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Clipper Ship Sea King
(CSS Shenandoah)

Messrs A. Stephen & Sons launched from their new shipbuilding shed at Kelvinhaugh, 18th August 1863 another of their wood and iron composite ships.  This vessel is a fine steamship of about 1,200 tons, and to class A1 13 years at Lloyd`s.  She is named the Sea King, and is, we understand, the 1st screw steamer built on the principles of iron frames and wooden planking, and also the 1st steamer that has been specially constructed for the China trade, having been built with a view of competing with the fastest ships in the trade direct from China to London, in bringing home the first teas of the season.  She was designed by William Rennie.

Of all the ships built on the Clyde this one has the most dramatic of fortunes! Whilst fitting out, agents of the Federal Govt of the USA eyed her with a view to a fast Cruiser. Later after she had done her 1st stint taking troops to the Maori War and was en route to China for tea, the Confederates gave her a once over and when she arrived in London, there was an officer of that Navy on board. Then in secret on 18th October 1864 she met up with another ship whilst supposedly en route to Bombay with coal. She took munitions and supplies and was handed over to the Confederate Navy. Built for Robertson and Co of London, who ordered her for the lucrative China Tea Trade;. she was sold to the Americans, who fitted her with new guns and also took on a new crew in Madeira.  On arrival in Melbourne, she was renamed the Shenandoah, and from here went on her career as a Confederate Raider.

Hauled out for repairs at the Williamstown Dockyard, Melbourne, Australia, in February 1865.
Confederate flag (possibly retouched) flying from her mizzen gaff, and fresh caulking between her planks.

The Sea King was a fully rigged ship with yards for square sails, and had 21 working sails. She had a raised forecastle, and the clipper bow stemhead extended from the forecastle to the forecastle bulkhead. She had a poop deck extending about 30 feet, which contained a dining saloon, staterooms, and Captain`s and Officer`s quarters.  Under the poop was a well to receive the propellor when moving under sail alone.  Her crew were housed in the topgallant forecastle, while a large deckhouse between the fore and main masts contained rooms for her Petty Officers and the galley.  Her accommodation with bathrooms and toilets was up to date for a wooden vessel.  Between the main and mizzenmast, space was provided for the auxilliary engine and boiler, which were surrounded by coal bunkers.  (Her future armament would consist of, 4 x 8 inch 68 pounders, 2 x 12 pounders, all smoothbore, and 2 rifled Whitworth 32 pounders.)

In August 1863, Bulloch was in Scotland with his very able assistant, Lt. Robert R. Carter, when he discovered a majestic ship, the Sea King, anchored on the River Clyde. They learned that the "beautifully modelled" and "excellently finished ship" bore the trade mark of Alexander Stephen & Sons, the justly famous Clydebank shipbuilders, whose name was a guarantee of quality and craftsmanship. They both agreed that the Sea King would make a fine addition to the Confederate Navy, and resolved to buy her.  At that time however, she was preparing for her maiden voyage, and was not for sale.  Bulloch and Carter were not the only ones aware of the vessel's potential as a ship of war.  From Glasgow, in the autumn of 1863, Thomas Dudley reported the presence of a ship, which might easily be converted into a cruiser, and he relayed to Washington the rumours of the impending sale to the Confederates.  Minister Adams informed Lord Russell that British subjects were actively engaged in fitting out a vessel to resume the Alabama’s "dirty work" ( this was after June of 1864). Secretary Seward warned that Britain "may be held justly responsible" for losses that the Americans sustained as a result of the new Cruiser’s depredations.

After the loss of the Alabama in June 1864, the U.S. representatives in Britain, were only to aware that Bulloch would leave no stone unturned in his efforts to replace his beloved Alabama.  Bulloch was very aware of this interest, and secrecy and deception became even more prevalent at this time.  Bulloch had learned his lessons well regarding the need for secrecy, and after purchasing the Sea King, he himself refused to go anywhere near her, and forbade the use of his name in connection with her.  Lt. William C.Whittle jr., designated 2nd Officer for the new Cruiser, was instructed by Bulloch, to take a room at Wood`s Hotel, in High Holborn, London under the name of W. C. Brown. He was to sit in the coffee room there, with "a white pocket handkerchief rove through a buttonhole in your coat and a newspaper in your hand," and await the appearance of an Agent who would identify himself with an intricate array of signs and countersigns, once satisfied the agent would then arrange to spirit the officer aboard ship "without attracting notice." The precautions may have been melodramatic, but they worked!  Meanwhile other Confederate Agents had purchased a tender for the new cruiser, and made the usual arrangements for a rendezvous.  Known as the Laurel, the tender was fully expected to recoup her purchase price and make a profit as a blockade runner.

