January 10, 1909

In late December of 1908 a devastating earthquake in southern Italy leveled cities and killed hundreds of thousands. With no place to send the survivors, the Italian government put them on ships headed for America. On this day in 1909, almost 850 displaced Italian citizens boarded the SS Florida in Naples. One day before they were to land in New York City their ship struck the ocean liner Republic in 1909 in a heavy fog 26 miles from the Nantucket lightship.

The Republic had just installed  a new Marconi wireless station and wireless operator Jack Binns used it to contact the ‘Sconset Marconi station 47 miles away. It would be the first time the new radio technology was used to send a distress message and mariners would later credit the Marconi Radio with saving almost all hands that day.

Binns was the first operator to use the CQD code, which meant ‘Is anybody there? Danger.” For the rest of the day the sinking Republic and ‘Sconset wireless stations would coordinate the logistics of evacuating the passengers from both ships. Using lifeboats, the crews transferred passengers from the Republic to the Florida, a tricky endeavor since the Italian emigres on the Florida came close to rioting when they saw more people coming onboard. Later another ship took the survivors to New York City..

In all six people died from injuries sustained from the collision and more than 1,500 passengers and crew were rescued.

Excerpted from On This Day In Nantucket History
By Amy Jenness
The History Press
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The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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