THE SAD VOYAGE OF THE LELIA
THE BLOCKADE RUNNER THAT DIDN'T

From the Toxteth Dock yard of William C Miller and Company, came the steel paddle steamer Lelia.
She was 640 tons gross and had dimensions of 252' x 30' x 12'6". Engines, by Fawcett Preston & Company were rated at a nominal 300 h.p. and following successful completion plans were made before Christmas for her maiden cargo and voyage. With owners no doubt relishing the prospects of large profits - remembering the famous Liverpool built Banshee who, before capture on 21st November 1863, had realised a 700% profit for her owners - Mr William Gladstone and the Duke of Westminster among them.

On 5th January 1865 she sailed from the Mersey, heavily laden with a 700 ton cargo of coal, iron and general merchandise and according to the Illustrated London News of 28th January 1865, "would have taken a much more valuable cargo in Bermuda to attempt to run the blockade into Wilmington."

Her crew totalled 49 - 20 of whom were engine room crew and several passengers which included Thomas Miller, a son of the builder and J B Cropper, a Liverpool merchant. Also listed as passengers where a Mr Robson and Arthur Sinclair - a Commander in the Confederate Navy and a native of Virginia.

The Lelia was commanded, nominally, by Captain Thomas Buxton Skinner - Sinclair would have taken over on the run from Bermuda to Wilmington when the 'protection' of the British ensign would not have made her immune from the attentions of Federal Navy warships patrolling the Confederate coast. Soon after leaving the Mersey, the winter weather turned nasty and as she headed towards the Welsh coast, heavy seas were encountered. Already low lying due to her heavy cargo, the Lelia was soon in difficulties and the account of her last few hours has been reconstructed using evidence from the few survivors. When the Lelia arrived off the Great Orme at 2 pm she had been paddling into the teeth of the storm for some 4 hours.

Captain Skinner, fearing even further deterioration in the weather and the more exposed run to Port Lynas the immediate prospect, decided to slow the ship and hoist anchors inboard. As his crew struggled to carry out his orders in the heaving seas, a huge wave caused the pea of one of the anchors to smash through the deck. While Skinner and his officers were inspecting the damage another huge wave washed away the iron covering of a nearby scuttle. With more waves crashing over her bow the Lelia started to fill with water and soon the vessel was stricken - unable to answer her helm. Worse was to come. Whilst inspecting damage and no doubt trying to instigate repairs, the Lelia's crew were helpless as a series of waves smashed her forward hatches. By now the Lelia was drifting helplessly in the storm and started to sink as she reached North of Prestatyn. Her 4 boats were ordered to be lowered, but, as so often happens, confusion and panic set in at this point. Commander Sinclair and the ship's pilot were lowered in the first boat which was swamped as soon as it reached the water.

The second and third boats did manage to get away carrying about 30 men, but it is not known whether the fourth boat got away before Captain Skinner was seen to go down with his ship.

The 2 boats made for the North West lightship - Prince - some 6 miles away, but one boat sunk when she struck the larger vessel. Only 12 survivors got aboard the lightship from the two boats, but managed in time to signal news of the tragedy to the tug Blazer, who next morning, upon arrival at the Prince's landing stage, alerted life boat crews. The tug set off to return to the scene, towing lifeboat no 1 in its wake, but after passing Rock Channel, the lifeboat was swamped as it approached buoy 79, a short distance from East Hoyle and only 4 of her crew managed to swim to the Blazer, the other 7 drowning.

Another day was to be lost before the Lelia's survivors could be rescued from the lightship.

On 31st May 1865, James Wilson, Skipper of the Fleetwood fishing vessel 'Elizabeth & Emma' found Commander Arthur Sinclair's body in his nets some 10 miles out to sea. "His skeletal remains were still dothed, even to his cravat held in place by a gold and agate pin. His overcoat was still buttoned up and he had retained his watch in his breast pocket", reported the Fleetwood Chronicle of 9th June 1865. Ironically, his pocket watch had stopped at 4:10 -approximately the time the Lelia sunk off Prestatyn, and led to the identification of the body by Liverpool police as the one which he had bought in Liverpool for the considerable sum of 40.00. The watch chain and ornaments were a gift to Sinclair from Mr Robson who also lost his life on the Lelia.

An inquest was called at Fleetwood on 2nd June 1865 at the Steamer Hotel. In attendance was Richard Taylor, formerly Paymaster of the C S S Florida, the Confederate warship also built at Millers yard. Taylor was living in Liverpool at the time, following his release by Federal authorities after being captured on board the Florida when she was rammed in the port of Bahia, Brazil - a violation of International Law. He informed the committee that he identified the body for the police from the watch, dothing and accompanying documents that related to a 1300 deposit with Crenshaw and Company of Liverpool. In a subsequent interview with a reporter of the Fleetwood Chronide, Taylor said that Sinclair had left instructions, in the event of death or capture, that 100 be paid from this sum, to each of his sons, the remainder to his wife. According to Taylor, Sindair had run the blockade successfully from Bermuda to Wilmington on several occasions and this deposit was presumably profits from his exploits.

Taylor added that Federal forces had since occupied Norfolk, Virginia and had 'ejected Mrs Sindair and her family from their home with great barbarity.'

Captain Sindair had lost his previous ship near Bermuda in 1864 before his voyage on the ill-fated Lelia and was said by Taylor to have been at the seige of Vicksburg. His funeral took place on 3rd June 1865 in Fleetwood and was attended by his two sons, Arthur Jnr and Terry. His gravestone bears the inscription "Sacred to the memory of Captain Arthur Sinclair of Norfolk Virginia who perished in the wreck of the Lelia - January 14th 1865. Not lost but gone before."

