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CHAPTER THREE. The Cruise of the "Shenandoah"
White, quiet sails from the grim icy coasts, That bear the battles of the whaling hosts. ANON.
ONE of the most interesting vessels constructed by the Stephens was undoubtedly the composite steamship, Sea King, alias the notorious Confederate cruiser, Shenandoah. The history of her transformation from an innocent tea-clipper to a crack war vessel, the terror of the Yankee whalers and successor of the dreaded Alabama, is indeed "stranger than fiction."
The first news of her comes from the North British Daily Mail of 18th August, 1863, which informs us that: "Yesterday, Messrs. A. Stephen and Sons launched from their new shipbuilding shed at Kelvinhaugh, another of their wood and iron combination ships. This vessel is a fine screw 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 first screw steamship built on the principle of iron frames and wooden planking, and also the first steamer that has been specially constructed for the China trade, having been built with the view of competing with the fastest ships in the trade direct from China to London, in bringing home the first teas of the season."
Her speed, obtained on trial, was 11 knots, and her dimensions and constructional details were as follows: 220 ft. long between perpendiculars by 36 ft. beam by 20 ft. 6 ins. depth of hold, and of 1,018 tons gross register. She had iron frames, floors and deck beams tied together with iron sheerstrake, stringer plates and diagonal iron ties on the outside of the iron frames and of the deck beams, binding the iron framework well together, over which she was planked with elm and teakwood six inches thick, firmly secured to the iron frames with copper bolts.
She was fitted with a set of simple compound steam-engines of 200 h.p., two boilers, telescopic funnel, and a two-bladed propeller arranged for lifting up into a well under the poop when under sail alone. She was rigged as a full three-masted sailing-ship, having a large spread of canvas, and was beautifully finished off in teakwood on deck. She had a full poop aft, containing a dining-saloon, state-rooms and captain's and officers' quarters. Her crew was housed in the top gallant forecastle, while a large deckhouse between the fore and mainmasts contained rooms for her petty officers, galley, etc.
While fitting out on the north side of the river, at Finnieston, she attracted the agents of the Federal Government of North America, on the lookout for crack war cruisers. Before she could pass into their hands, however, she was chartered by the British Government to carry troops to the first Maori War. Having landed men and munitions in New Zealand, she proceeded to China, via Sydney. From Shanghai she made various trips to Hong Kong, Swatow and Woosang - ostensibly to take in tea for her homeward journey. During all this latter period, however, she was being watched by officials of the Confederate Government, and when she sailed for England she had a lieutenant of the Confederate Navy aboard.
Arriving in London, after a very fast passage of seventy-nine days, she managed to discharge her cargo, dry-dock, and load an ample supply of coal, for an assumed voyage to Bombay, without arousing the suspicions of the British authorities. She was now commanded by Captain Corbett, who was completely advised as to her future, and carried the necessary documents for her transference on the high seas, beyond British jurisdiction. Thus prepared, she set sail for Madeira, where she was to meet the Laurel, bearing her munitions and supplies.
The latter, which left Liverpool on 9th October, 1864, carried, in addition to arms and equipment, Lieutenant Waddell, the Sea King's future commander, accompanied by a party of picked officers and men who had sailed with him in the late C.S.S. Alabama. She also carried an extra quota of hands to augment the Sea King's crew after her transfer to the Confederate service.
The Laurel dropped anchor in Funchal Bay, Madeira, on 16th October. After sending her papers ashore to the customs, she proceeded to take in coal, keeping a sharp lookout the while for the Sea King. The latter, with a nice sense of drama, appeared at midnight on the 18th, and having discreetly displayed her signal lamps, steamed slowly away to the north. Next day she reappeared, with signal flags flying, and the Laurel, having received her papers, stood to sea in pursuit.
Both vessels dropped anchor off Las Desertas, where the Sea King was handed over to the Confederate Government and re-named the Shenandoah. As soon as the official formalities were complete, the Laurel was lashed alongside and proceeded to transfer sufficient stores, equipment and ammunition for a fifteen months' cruise. Lieutenant Waddell then attempted to recruit members of the English crew which had brought out the Sea King, but, despite his eloquence, only twenty-three out of fifty-five of the vessel's original crew volunteered.