Again the U.S. personnel took a keen interest in these activities.  Dudley told Adams that officers from the Georgia planned to sail on this little ship, and that she had an unusually large crew.  Although Dudley did have to admit to not having enough evidence to warrant the seizure of the vessel. The Confederates meanwhile, advertised for passengers and freight to Cuba, and, with a series of carefully planned moves, ensured that the "freight" consisted of stores and armament for the new Cruiser and the "passengers" were the officers and a few choice men for her. The Laurel carried guns and equipment, originally intended for the refitting of the Alabama, including 4 x 55 cwt, 8 inch smoothbore guns, 2 Whitworth 32 pounders, two 12 pounders, and a selection of small arms, ammunition, clothing and coal.  Customs officials in Liverpool could uncover no violation of any municipal laws, and allowed the Laurel to leave Liverpool on Sunday morning October 9th 1864, the very same day that the Sea King left London. The total cost for her purchase, and for the cruise was £53,715-10s-9d.

Waddell specifically requested George Harwood, who had served Semmes as Chief Bosun`s mate on the Alabama, to join the crew.  He felt that Harwood was a fine seaman, an experienced "man-of-war" man, and one calculated to be influential in a crew composed exclusively of Englishmen.  He was appointed acting Bosun, as soon as the Laurel had cleared English jurisdiction.  The true purpose of the voyage being explained to him by Waddell.  The Laurel reached Madeira on Sunday 16th October, and anchored in Funchal Bay, near Loo Rock, in 16 fathoms of water, to await the Sea King. On Monday morning orders were given, that there were to be no communications with the shore, except for the purchase of coal.  On the night of Tuesday 18th October, during the 1st watch, a black ship rigged vessel came in sight, close by the Funchal anchorage, and showed her signal lights.  She steamed up and down the anchorage, but it was impossible for the Laurel to react to this vessel, as her papers were still with the Portugese Customs Officals, and this strange black craft disappeared into the night.  Her appearance certainly caused a stir among the crew who were on deck, rather than in uncomfortably close apartments. The phrase "thats her" was heard all over the vessel.  Daylight came, and a messenger was despatched to the Custom`s official, requesting clearance. While the Customs vessel approached, accompanied by all manner of fishing smacks and bum boats seeking trade with the crew, the black steamer came in sight again from the North, with flags flying at her mastheads, which were answered from the Laurel. A great cry arose from the assembled Madeiran craft :-
"Otro Alabama" - "Another Alabama"
At the departure of the Customs Officials, anchor was tripped at 10am, and the Laurel proceeded to follow her quarry, who had slowed her engines. Through his lorgnette, Waddell read the words "Sea King - London" on her stern in large white letters, and ordered that the Sea King be telegraphed to follow the Laurel.  Both vessels then proceeded to the North side of the Deserters (Las Desertas), where in a smooth sea, with a good deep anchorage, the work could begin.  Lt William C. Whittle jr. then joined Waddell from the Sea King, where he had been her purser.  On the 19th October, the Shenandoah was commissioned into the service of the Confederate States of America, in the lee, and on the North side of Las Desertas, with Madeira in view.  Waddell had spoken to the crew who had come out from England on the quarterdeck, explaining the true purpose of the vessel. He described the forthcoming dashing brilliant cruise, as he attempted to have them join the vessel. But only 23 out of 55 men were willing to sign on, and the majority of those for 6 months only; 32 crew were transferred to the Laurel, and, with Confederate Flag flying gracefully, the Shenandoah embarked on her great adventure, accompanied by cheers and acclamations from the Laurel.

Still short-handed, though her crew had been increased by voluntary enlistments from prizes, Shenandoah arrived at Melbourne, Victoria, on January 25, 1865, where she filled her complement and her storerooms.  She also took on 40 crew members who were stowaways from Melbourne. However, they were not enlisted until the ship was outside the legal limits of Australian waters.  The Shipping Articles show that all these 40 crew members enlisted on the day of her departure from Melbourne, February 18, 1865; 19 of her crew deserted at Melbourne, some of whom gave statements of their service to the United States Consul there. An 1871 hearing at the International Court in Geneva awarded damages of £820,000 against Britain to the US government for use of the port facilities at Williamstown by the CSS Shenandoah

She then embarked on a career as a raider with them and managed to capture or destroy 37 enemy ships during a worldwide sweep of the seas, doing so even after the Confederacy had collapsed, not knowing that the Civil War was over.  She sank Barques from Newcastle bound for the ports of the Union.  She destroyed 36 Yankee ships, mainly Yankee whalers while flying the Confederate Flag. 

