But as the Ella Warley sailed south, with 30 passengers and a cargo worth $175,000, including gold, it was struck on the starboard side, near the wheelhouse, and began taking on water.
The North Star, a U.S. transport, smashed through the side-wheeler's stateroom and engine room and heavily damaged a boiler, which spewed steam while the crew and passengers fled in lifeboats.
Within 20 minutes, the Warley disappeared in about 60 feet of water five miles off Belmar, Monmouth County. Six crew members were lost along with the gold, believed to now be worth more than $1 million.
One of 7,000 vessels that have sunk off New Jersey's coast, the Warley will be the focus of a shipwreck symposium from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the InfoAge Science History Learning Center and Museum in Wall Township, Monmouth County.
The wreck of the Warley has been claimed by a Florida diver who hopes to salvage it. An "admiralty arrest," filed in federal court, gives him exclusive rights to the watery bounty.
"Divers have been recovering all sorts of riches for years," said Dan Lieb, museum director and president of the New Jersey Historical Divers Association. "It's not like they've found great troves on the seafloor, but they have brought up some valuable items from time to time."