Her transfer completed, the Shenandoah hoisted her new colours and weighed anchor, "throwing out to the breeze the flag of the South, and demanding a place upon that vast ocean without fear or favour."
Once afloat, under the able direction of Lieutenant Waddell, the Shenandoah soon assumed the appearance of an active cruiser on the warpath. Her main decks had to be cleared of obstructions before the battery could be mounted on the carriages, and gun ports cut out of the bulwarks, fighting bolts driven and gun-tackles prepared before the battery could be used. All these alterations, usually carried out in a navy-yard before a vessel is commissioned, were undertaken on the high seas, beyond reach of assistance or shelter in case of attack.
Lieutenant Waddell, assisted by his officers, led the skeleton crew in accomplishing a vast deal of labour, and four days after she had been commissioned, the guns were all on their carriages and two ports had been cut on either side of the deck. The fighting-bolts were found eventually in a barrel of beef, while it soon became obvious that the gun-tackles had never been put aboard! As the absence of the latter rendered the battery useless, there was nothing to be done but hope that the first prize would supply the deficiency.
Meanwhile, for all their innocence, the guns looked very threatening, and with the deck cleared it was now possible to intimidate a prospective capture with Enfield rifles. Once the deck was shipshape, Waddell proceeded to investigate accommodation below, where the removal of coal from the ' tween decks had left ample space to berth two hundred men.
On 27th October, the Shenandoah entered upon her first chase, which proved to be the Mogul, of London. Immediately afterwards she overhauled another British vessel. Having thus tested her paces, her Commander felt that it would be difficult to find her superior under canvas, a great consolation for lack of crew and equipment.
She had now reached a position where vessels outward bound from the west might be expected, and her prospects of a capture brightened as she worked her way towards the line.
A few days later she chased, captured and scuttled the American barque, Alina, of Searsport, bound for Buenos Ayres with railroad iron. She was on her first voyage, thoroughly equipped and valued at 9,500 dollars. She furnished blocks for the gun-tackles, cotton canvas for sail-making, and other supplies. Six of the crew signed on with the Shenandoah, bringing her complement to twenty-nine. Her capture made a marked difference to the atmosphere aboard the cruiser; though work still pressed heavily, they were now gathering strength from the enemy's vessels, and the cry, "Sail ho!" was always greeted with enthusiasm.
The next prize, taken on 3rd November, was the American schooner, Charter Oak, of Boston, bound for San Francisco with a mixed cargo. Captain Gilman, his wife, her sister and son, were given Lieutenant Waddell's cabin; their personal luggage was respected and they messed at the wardroom table. A statement made later by Captain Gilman, in a New York paper, acknowledged the kindness he received as a prisoner.
The Charter Oak, which was valued at 15,000 dollars, was fired late in the afternoon, the Shenandoah standing by until after dark to see that she was entirely consumed. The method of destroying a prize depended largely upon the nature of her cargo. When freighted like the Alina, it was best to scuttle, i.e., knock a hole in her side a few feet below her water-line from inboard. The vessel would then sink rapidly, leaving only a few scraps of wreckage floating. It more frequently happened, however, that fire was utilized; indeed, there was often no alternative to the latter method, however much it may be condemned. It was better to fire a prize than leave it so disabled as to be useless, yet formidable enough to endanger navigation.
Six days later, the Shenandoah again took the offensive, chasing and burning the barque D. Godfrey, of Boston, bound for Valparaiso with a cargo of beef and pork. She was an old vessel and easily consumed; six of her crew joined the Shenandoah, increasing her quota to thirty-five.
Next day the Danish brig, Anna Jane, was sighted, and agreed to take over the prisoners from the Alina and Charter Oak, for which service Waddell presented her captain with a chronometer, a barrel of beef and some bread!
