Lake Superior Shipwrecks
Description of the Wreck Event

The Madeira was in ballast and under tow of the steamer William Edenborn on Nov. 28, 1905 in the midst of the worst storm in the history of the Great Lakes. At approximately 3:30 a.m., the captain of the Edenborn, fearing for the safety of his ship and consort, cut the Madeira's towline. He apparently believed that the Madeira stood a better chance of staying afloat if it cast anchor and tried to ride out the storm. Although the accounts of the Madeira's loss reported in contemporary newspapers suggest that it attempted to cast anchor, divers found both anchors intact on the bow.

Photograph of Gold Rock Fig. 1 Photograph of Gold Rock looking at Split Rock Lighthouse Fig. 2

Fig. 1: Gold Rock cliff from dive beach; Eric Swanson, Minneapolis, MN
Fig. 2: Looking North from Gold Rock cliff at Split Rock Lighthouse; Eric Swanson, Minneapolis, MN

The Madeira struck Gold Rock, north of the present location of Split Rock Lighthouse, at approximately 5:30 a.m. At about the same time, the Edenborn grounded and broke in two, four miles away near the community of Split Rock. As the Madeira's hull pounded broadside against the rocky cliff, the ship began to break up. The Madeira's 10-man crew would most likely have perished, had not Fred Benson, a Scandinavian crewman, grabbed a line and jumped from the deck of the ship to a rock outcrop at the base of the cliff. Then, with stormy seas crashing against him, Benson climbed the 60-foot cliff to the top. From there he dropped his line, weighted down with a rock, to the deck of the Madeira's bow section, rescuing the three men trapped there. Then he dropped the line onto the stern deck, and five more men climbed to safety. Only one man lost his life in the wreck. The first mate was carried down with the sinking ship as he climbed the mizzenmast in an attempt to jump to safety. The survivors, suffering from exposure, were rescued two days later by the tug Edna G., which also recovered the body of the mate. Fred Benson was singled out as the hero of the storm in the Duluth newspaper.

Madeira wreck painting by Kurt Carlson; Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

The Madeira was one of 20 vessels wrecked or damaged during the Mataafa Storm. Of those vessels, however, only a handful, including the Madeira were total losses. Of all the Great Lakes, Lake Superior recorded the greatest loss of life and property from the storm. Property loss from the Mataafa Storm was estimated at $1.75 million. Rather than alter the economical design of its ships or underwrite an exorbitantly expensive insurance policy upon them, the Pittsburgh Company launched a campaign for the cheapest available protection, a government financed light station. After heavy lobbying by transportation interests, and partially as a result of the loss of the Madeira, Split Rock Lighthouse was erected within sight of the wreck in 1910. A history of Split Rock Lighthouse compiled by the Minnesota Historical Society notes that Split Rock Lighthouse clearly owes its existence to the storm, although it is inconceivable that a lighthouse could have averted such a disaster.

|--Madeira-- |--Historic Description--|
|--Construction and Career-- |--Description of the Wreck Event--|
|--Post-Depositional Impacts-- |--Present Description-- |--Significance-- |--Photographs--|
|--Minnesota Lake Superior Shipwrecks-- |
|--Minnesota Historical Society Homepage--|