Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
Rediscovering the Robert J. Walker

IDENTIFYING THE WRECK AS ROBERT J. WALKER, 2013

How do we know?

The wreck is in the right area. Estimates at the time placed the loss 12 miles offshore, on what was truly a dark and stormy night. The site is 10.5 miles from shore.

The wreck was the only unidentified steamship wreck in the area - all other sites had been identified by the New Jersey diving community.

The wreck is pointing toward shore, and on a straight line to the Absecon Lighthouse, as would be expected since Robert J. Walker's crew were heading for the lighthouse after the collision while the ship was sinking.

The construction contract for Robert J. Walker specifies a vessel length of 132 feet and a beam (width) of 24 feet 6 inches. The wreck has the same dimensions.

The wreck has two paddlewheels, one on each side. The width of Walker's paddlewheels was six feet - uncommonly small for a steamer of the time. The wreck's paddlewheel hubs show it had the same width - six feet.

The wreck is an iron-hulled, riveted steamer with T-bar frames (ribs). The contract for building Robert J. Walker stipulated it be built with iron hull plates eight feet in length and 5/16th of an inch thick, double and single riveted with 10/16th of an inch headed rivets. The frames were 10-lb. T bar.

The wreck had rectangular brass portholes. As shown in this 1852 painting of Robert J. Walker is had rectangular portholes with glass.

painting of the walker showing portholes with glass
Detail of Walker Showing Portholes.

The wreck has the same type and size of engines that Robert J. Walker did. They are two horizontal, half beam, condensing engines of the "Lighthall Patent."

The Lighthall Lever Half-Beam Engine, patented on October 23, 1849 (Patent 6811) by William A. Lighthall of Albany, New York, is illustrated here:
Lighthall Patent Lever Half-Beam Engine as placed in a hull.
Lighthall Patent Lever Half-Beam Engine as placed in a hull. (U.S. Patent Office)


Lighthall's Lever Half Beam Engine Patent, Side Elevation.  Steam cylinders (H) lying horizontally, may be inclined when so required, (K) the condenser, (L) the bed plate, (M) the air pump, (A-A) the pillow block fastened to the keelsons and bottom of the vessel, (B) the beam center, (C)  the attachment to the piston or prime mover, (D) the upper center for connecting rod (E), (F) the crank pin, and (G) the shaft center.
Lighthall's Lever Half Beam Engine Patent, Side Elevation. "Steam cylinders (H) lying horizontally, may be inclined when so required, (K) the condenser, (L) the bed plate, (M) the air pump, (A-A) the pillow block fastened to the keelsons and bottom of the vessel, (B) the beam center, (C) the attachment to the piston or prime mover, (D) the upper center for "connecting rod" (E), (F) the crank pin, and (G) the shaft center." (U.S. Patent Office)

An 1852 survey of the Robert J. Walker machinery reported that the steam cylinder of the engines were 2 feet, 9 inches in diameter; that is the dimension of the cylinders on the wreck.

Click on the image to see photos taken on the expedition
These photographs of the wreck's machinery are keyed to show where they would fit on the engine plans of Robert J. Walker.

The boilers, lying just behind the engines, had not survived intact, but their basic shape remains, and matches Robert J. Walker's boilers, shown here in an 1852 survey of the steamer's machinery:

drawing of walker's boilers
Walker's Boilers (Isherwood 1852)

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