The next capture was the American brig, Susan, Hanson master, of New York, bound for the Rio Grande with coal. She was very old, leaked badly, and was the slowest sailer Waddell had ever seen. Her captain seemed pleased with his misfortune, while several of her crew gladly signed on with the Shenandoah.
November 11th brought the cruiser her first night-chase, which proved to be the American clipper, Kate Prince, with a neutral cargo of coal; she was ransomed on bond for 40,000 dollars with regret, as her crew of twenty-one all showed a keen desire to join the Confederate service.
The same day saw the capture of the American barque, Adelaide, owned by Pendergast Brothers, of Baltimore, and sailing under Buenos Ayrean colours. Though her captain could produce no bill of sale, he swore that he had been assured of the transaction. She was just being prepared for destruction by fire when an officer handed Lieutenant Waddell a letter, directed to her consignee at Rio, the contents of which led him to countermand her demolition. She was sailing under an assumed flag and her owners had greatly wronged her captain by not informing him of her true nationality. Her destruction was only prevented by sheer accident, and she was bonded for 24,000 dollars.
Just before crossing the line, the Shenandoah captured the American schooner, Lizzie M. Stacey, of Boston, bound for Honolulu; she was new and fast and would have made an excellent cruiser had the Shenandoah been able to spare the men to form a crew.
The Shenandoah's course now lay south, along the coast of Brazil. Nothing of interest occurred until the first week in December, when the New Bedford whaler, Edward, valued at 20,000 dollars, was captured and burned. She was well fitted and the cruiser lay alongside for two days taking aboard her stores and equipment. Her crew were landed north-west of Tristan da Cunha, where they were found later by the Federal gunboat, Dacotah, on the lookout for the Shenandoah.
Shortly after leaving Tristan da Cunha the propeller-shaft of the Shenandoah was found to be seriously damaged. As Capetown was the only place, short of Melbourne, where repairs could be effected, Waddell decided to cross the Indian Ocean under sail. Crossing the meridian of Greenwich on 12th December, she ran into a fresh gale, which threw her somewhat off her course, and spoilt the preparations for a Christmas dinner prepared from spoils from the various prizes.
The next vessel sighted, on 29th December, was the Delphine of Bangor, bound for Akyab, after rice for the Federal armies. When her captain heard that his vessel would be destroyed, he declared that his wife was far too ill to be moved aboard the Shenandoah; however, the ruse failed when the invalid was found to be in the best of health and spirits. After her crew and passengers had been transferred, the Deiphine was put before the wind in flames; she was valued at 25,000 dollars.
After calling at the island of Amsterdam in search of American whalers, only to find that haven deserted, the Shenandoah attempted to make the whaling ground off Cape Leeuwin, but was foiled by bad weather. She was then put under steam, despite her damaged propeller-shaft, as it was imperative that she reached Melbourne in time to communicate with the mail-steamer leaving there on 26th January. Cape Otway was made on the 25th, and soon afterwards the cruiser dropped anchors in Hobson's Bay, amid cheers from the crowds aboard the surrounding liners.
Despite her reception the Shenandoah experienced considerable opposition in Australia. Not only did the hostile faction ashore make every effort to entangle her commander in legal difficulties, but the Governor and his council treated the vessel with the utmost discourtesy. Upon receiving several letters threatening the destruction of the cruiser, Lieutenant Waddell applied to the police, requesting protection for his vessel, which lay helpless on the patent slip. The Superintendent of Police immediately issued orders forbidding any citizen to aid or assist the Shenandoah, and dispatched a large force of police and military to take possession of the slip and prevent the launch of the cruiser.
Lieutenant Waddell was naturally indignant, and when the Superintendent came aboard with a search-warrant, he was told, politely but firmly, that if the Victoria Government attempted to press the search the Shenandoah would be defended at every risk to life. Again, Waddell's applications for the issue of arrest warrants for eighteen men who had been induced to desert by the American Consul were all refused.
On 17th February, however, the Shenandoah steamed out of Hobson's Bay, having left the patent slip two days earlier without official interference. Her deserters had been replaced by 42 volunteers, a force almost sufficient to meet all her requirements. Before she sailed a newspaperman came aboard to secure copies of the correspondence between the Government and Lieutenant Waddell, a request gladly granted as the latter was anxious that the whole affair should be made public.
