The Georges Valentine Shipwreck Site is the site of the historic shipwreck of an Italian barkentine off the coast of Hutchinson Island in Martin County, Florida. On July 19, 2006, the Georges Valentine Shipwreck Site was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. On October 16, 2006, it became the eleventh Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve.
Diving the Site
Georges Valentine was built in 1869 by Bowdler Chaffer & Company of Liverpool, England, for S. Myers & Company. The 767-ton iron-hulled ship originally was registered as Cape Clear with Lloyd’s of London in 1870. She was a screw steamer with auxiliary sails and was stationed on the Liverpool to Australia run carrying passengers and general cargo.
Cape Clear remained on the Lloyd’s register until 1889 when she was sold to a French firm in Bordeaux. The vessel was stripped of all steam machinery except the boiler and was rigged as a three-masted barkentine. Re-christened Georges Valentine, the ship remained in French hands but was sold to new owners in Dunkirk. In 1895 Georges Valentine was sold to the Italian firm of Mortolo and Simonetti in Genoa, Italy. Based in Camogli, Italy, the ship primarily was used to transport lumber, sailing regularly from Pensacola, Florida, to South America.
In October 1904 Georges Valentine sailed from Pensacola to Buenos Aires with a load of milled mahogany. She was crewed by twelve men of different nationalities under the command of Captain Prospero Mortolo. The ship made good time through the Gulf of Mexico and, on October 13, 1904, the captain sighted the lights of Havana, Cuba. Shortly after, while working her way northward through the Straits of Florida, the ship was struck by gale-force winds.
With no break in the storm after a day and a half, Captain Mortolo became apprehensive for the safety of his crew and ship and ordered the deck load thrown overboard with the hope of improving the ship’s stability. Conditions became worse on the third day. High wind, turbulent seas, and torrents of rain knocked the vessel broadside to the sea, where she wallowed helplessly as waves washed completely over her.
Captain Mortolo, knowing he was being driven onto a lee shore, attempted to keep Georges Valentine in deep water but was unable to control the ship. At about 8:00 pm, the roar of breaking waves sounded near-by. The ship’s stem grounded in shoal water, her bow swung off, and she was driven toward shore. The three steel masts fell, killing one crewman. The rest of the crew sought shelter, but could find none as the hull broke apart and the deck house and lifeboats were washed away. Five of the men were never seen again.
Victor Erickson of Sweden, after a difficult struggle, was the first man ashore, bearing helpless shipmate Ernst “Shorty” Bruce. They made it up the dangerous rocky coastline, naked, injured, tired, and cold, to the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Shoal (Bar) where they roused Captain William E. Rea, Keeper of the House of Refuge.
Captain Rea immediately rendered aid to the men, then set out to look for other survivors. Erickson sat high on the rocks with a lantern to help guide other crewmen to safety, and to watch over Captain Rea, all the while dodging lumber flying in the wind. Throughout the night they looked for survivors and finally located five more of the twelve, bringing the total saved to seven men. All of them had injuries, lacerations, and injured joints and limbs. None of the five sailors who died were recovered; Georges Valentine became their grave. The storm continued for two more days. If not for the ship wrecking near the House of Refuge, and the Keeper’s hard work, all of Georges Valentine’s crew would have perished. The storm continued to break the ship apart until she finally was swallowed by the sea.
On October 17, 1904, during the same storm, the Spanish ship Cosme Colzado ran aground three miles north of Georges Valentine. Of the sixteen sailors on board, one was drowned after becoming tangled in the rigging. The remainder of the men made their way to a hut on shore, then eventually to the House of Refuge where they stayed with the Keeper and the crew of Georges Valentine. Captain Rea and his wife, along with help from local residents, cared for all of the men for several weeks until they could travel homeward.
Captain Rea stated of the men, “In these two crews we had a Scotch, Russian, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish and they were all as nice a lot of men as ever came ashore. When I finally got them off to Jacksonville the men stood up and the Captain put his arms around me and said, ‘Master, good-bye, we no more see you.”
Captain Rea’s report states:
“A terrible gale was raging, accompanied with torrents of rain. There was a high sea. The night was dark and the storm so severe it was impossible to see anything. The keeper kept the light burning which attracted sailors to the station and fortunately cause them to land nearer to the shore than otherwise. One man came ashore on the floating lumber and got to the station, cold, hungry and naked. After given clothing he assisted in rescuing six others of a crew of twelve. All were more or less injured and some severely. All totally exhausted and would have died by morning but for the timely assistance, as none of the six were able to stand when brought into the station. Being chilled through from the exposure to the elements, without clothing, and exhaustion from hanging onto the riggings and battling the waves that were one mass of lumber. Many were dashed onto the rocks many times before the keeper could rescue them. The keeper worked all night on the beach hunting through the lumber for disabled seamen, the air full of flying lumber, the breaking of which sounded like a report of thousands of rifles”.
Captain Prospero Martolo Camogli, Italy
Victor Erickson Sweden
Edward Sarkenglov Russia (aka Ed Smith, remained in Stuart)
Ernst “Shorty” Bruce Scotland
Barto Simonetti Camogli, Italy
Barbieri Emmannelli Camogli, Italy
E.A. Anderson Sweden
C. Fillipi Italy
Modesto Prospero Italy
S. Loveyzi Italy
Sigor Busbar Norway
The ship, valued at $18,000, was a total loss; the $7,000 cargo of lumber was sold at auction for only $200. Much of the lumber was used to build several homes in the Stuart area. Captain Rea and his wife stayed at the House of Refuge until May 1907. The surviving crew members returned home, except for Edward Sarkenglov who changed his name to Ed “Big Ed” Smith and became a local fisherman.
Gilbert’s Shoal (Bar) House of Refuge is the only remaining House of Refuge and stands today as testament to the dramatic events on that lonely stretch of beach 100 years ago.
On July 19, 2006, the Georges Valentine Shipwreck Site was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and On October 16, 2006, it became the eleventh Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve.