Click the play button above to view a brief history of Georges Valentine. View a transcript (PDF 20KB) of this video.
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 auxillary sails and was stationed on the Liverpol 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 a three-masted barkentine. Re-christened Georges Valentine, the ship remained in French hands but was sold to new owners n Dunkirk. In 1895 she was sold to the Italian firm of Mortolo and Simonetti in Genoa, Italy. Based in Camogoli, 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 Martolo. 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, the Captain ordered the deck load thrown overboard with the hope of improving the ship’s stability. Conditions still became worse as 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 Martolo knew his vessel was headed towards shore but there was nothing he could do to stop it. The ship’s stern grounded in shoal water, her bow swing off, and she was driven 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.
Two of the crewman made it to shore and 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 and then set out to look for more survivors. One of the crewmen, Victor Erickson of Sweden, sat high on the rocks with a lantern to help guide other crewmen to safety, and the other, Ernst Bruce went over to assist Captain Rea. Throughout the night they searched for survivors and finally located five more of the twelve men, brining the total saved to seven men. All of them had injuries, lacerations, and damaged joints and limbs. 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.
In 2003, Georges Valentine was nominated to become Florida’s eleventh Underwater Archaeological Preserve and in 2006 she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.