Unfavourable winds, and a need to nurse her coal, prevented the Shenandoah from visiting the whaling-grounds of the Middleton, Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands, after leaving Australia. Even had such a call been possible, her sojourn off Melbourne had spoilt her chances, as the South Pacific whaling-fleet, being warned of her arrival, had scattered to safer waters.
Shortly after sighting Drummond Island, about 21st March, she fell in with a trading-schooner, which gave her information regarding the whalers in Lea Harbour, Island of Ascension. Stimulated by these tidings the Shenandoah spread her wings and made off with a fine trade wind, arriving at the islands towards the end of March. Negotiating the reefs under the guidance of an English pilot, she appeared like a bolt from the blue amid the astonished whalers. Four vessels were captured - the Edward Carey, of San Francisco, valued at 15,000; the Hector, New Bedford, 35,000 dollars; the Pearl, New London, 10,000 dollars and the Harvest, New Bedford, 35,000 dollars. This capture also included many valuable charts giving information regarding the navigation of the Pacific Islands, the Okhotsk and Behring Seas and the Arctic Ocean.
On 13th April, after the vessels had been burned on the shoals and 130 disappointed whalers put ashore, the Shenandoah stood to sea again. Her commander now shaped her course east of the Los Jardines, Grampus and Margaret Islands, with the object of intercepting vessels bound for San Francisco and the western ports from the China coast. After haunting this path without success for several days, she was thrown considerably out of her course by violent typhoons.
By 17th May, however, she was north of the parallel of 40 degrees and 45 degrees north; on the 20th the snow-capped Kuriles were sighted, and a day later she steamed into the Okhotsk Sea and ran along the coast of Kamchatka. Though continually harassed by gales and ice, she attempted to make the whaling ground off Green Island, but became seriously ice-locked on several occasions. Her only capture during the cruise was the whaler Abigail, of New Bedford, valued at 18,000 dollars. Leaving the Okhotsk Sea on 14th June, she entered the North Pacific and steamed into the Behring Sea, making Cape Navarin on the 21st. Next day she overhauled and burned the whalers, William Thompson and Euphrates — aggregate value 83,000 dollars. The former was the largest whaling vessel out of New Bedford.
On the following day the whalers Milo, Sophia Thornton and Jirch Swift were captured. The captain of the first-named, which was ransomed on bond for 46,000 dollars on condition she transferred the prisoners to San Francisco, informed Lieutenant Waddell that the American War was over, but could furnish no documentary evidence of the fact. While the Shenandoah was engaged with the Milo, the Thornton and Swift made a bold dash for freedom; both were eventually captured, though the latter took three hours to overhaul. The aggregate value of the Thornton and Swift was 132,000 dollars.
The Shenandoah then captured and burned the brig Susan Abigail, carrying Californian papers and dispatches from San Francisco, and valued at 6,500 dollars. Among her papers were some stating that President Davis had issued a proclamation announcing that the war would be carried on with renewed vigour. Waddell questioned her captain as to the military situation in America, but he was unable to say more than that the North had the advantage. As three of his crew joined the Shenandoah it was clear that they did not believe the war to be over.
On 25th June the Shenandoah chased and captured the General Williams, of New London, valued at 44,740 dollars. On the 26th she overhauled and burned five Yankee whalers, and ransomed the sixth for 30,000 dollars. The burned vessels comprised the W.C. Nye, valued at 32,000 dollars; the Nimrod, 30,000; Catherine, 26,000,; Isabella, 38,000 and the Gipsey, 34,000. All prisoners were put aboard the ransomed vessel, General Pike, for San Francisco.
Thus in forty-eight hours the Shenandoah had taken prizes to the value of 235,500 dollars, more than 200,000 dollars of which were destroyed.
But an even greater triumph was in store. On 27th June, she surprised eleven New England whaling ships in East Cape Bay. The confusion created when she stole into their midst, hoisted the Confederate colours and despatched armed boats to take possession of the whalers may be well imagined. Many of their captains were the worse for drink, and "some swore their sympathy for the South, while others spoke incoherently of cruiser, fire and insurance." The following vessels were captured:.
