Kiwiosities – Niagara’s gold

A sensational sea disaster in 1940 was then followed by a spectacular attempt to recover a cargo of gold, worth more than 2.5 million pounds. The Niagara was nearly 50 kilometres off Whangarei Heads, bound from Auckland for Vancouver when she struck a German mine on June 19, 1940. The ship went down in a couple of hours but all 338 passengers and crew were rescued. The cargo of gold attracted an Australian syndicate to what would then be a record for deepwater salvage, around 70 fathoms. Risking the German minefield, the vessel Claymore was used to locate the wreck and service a diving bell from which the salvagers worked. A hole was blown in the hull of the Niagara and into the strongroom. Ten tons of gold was salvaged, leaving 35 bars behind. Of these, 30 were recovered by another expedition in 1953, leaving only five still in the wreck. The story of the original recovery, done under the cloak of official secrecy, was told in Gold from the Sea: the epic story of Niagara’s bullion, by James Taylor (Harrap, London, 1943).


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Gordon Ell, a former journalist and wildlife film-maker, is the author of many popular books about New Zealand's historic and natural heritage.