1863-1865

by Andrew Czernek, aczernekATcomcast.net

Since the original web page was posted in 1997 on the sinking of the SS Golden Gate, about once each year I receive some piece of new information. In April, 2009 Kim and Robin Paterson (grandpoo@bigpond.net.au), of Australia, sent copies of 50 pages of his great great grandfather's journal written in 1864 from San Francisco. It is transcribed here.

In November, 2009 they would forward additional documents, including transcriptions of Smiley's partnership agreement and letters to Capt. Lodge in the period from 1863 to 1865. All documents are now in chronological order.

Special thanks are owed to Joe Kelly Hughes for his assistance in transcription.

Captain Francis W. Lodge (1813-1895) arrived in San Francisco in late 1862 as an agent of Lloyd's of London, the British insurance underwriter that exists to this day. Lodge had previously done salvage work in the U.K., Ireland and France and expected to do the same in Manzanillo with the wreck of the Golden Gate. Lloyd's of London was one of several underwriters for the cargo and also an insurer of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company's fleet.

Instead of working on the wreck, for the next two years he would be embroiled in and out of court with at least two salvage groups. This journal, which is a copy of his letters, recounts portions of the tale with a letters from 1864 and a summary of his expenses, which continued into 1865.

In August, 1864, Lodge would settle with Thomas J.L. Smiley, one of the salvors, for $40,000 and give Smiley rights to any remaining treasure on the Golden Gate. Smiley would return a second time to dive the wreck later that year, his results unknown.

Lodge would be back in London by the end of the year, working at Marine Insurers on Broad Street. He would participate in other wreck recoveries in 1869 and 1875, eventually retiring in Helford, Cornwall.

Transcribed pages are linked below, as well as a copy of the original journal at the bottom. All errors of transcription are the webmaster's.

A little historical background is helpful here in understanding these journals. At the time of the sinking, the U.S. Civil War was in progress (and would be through the end of Lodge's stay in San Francisco). During this period, the French intervention in Mexico was occurring, so you will read references to French men-of-war and French authorities in Lodge's letters.

This journal has prices in both British pounds and U.S. dollars. In 1863-1864 exchange rates for the pound sterling were about $7 in 1863 and $9.90 in 1864. Gold was officially fixed at $20.67 per ounce for U.S. government purchases but traded in New York at $30 (1863) and $42 (1864).

As a result, the $1.4 million in gold estimated to be on this ship would have amounted to about 12,500 pounds -- and be worth $200 million at $1,000 per ounce.

Finally, the Lodge letters refer to Aspinwall in Panama. Today Aspinwall is the city of Colon, Panama on the Caribbean. The city was founded as the eastern end of the Panama Railroad Co. in 1853. It obtained its original name from William Henry Aspinwall, a New York businessman who funded the railroad.

Letters of Francis W. Lodge

November, 1862: Thomas J.L. Smiley's partnership agreements to fund the Golden Gate salvage.
November, 1862: Budget for the Smiley salvage expedition.
Nov. 28, 1863: Harper's letter-of-credit issued.
May 1, 1863: Harper to Lodge regarding recovered gold.
Jan. 31, 1864: Names of those involved with the Smiley expedition
Jan. 31, 1864: Smiley arrested by the Admiralty Court
Undated: Additional list of persons in the Smiley expedition
Undated: List of gold shipped from Manzanillo
Feb. 15, 1864: plans for a civil suit against Smiley
Undated: list of treasure from the Irelan expedition (Nov./Dec. 1863)
Feb. 28, 1864: where the Manzanillo gold was shipped
Mar. 2, 1864: letter to British consul in Callao seeking help
Mar. 2, 1864: seeking French assistance
Mar. 18, 1864: letter to brother Frank
Mar. 13, 1864: Smiley arrrested in criminal court
Mar. 13, 1864: trying to track treasure shipped from Mexico
Mar. 13, 1864: seeking help tracking gold with Boston underwriters
Mar. 16, 1864 & Apr. 5, 1864: Circuit Court indictments
Mar. 20, 1864: reports of gold arriving in England
Mar. 22, 1864: enlisting the help of the U.S. consul in Manzanillo
Apr. 14, 1864: how the divers worked the wreck
Apr. 18, 1864: Samuel's life threatened in Manzanillo
Apr. 28, 1864: treasure at Liverpool?
Apr. 30, 1864: first memo suggesting a $30,000 settlement with Smiley
May 3, 1864: second memo on Smiley settlement
May 12, 1864: Harper on underwriters' limits regarding expenses.
May 28, 1864: Harper notes that Capt. Irelan has recovered another $47,000.
Jun. 2, 1864: a response to the U.S. consul in Manzanillo
Undated: Irelan's $60,390 in gold itemized
June 10, 1864: Harper letter, with notes (in margin) on case, apparently written by Capt. Lodge
Jun. 18, 1864: Irelan settlement for $7,000
June 25, 1864: Harper on an Austrian connection to salvaged gold
Jul. 10, 1864: Pacific Mail makes a claim on Lloyd's for damage to the SS Golden Age
July 25, 1864: Harper notes that the Austrian lead to the Golden Gate treasure was false.
Aug. 10, 1864: settlement offer at $30,000
Aug. 12, 1864: response to U.S. consul at Manzanillo
Undated: details of the $40,000 settlement with Smiley
Aug. 17, 1864: do I hear $45,000?
Aug. 26, 1864: telling the boss that the settlement was $40,000
Last pages: itemized expenses for 1863-1865
Mar. 10, 1865: Robert Lodge on insurance claims made by the Pacific Mail Steamship Co.
Aug. 13, 1865: William Barber (attorney) to Capt. Lodge
Nov. 24, 1865: Gibbs (NY Board of Underwriters) to Lodge




Revision: 6/6/2023