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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), of Australia, sent copies of 50 pages of his great great grandfather's journal written in 1864 from San Francisco. It is transcribed here and the original also linked below in two PDF (Adobe Acrobat) files.
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.
Original Lodge documents