Ben Anderson | Jun 18, 2012
On the night of August 14, 1901, the Islander departed Skagway with 180 people aboard and made its way down Lynn Canal. At about 2 a.m., the ship was positioned between Douglas and Admiralty Islands when it struck what was likely either an uncharted rock or a sizeable iceberg. The 1992 report says that a former captain of the vessel believed it was likely an iceberg, which first punctured the hull before being submerged and rising to punch another hole in the vessel toward the stern.
The ship reportedly sank a mere 20 minutes after initial impact. About 40 people went down with the ship, though that number may be higher due to a reported 11 stowaways on board who weren’t accounted for. Others rowed lifeboats to Douglas Island, walking to the mining community of Treadwell to inform the world of the tragedy.
Rumors of riches
Given the timeline of the vessel’s sinking and the origin of its passengers, speculation began immediately that the Islander had gone down with a substantial quantity of gold aboard. Numbers vary, but if there were any truth to them, the value of the gold would be extremely high, then and now.
One estimate from the “Inventory and Survey of Historic Shipwreck Sites” reports:
It was rumored that the steamer’s purser had $275,000 in his safe and that the passengers had another $100,000 with them. Other rumors were that over a quarter of a million dollars in gold went down with the ship. This was at a time when gold was worth $20.67 an ounce. Fifty ounces of gold were found on one body. Another passenger was reported to have taken aboard about 600 ounces of dust.