Ship - James Maury: Ransomed: 37,000 dollars
Ship - Hillman: Burned: 33,000 dollars
Ship - Nassau: Burned: 40,000 dollars
Ship - Brunswick: Burned: 16,000 dollars
Ship - Isaac Howland: Burned: 75,000 dollars
Ship - Nile: Ransomed: 41,000 dollars
Barque - Waverley: Burned: 62,000 dollars
Barque - Martha: Burned: 30,000 dollars
Barque - Favourite: Burned: 58,000 dollars
Barque - Covington: Burned: 30,000 dollars
Barque - Congress: Burned: 55,300 dollars
Within eleven hours the Shenandoah had bonded and destroyed enemy property to the value of 478,100 dollars, and a few hours after their discovery, nine of the above ships were in flames. Their crews, taken collectively, amounted to 336 men. From this fleet the Shenandoah received nine privates, all intelligent men used to handling firearms — a fact which confirmed Waddell's opinion that the South continued to hold its own, as such men would hardly have volunteered for a lost cause.
After running a gauntlet of fog and ice to the west of St. Lawrence, Lieutenant Waddell decided to make for more open waters. Leaving Behring Sea, he pressed on to the Aleutian Isles, and boldly negotiating the Amukta Pass in a thick fog, slipped gratefully into the North Pacific. The Shenandoah then hastened over to the coasts of California and Mexico, in search of steamers running between Panama and San Francisco. She then took the north wind which sweeps down California, running parallel with the land and keeping a sharp lookout for enemy warships.
On 2nd August she overhauled and boarded the British barque, Barraconta, Liverpool bound, from San Francisco. This vessel supplied her with papers announcing the surrender of the Southern Generals and the capture of President Davis. The mood in which this news was received may be gathered from the following extract from the Shenandoah's log-book: "Having received by the barque Barraconta the sad intelligence of the overthrow of the Confederate Government, all attempts to destroy the shipping or property of the United States will cease from this date, in accordance with which the First Lieutenant, William C. Whittle, Junior, received the order from the commander to strike below the battery and disarm the ship and crew."
Her career as a warship being over, Lieutenant Waddell decided to run the Shenandoah into some European port, which involved a passage of some 17,000 miles with considerable risk of pursuit by American cruisers. When she reached the parallel of Cape Town, certain of her officers petitioned Waddell to put her into that port rather than risk capture in the North Atlantic. At the same time he received a further communication stating that five of her officers and seventy-one of her crew entirely supported his decision to run the vessel to France or England.
She crossed the line on October 11th, and entered St. George's Channel on the morning of 5th November, just 122 days from the Aleutian Islands, having sailed 23,000 miles without sighting land! Next day she steamed up the Mersey, under the Confederate flag, and anchored near H.M.S. Donegal. After being visited by an officer from the latter, who gave him official news of the termination of the American War, Lieutenant Waddell addressed a communication to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, formally surrendering the Shenandoah to the British Government for the United States.
Next day a gunboat came alongside and made fast to the cruiser, while Customs officials took possession. The Shenandoah and all on board were held by the authorities until 8th November, when her entire crew was unconditionally released. The vessel was then handed over to the American Consul by the British Admiralty.
Some years later, the Shenandoah was acquired by the Sultan of Zanzibar, for cruising and trading purposes. The Dundee Evening Telegraph for November, 1879, commenting on her passing, says: "An historical vessel has passed away in the Sultan of Zanzibar's yacht, once famous as the dreaded Confederate cruiser Shenandoah. This once splendid craft is the last of the celebrated fleet of screw steamers which was fitted out by the Government of Jefferson Davis to prey upon and sweep from the seas the maritime commerce of the Northern States . . . for fourteen years she has survived the dangers of a perilous coast trade, and the neglect which characterizes Oriental seamanship — a striking testimony to her merit as a magnificent specimen of British shipbuilding."