Wednesday April 30, 1873
foundered after losing a propeller shaft - no casualties
The "Emerald" wreck is probably the Hibiscus, a wood-hulled twin-screw steamer built in 1864 and commissioned into the U.S. Navy at that time. She saw service during the Civil War out of Tampa and Key West Florida. She was decommissioned in 1866 and sold in New York; later renamed Francis Wright, then renamed back to Hibiscus. While cruising off the New Jersey coast she broke a propeller shaft, took on water, and sank.
This is approximately what you'll find on the wreck site today: twin engines with part of one propeller shaft missing. The size of the wreckage also matches that of the Hibiscus. Capt. Steve adds: "We do a lot of digging here and find quite a bit of stuff, but nothing that actually names the wreck, although we've dated artifacts from 1872 and even found U.S. Navy emblems on personal effects." the redundant power plants also point to a Navy ship - this is an expensive configuration that would be unlikely on a commercial vessel.
The Emerald is actually quite a small site to dive, since most of the wreck lies buried beneath several feet of sand. The boilers are about as broken-down as boilers can be, but the unusual dual steam engines provide myriad nooks and holes for Sea Bass and other fish. If you tie off a reel and sweep out over the clean white sand, you can find the holes dug by artifact hunters, down to the blackened wood remains of the hull.
From the New York Times
May 2, 1873, pg 8
Marine Disaster - Sinking of the Steamer Frances Wright.
The schooner John Kelso, Kelso, master, from Virginia, arrived in this port yesterday, having on board the Captain and crew of the steamer Frances Wright, which sunk at sea yesterday. Capt. Fairchild, of the Frances Wright, reports that, on the 30th of April, at 11:35 P.M.. the shaft on the port engine broke in the stern stuffing box, carrying away sleeve dead wood, &c., in after part of the ship. The vessel commenced to fill rapidly, and the engineer finding it impossible to stop the leak, shut off the sea injection, put on the bilge injection and donkey pumps. The mate and all hands were put on the forward pumps. Notwithstanding the efforts of the crew, the water continued to gain rapidly, and the ship was fast sinking. At 12-1/4 A.M. the water had risen above the floor of the engine room, and the fires were soon extinguished on the main boiler. The ship now lost all steerage way, and became unmanageable. A steamer hove in sight; her name was understood by Capt. Fairchild to be the Claribel. The Captain was asked to assist in towing the sinking vessel on shore; but he found it impossible to do anything for the doomed ship. May 1, 1-1/2 A.M. - It now became unsafe to remain any longer on board, and accordingly orders were given to clear away and man the boats and abandon the ship. Between decks was now nearly filled with water. Having got all the crew on board, the boats put off, but stood by for some time. About twenty-five minutes after the boats put off the ship went down by the stern At daylight a schooner - the John Kelso - was sighted, and the boats pulled to her, when the crew were taken on board and kindly treated by Captain Kelso and by him brought to the port. The Frances Wright was built in 1865 at Fairhaven and was 597 tons.
Unique along the entire coast, the twin steam engines of the Emerald pretty much
clinch the identification of the wreck.
The large box-like structure in the foreground is a condenser. Often, these old
engines derived as much motive force from the vacuum draw of the condenser as
from the steam pressure of the boilers. Some were even known as vacuum engines.
The boilers lie in front of the condenser, and rather broken-down.
They are smaller than you would think - perhaps these were vacuum engines.
The rocker arms atop the cylinders are also unique to the Emerald.
Detail of the odd side-valve design of the starboard engine, another of the peculiarities
of this wreck. The engines are mirror images of each other.
The base of one of the engines, where it is linked to a
large flywheel and the propeller shaft.
Back then many cargoes were shipped in barrels or smaller kegs. Here is the end of a small wooden keg, along with some staves. I can make out the word "WHIT(E)". The vessel's cargo included small barrels of cheese, which survives to this day as a foul-smelling white goo if you are unlucky enough to find any !
Here are the remains of a bigger barrel that once stood upright.
A late-year Butterflyfish.
A small lobster dug-in under a piece of wreckage. There aren't too many on this site.
The Emerald is known mainly as a digging wreck for artifact hunters.
Once more, the distinctive engines
Artifacts Recovered from the Emerald Wreck
Artifacts from the Emerald. Some are easily identifiable, others less so.
Ivory brush handles with Navy anchor markings
"Congress" water bottles
Hand-blown beer bottle
Dr. J. Hostettler's Stomach Bitters
An ordinary marmalade jar from 1870
Brass scales and weight
These scales were made of chromed brass. They are marked in increments that indicate it measured weights up to 40 pounds. The counterweight would be attached on one end while the squared end fit into a holder. the top edge of the scale arm has pointed ridges for adjusting the weights.
Historical data and pictures courtesy of Capt. Steve Nagiewicz of the dive boat Diversion II.
Wreck site drawing courtesy of Enrique Alvarez of Diving Equipment Specialties.
Underwater video stills courtesy of diver Perry Arts.
I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.