The sinking and salvage of the Maine brig Baltic – Knox County VillageSoup

By Steven Danforth Singer

The year was 1866. The brig Baltic left New York Harbor in September of this year, bound for the port of Galveston, Texas. On board was a large load of miscellaneous goods. Captain Maddocks followed the standard route, passing outside the northern Bahamas to avoid the Gulf Stream, expecting another uneventful voyage. Unlike today, there was no weather forecast and the captain had no idea a hurricane was heading for the Bahama Islands. The unfortunate brig was hit by the October 1866 hurricane which ravaged many parts of the Bahamas and sank a good number of ships in the area. the Baltic was caught in the fury of the storm and its cargo shifted. She began to take on water and the crew frantically worked the pumps in hopes of keeping her afloat. She ended up being wrecked about 200 feet off Ridley’s Head in North Eleuthera, Bahamas, between Spanish Wells and Harbor Island. It is entirely possible that Captain Maddocks beached her in order to save the crew, and it is believed that the entire crew survived.

the Baltic was built at Camden in 1854. Rated at 284 tons, her dimensions were 108 feet long, 26 feet wide, and her hold depth was 10 feet. At the time of her sinking she was owned by WH Hooper of Camden.

The wreck was quickly buried under quicksand and almost forgotten until 1992. A local fisherman, Nick Maillis, had always been interested in sunken treasures and had found a number of wreck sites over the years at during his fishing trips. Local fishermen were familiar with the area as they found dead fish there with no explanation of why they died. Nick suspected that something toxic might be in the area which was affecting the local fish population. Checking the area, he found what appeared to be evidence of wreckage protruding from the sand.

Nick filed this in his memory until another Bahamian rescuer contacted him in 1992 saying he had a rescue vessel available and that Nick had sites they could work on. Nick had applied for and obtained a salvage lease on this area through his salvage company, Bahamas Salbos Research and Recovery. Nick then agreed to let them work on this particular site. During this summer, the 100ft salvage vessel Esperanza, was brought to the wreckage site. The wreckage was again completely buried under sand and the salvage vessel used its propeller wash deflectors to begin to push the sand away above the site. Nick had put them directly on the wreck, and soon they began to discover an almost completely intact 19th century sailing ship, which turned out to be the brig. Balticwhich had remained completely buried for 126 years.

the Esperanza continued to uncover the wreckage, and soon the upper part of the hull was exposed. Divers were able to enter the ship through the upper deck and found an assortment of cargo items to salvage. What they found were medical supplies and instruments, ammunition, tableware, religious figurines, ink bottles, spirits, silverware, foodstuffs, glass china and a large quantity of English Staffordshire porcelain.

Soon the bridge Esperanza was full of salvaged cargo items. The crew only worked for about three weeks, but when they were done, they salvaged over 25,000 pieces of cargo. Around 6,000 porcelain pieces have been recovered so far. The porcelain was packed in barrels protected by straw, with about 100 pieces of porcelain in each barrel. Complete sets of porcelain tableware were recovered.

Around 6,000 pieces of porcelain were recovered from the Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

Other items recovered were porcelain from Germany and Ching dynasty ginger jars from Chylong, China.

Porcelain from Germany was recovered from the Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

Ching dynasty ginger jars from Chylong, China have been recovered from the Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

Some recovered medical instruments included brass hypodermic needles and enema devices. Some of the rubber tubes of these bore the patent dates, and one of them read “Goodyear’s patent, 1857”.

Brass hypodermic needles, salvaged from the brig Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

A porcelain bowl, made in Tunstall, England, was revered in the Baltic. Courtesy of Steven Danforth Singer

Hundreds of perfectly intact food bottles were also brought up by the divers. Many were still in their packing cases, the contents of which were still legibly printed on the outside. The pickle bottles still looked good enough to eat, although no one tried to. Bottles of apricots and capers were also recovered. Bottles of spirits were still stacked like 126 years ago.

Soon the reason for the dead fish in the area became apparent. Large quantities of medical bottles began to be recovered, believed to contain morphine, opium, arsenic and other chemicals. Chemical leaching from the wreck is what has killed fish in the area over the years.

The identity of the wreckage was determined when part of a wooden packing crate was recovered with the word “Brig Baltic, Texas”. A wooden mackerel barrel dated 1866 was also recovered, with the name of the packing company and “Gloucester, Massachusetts” printed on the outside. They now had the name of the ship, the year it sank, its destination, and proof that it came from a northeast port.

The rescue was slowed as the large glass plate cargo blocked the way to the rest of the cargo hold. The approach of Hurricane Andrew, which quickly hit the Bahamas and South Florida, put a complete stop to all further rescue work. Nick’s house was destroyed by the hurricane and the wreckage of the Baltic was buried again and temporarily forgotten. Fortunately, all recovered artifacts were placed in secure storage and all survived.

The Bahamian government, rescuers, and Nick all received a share of the recovered items. A Floridian, Tim Brodie, had heard about the rescue and met Nick in the Bahamas. Tim researched the items in Nick’s possession and was able to identify the makers and place of origin of much of the china, china, etc. Some were quite rare and sought after by collectors. Nick’s collection was brought to Florida and exhibited for a time at the Old Tombs Archeology Museum in Dania, Florida. On May 24, 1997, most of Nick’s collection was auctioned at the Sloan Gallery Auction House, Miami, Florida. .

The brig Baltic may still remain relatively intact, buried under the sands of Eleuthera.

Steven Danforth Singer is a consultant and author of “Shipwrecks of Florida” and “More Shipwrecks of Florida”. You can find out more about him at

[Ed. Note: This article was previously published in the Winter 1996 issue of Treasure Quest Magazine.]

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