The Gairsoppa’s final voyage began in Calcutta, India in December 1940. She was loaded with nearly 7,000 tons of diverse cargo, including 2,600 tons of pig iron, 1,765 tons of tea, 2,369 tons of general cargo and 2,817 silver bars.
The steel-hulled ship was discovered lying upright. Hundreds of meters away from her wreck site lies a debris field that is filled with various cargo and ship parts such as crew’s boots, an intact bath, the funnel and the ship’s 35 x 16-metre centre island that once housed the bridge, chart room, captain’s cabin and radio room that was not secured inside the ship during the sinking.
Research indicates that the pig iron aboard the Gairsoppa was probably cast by the Tata Iron and Steel Company at Jamshedpur. The loose leaf tea, stacked in the No. 2 and No. 5 holds, was sealed in packets of aluminium foil and locked away in square wooden crates secured by brass border frames with ‘Product of India’ stamped twice on the top and bottom of each crate. The amount of tea lost on the Gairsoppa was enough to sustain 65% of the entire population of Britain for a week or London’s 8.6 million population for three and a half weeks.
The small finds scattered around the wreckage shine a light on the crew’s daily life. The men drank out of white porcelain cups made by the Bakewell Bros. Ltd. of Hanley in Staffordshire, while the captain and officers sipped from glass. An Alfred Graham & Co. navy phone allowed inter-ship communication. Tea brewed in pewter teapots was rushed around the Gairsoppa on pewter trays by a Lascar Indian chaiwala. One of the Indian crewmembers was reading a copy of the Suddha Dharma Buddhist teachings during the final voyage. A British officer had posted home for his beloved a silver compact engraved ‘Iraq. 1940. To My Darling Sweetheart’.