This gallant ship made one of the most wonderful cruises on record. She was a merchant ship, which had not about her construction a single equipment as a vessel of war. Her equipment - such as guns, ammunition, breeches, carriages etc.- were all in boxes on her decks, and these gallant officers and a few volunteer seamen from her crew and that of her consort were to transform and equip her on the high seas, and in all kinds of weather. None but the experienced can appreciate what a Herculean task it was.

Our gallant little ship spread her broad canvas wings and sailed around the world, using her auxilliary steam power only in calm belt or chase. We went around the Cape of Good Hope, thence through the Indian Ocean to Melbourne, Australia, thence through the islands of Polynesia, passed the Carolina, Gilbert, and other groups, on Northward through Kurile Islands, into the Okhotsk Sea until stopped by the ice. We came out of the Okhotsk and went up the coast of Kamchatka into Bering Sea, and through Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean, until the ice again prevented us from going further, so we turned, passed again through the Aleutian islands into the Pacific Ocean. By this time we had absolutely destroyed or broken up the Federal Whaling Fleets.

While sweeping down the Pacific Coast, looking for more prey, we chased and overhauled a vessel flying the British flag. On boarding her we found that she was the British Barque Barracouta, bound from San Francisco for Liverpool. This was August 2nd 1865. From her Captain we learned that the war had been over since the previous April. The effect of this crushing intelligence on us can be better imagined than described.  We found that much of our work of destruction to the Whaling Fleet of the United States had been done after the war had closed, unwittingly of course, for from the nature of their work the Whalers had been away from communication just as long as we had, and were equally as ignorant of results. We promptly declared our mission of war over, disarmed our vessel, and shaped our course for England with well-nigh broken hearts. We journeyed around Cape Horn, and on November 6th, 1865, arrived at Liverpool and surrendered to the British Government through their guard ship Donegal by hauling down the last Confederate Flag ever floated in defiance of the United States, having circumnavigated the globe, in every ocean except the Antarctic, and made more captures than any other Confederate cruiser except the famous Alabama.

After a 1 year or so life at sea, attacking Unionist shipping, she was still fighting in the seas off Alaska when the conflict came to a close, but word got out to her too slow to prevent her attacking more Unionist ships afterwards. In fact it was a British ship that warned her. Fearing a bloody retribution, the Captain and crew decided to head for England, crossing the Pacific Ocean from Alaskan waters to arrive off the River Mersey on November 6th 1865. Considerable excitement was caused when the steamer Douglas reported the warship sitting in the bay, awaiting high tide. The Captain of the Shenandoah asked if there was a British Naval warship in port, which there was, and he was allowed into the River Mersey to come along side the warship to officially surrender to Great Britain. Despite American appeals, the British Government refused to allow the crew to be turned over to them.

Captain Waddell, who by 'chance' had been a "passenger" when she arrived in Liverpool where she was confiscated by the British Government, who later sold her for £30,000 some 50% of her value at the time.

The following letter is said to have been addressed to Earl Russell by Capt. Waddell, who commanded the Shenandoah.
"To the Right Hon. Earl Russell, H.B.M. Minister for Foreign Affairs."
Steamer Shenandoah, Nov. 5, 1865

"My Lord,

I have the honour to announce to your lordship my arrival in the waters of the Mersey with this vessel, lately a ship of war in my command, belonging to the Confederate States of America. The singular position in which I find myself placed and the absence of all precedents on the subject, will, I trust, induce your lordship to pardon a hasty reference to a few facts connected with a cruise lately made by this ship. I commissioned the ship in October 1864, under orders from the naval department of the Confederate States, and in pursuance of the same commenced actively cruising against the enemy’s commerce. My orders directed me to visit certain seas in preference to others.  In obedience thereto I found myself in May, June and July of this year in the Oshtok Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Both places, if not quite isolated, are still so far removed from the ordinary channels of commerce that months would elapse before any news could reach there as to the progress or termination of the American war. In consequence of this awkward circumstance I was engaged in the Arctic Ocean in acts of war so late as the 28th June, in ignorance of the series of reverses by our arms in the field, and the obliteration of the Government under whose authority I had been acting.  This intelligence I received for the 1st time on communicating at sea, on the 2nd August, with the British barque Barracouta of Liverpool, 14 days from San Francisco. Your lordship can imagine my surprise at the receipt of such intelligence, and I would have given it little consideration if an Englishman’s did not confirm the war news, though from an enemy port.

