October 20, 2011: Why should a treasure-laden sunken ship at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean have historians in Karnataka ready to break out into a jig? Here’s why: SS Gairsoppa, the British ship that sank off the coast of Ireland during World War II, is named after the state’s most famous waterfall — the Jog Falls. What’s more, the ship travelled between Britain and India for 21 years.
The ship was in the news recently after it was found with 155 million pounds of silver bullion in its cargo (WW II shipwreck found, with 155m-pound treasure on board, Sept 28, BM).
Historian and former director of Karnataka State Gazetteer Department, Suryanath U Kamath, says that what is popularly known as Jog Falls was named the Gerusoppa Falls by the British.
“The village in which the falls is located is called Jog and hence the name Jog Falls. But the area was under the Bombay Presidency and Gerusoppa, the closest commercial settlement was where they had a residential bungalow. The British called the falls Gerusoppa Falls. It was variously termed Gerusoppe and Gairsoppa,” Kamath said.
Treasure hunters from the US announced last Monday that they had identified the ship at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Ireland, as SS Gairsoppa, a British ship which was sunk by a German U-boat in 1941.
The ship is sitting 4.7 km from the surface and the salvage company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, has a contract with the British government to recover 219 tonnes of silver bullion and keep 80 per cent of it for themselves. The value of the silver is estimated between £150 million and £200 million (Rs 1,140 crore and Rs 1,520 crore).
First called War Roebuck
SS Gairsoppa was a cargo steamship that was commissioned by the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1919 and built in Newcastle, England. It was called the War Roebuck when it was launched. However, it was renamed after the waterfall within two months. For the next 21 years, the 412-foot ship travelled between Britain and India and frequently touched Australia, Africa and the Far East. During World War II, all the ships including SS Gairsoppa came under the control of the British navy.
On its last voyage between Calcutta and the intended destination of Liverpool, the ship was carrying 7,000 tonnes of cargo including pig iron, tea and 219 tonnes of silver bullion. It was sunk by a torpedo fired from the German U-boat U-37 on February 17, 1941. Along with the cargo and 84 of the 85 crew members, the ship bearing the name of Asia’s highest waterfall sank to the bottom of the ocean.
Gersoppa, which is in current-day Uttara Kannada district, 29 km from Honnavar, is famous for its Jain basadis or shrines. It was the capital of the Saluva kingdom that ruled between the 13th and 17th centuries.
“The Saluva rulers must have been related to the second dynasty of the Vijayanagara Empire, also known as the Saluvas,” says Kamath. The third dynasty of Vijayanagar, Tuluvas, that included Krishnadevaraya was related to the Saluvas. Two women rulers, Chennadevi and Chennabhairadevi, were very popular. The latter fought with the Portuguese who called her the ‘Reina da Pimenta,’ meaning Queen of Pepper, he said.
“Keladi king Venkatappa Nayaka decimated the Gersoppa dynasty as he was trying to control the growing influence of the Portuguese. Later, the British took control of the entire region and ruled it through the Bombay Presidency. In fact, the British were familiar with the region and till independence, the region around the falls was not under any local ruler,” said Kamath.
Courtesy: Bangalore Mirror