The wreck of the RMS Rhone is one of the most famous in the world. Now popular with divers, the Rhone was a Royal Mail steamship in the mid 1800s.
The RMS Rhone was build by the Millwall Iron Works in England, and put into service in 1865. She was a member of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, delivering letters and packages back and forth from England to Central and South American, and the Caribbean. She also carried passengers to the British Virgin Islands on her runs.
She had an iron hull and measured in at 312 feet (95 meters). The ship was powered both by steam and sail. By all accounts, she was a solid ship and a good performer on the water.
However, like many other ships, she was caught in a violent hurricane off the coast of the Virgin Islands. The hurricane was one of such great ferocity and violence that it was spoken of for decades after. One count lists 75 ships that were lost or damaged in the huge storm.
According to the stories, the RMS Rhone survived the first onslaught of the storm, perhaps making it through to the eye of the hurricane. The ship was anchored with another ship, called the Conway, near St. Thomas. During the lull in the storm, both ships attempted to put out for open sea, where they would lower the sails and attempt to ride out the tempest away from dangerous rocks, reefs and shoals.
The Conway was able to make the run for the open sea, and escaped the storm with only a loss of a funnel and some rigging. However, the RMS Rhone did not catch the same fortunate passage. Just before leaving the reef for the open sea, she was caught again by the renewed force of the storm, and was blown back toward Black Rock Point on Salt Island of the British Virgin Islands.
A huge wave swept the captain overboard, and the ship was left to drift with the tremendous waves. One swept the ship into a reef, hitting the boiler and prompting a huge explosion that split the boat in two. The stern settled on the bottom 10 meters below the surface, and the bow drifted down 24 meters. However, the prow was exposed out of the water.
Only 23 out of 147 passengers and crewmembers made it off of the ship. The rest had been locked in their cabins for safety, and had no opportunity to leave the ship. While the subsequent fate of the ship and its contents is in some dispute, there is documentation that a Jeremiah D. Murphy was hired by the Danish government to clear the harbor at St. Thomas of the remains of the ships wrecked during the 1867 hurricane.
He is know to have salvaged many items from the ship, including cotton, copper, the anchor, and some gold.
Now the wreckage of the RMS Rhone is the site of some of the most fabulous scuba diving in the world, and was the site for the filming of the Hollywood film, “The Deep.”