I desisted immediately from further acts of War, and determined to suspend further action until I had communicated with a European port, when I would learn if that intelligence was true. It would not have been intelligent in me to convey this vessel to an American port, simply because the master of the Barracouta had said the war was ended.  I was in an embarrassing position. I diligently examined all the law writers at my command, searching for a precedent for my guidance in the future control, management, and final disposal of the vessel. I could find none: History is, I believe, without a parallel. Finding the authority questionable under which I consider this vessel a ship of war, I immediately discontinued cruising, and shaped my course for the Atlantic Ocean. As to the ship’s disposal, I do not consider that I have any right to destroy her or any further right to command her. On the contrary, I think that as all the property of the Confederate Government has reverted, by the fortune of war, to the Government of the United States of North America, therefore this vessel, inasmuch as it was the property of the Confederate States, should accompany other property already reverted. I have, therefore, sought this port as a suitable one "to learn the news," and, if I am without a Government, to surrender the ship, with her battery, small arms, stores, tackle, and apparel complete to Her Majesty’s Government, for such disposition as in its wisdom should be deemed proper. I have the honour to be, very respectfully, your lordship’s obedient servant,

Jas. I. Waddell, Commander.

The government have at length taken a decided step in regard to the crew of this vessel. For the last 2 days the authorities in Liverpool have been in communication with the Secretary of State in reference to the detention of the ship and her crew. The Government seem to have been decided as to the necessity of retaining the vessel, pending an inquiry as to the action which her commander and crew have taken during the last few months, but there seems to have been some doubt as to the proper course to adopt with reference to the men on board. On inquiry at the Custom House yesterday morning, we were informed that the authorities had not received further instructions as to the vessel or her crew.

However, about 6 o`clock last night a telegram was received from Government by Captain Paynter, of her Majesty’s ship Donegal, to whom the Shenandoah was surrendered, that the whole of the Officers and Crew, who were not British subjects were to be immediately paroled. (A commission of lawyers had convened and decided that the crew had not committed piracy as the US claimed and had not gone beyond their remit of war, there was no case to answer) Captain Paynter immediately proceeded to the Rock Ferry slip, and applied for a steamboat. The Rock Ferry Steamer Bee was placed at his disposal by Mr. Thwaites, in which he immediately proceeded alongside the Shenandoah. Captain Paynter went on board and communicated to the officers the object of his visit. The crew were mustered on the quarterdeck by the Officers of the ship, the roll book was brought out, and the names of the men called out as they occurred.  As each man answered to his name he was asked what countryman he was. In not one instance did any of them acknowledge to be British citizens. Many nations were represented among them, but the majority claimed to be natives of the Southern States of America or "Southern citizens". Several of those however, who purported to be Americans, had an unmistakably Scotch accent, and seemed more likely to have hailed from the Banks of the Clyde than the Mississippi. Captain Paynter informed the men that by order of the Government they were all paroled, and might proceed at once to shore. This intelligence was received by the men with every demonstration of joy, and they seemed to be delighted at the prospect of leaving the craft in which they had hoped to be able to assist the Southern Confederacy. They commenced to pack up their bedding and other articles as fast as possible, and conveyed on board the Bee, which was to take them to the landing stage. Before leaving the vessel, however, they gave 3 lusty cheers, for Captain Waddell, their late commander. Captain Waddell, in feeling terms, acknowledged the compliment, and said that he hoped the men would always behave themselves, as brave sailors ought to do. The men then went aboard the Bee, and were conveyed to the landing stage. This separated the Shenandoah and her crew, and the vessel rode at anchor in the Sloyne in charge of some men from HMS Donegal, under the command of Lieutenant Cheek.

The arrival of the late crew of the Shenandoah caused no small stir. People were surprised to see the landing of a number of swarthy-complexioned, weather-beaten men, dressed in grey uniform, and wearing eccentric looking hats and caps. When it became known that they were the crew of the notorious cruiser, a large crowd of persons assembled, who stood watching the sailors as they were taking their baggage on shore. Some people were desirous of knowing their cause of leaving the vessel, and their intended movements, but the sailors were discreetly silent, and the questioners were not able to pump much out of them. They were for the most part, able bodied, determined looking fellows, and would, no doubt, have proved themselves equal to the work they had in view.

It has been stated that Captain Waddell, and several Officers and crew of the Shenandoah went on shore before the parole was received. This, we are assured, is not the fact, and that none of those on board (except for 3 who escaped) left the vessel until they were paroled.  It is stated that the Shenandoah has about 35 chronometers on board, a large quantity of cabin furniture and some oil. All the guns of the Shenandoah are stowed away in her hold.  The vessel continued to be an object of curiosity to crowds of people on the banks of the river, and the passengers on board the ferry steamers.

She was later purchased by the Sultan of Zanzibar.  Damaged in hurricane at Zanzibar on 15th April 1872, and later temporarily repaired on 10th September 1872 sailed for Bombay with 130 passengers & crew, though still leaking, and sank a few days later. 

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Last modified: 01/09/2013