In addition to Sinclair, Thomas Miller, Captain Skinner, Mr Robson, J B Cropper and all the officers of the Lelia drowned - only 12 were saved.

At the subsequent enquiry, it was recorded that the Lelia was a well found ship but the fact that her four boats were without rowlocks contributed to the large loss of life.

********


An artcle concerning the loss, from the London Illustrated News.

The cutter-rigged Lelia left her moorings at half past nine on Saturday morning, but soon a furious gale blew up. When, at about two o'clock.the Lelia passed the Great Orme's Head, the ship slowed to bring in its anchors, in case they were lost. As this order was being carried out,the heavy sea knocked the pea of one of the arms of the anchors through the deck. The iron covering of a small scuttle in the fore of the ship was washed away and through this hole the Lelia shipped a succession of seas which soon filled the fore part of the vessel.

Two men, Brodie and Currey were steering at the time, and soon discovered that the steamer would not answer her helm. They told the Pilot that they thought the vessel was filling with water, so orders were given to reduce speed further, with the aim of discovering where the water was getting in. This they were unable to do as the decks were flooded and soon another huge wave broke over her, smashing the forward hatches. Another sea lifted the anchor from the deck in which it was embedded and again sent the pea through with tremendous force.

Attempts were then made to alter the position of the ship with a view to running her back but as she refused to answer her helm she was helpless. Positioned about six miles west of the north west light ship she soon filled with water and in a few minutes her stem was raised high out of the water. Orders were given for her four boats to be lowered, but in doing so two were smashed leaving the other two to get away. Several persons were still left on the Lelia and it is known that the Captain was one of these, left clinging to some tackle aboard.

The two boats one with eighteen people and the other with twelve people on board succeeded in reaching the light ship. The boat with the eighteen, included the passengers and arrived first but was driven athwart the bows of the light ship and swamped. Four men went down with her. Ropes were thrown from the light ship and four men were rescued. Thomas Miller, seized a rope and was drawn dose alongside, but being exhausted and on being seized by the leg by a drowning man, let go his hold and was lost.

The two Pilots were also lost. This so alarmed the occupants of the second boat that four of the twelve jumped overboard in the hope of being picked up. They were however all swept away and drowned, only the remaining eight were rescued. The news of the wreck was brought to Liverpool about noon the following day by Captain Parry, of the steam tug Blazer. He had passed the light ship at an early hour and was hailed by the Master to come alongside and take off the survivors. The gale had yet to blow itself out and the consequent cross sea stopped the Blazer from doing this, so Captain Parry proceeded with all speed to the Princes landing stage. Here he informed Captain Thawe and the number one lifeboat left the stage at about 1.30 in tow of the Blazer. The lifeboat was towed down the Rock Channel until it arrived near the mouth of the Horse Channel at a point marked 79 on the chart, a short distance from the East Hoyle Bank. Here, the boat was suddenly struck by a heavy sea on the port bow. She was instantly capsized but, unfortunately for her crew, the eleven occupants had not donned their life jackets. The men were for some time struggling in the water but only four of them were able to be rescued by the Blazer. Two of the seven drowned, seized ropes and were drawn to the side of the tug but were so exhausted that they let go their hold and sank. After this dreadful accident the tug proceeded to the light ship but the sea was still so rough that she could not approach with safety and, after lying by her for over an hour, she gave up the attempt and returned to the Princes Stage with her sad tale.

The survivors of the Lelia were taken off the light ship the following day.

********

CREW LIST OF THE LELIA

Thomas Buxton Skinner - Master

Lauritz Jonas Peterson - First Mate, Daulby Street

George De Lacy - Second Mate, Parliament Street

James Baxter Harrison - Third Mate, Greenfield Street, Old Swan

John McKinnon - Carpenter, Gren[e]land Street

William Smith - Boatswain - Spring Street, Toxteth Park, Married

John Clarke - Steward, Bury Street

James Tinker- Steward, Derby Road, Married

William Taylor - Steward, Rosscommon Street

Patrick Kennedy - Cook, Paget Street. (First Cook on Lelia and employed for many years by Cunard Line. Was Cook for six years on S.S. Great Britain. He left a widowed mother.)

Daniel McLoughlin - Cook, Stone Street

John Miller - Cook, Jones' Court, Redcross Street

Henry Morris - Able Seaman, Clarence Grove

Michael Curry - Able Seaman, Waterloo Road

Andrew Brodey - Able Seaman, Earle Street, Married

James McCallum - Able Seaman, Gre[e]nland Street

William Everetts - Able Seaman, Simpson Street

Tynan Danford Oby - Ordinary Seaman, Jordan Street, Single (Canadian)

John Lindstrom - Ordinary Seaman, Lander Street, Single (Stockholm)

James Kewin - Able Seaman, Cemaes Street

Edward Smith - Able Seaman, Mitford Street

Henry Scott - Able Seaman, Mifford Street, Married

John Hughes - Watchman, Epsom Street (Coroners inquest on his body 32 years, 31 ???

Thomas Grammall - Boy, Duke Street

Thomas Herriott - Boy, Roscommon Street

James France - First Engineer, Walmsley Street

James McClymm - Second Engineer, Flinders Street

Charles Francis Middleton - Engineer, Islington Place

John Frederick Lyons - Engineer, Canning Place

Joseph Keating - Boy, Cranmer Street

John Kempton - Fireman, Slade Street

William Kelly - Fireman, Westmoreland Street

Hugh Magee - Fireman, Ascot Street, Single (County Down, Ireland)

Timothy O'Brien - Fireman, Burlington Street, Married (Queenstown, Ireland. Had been employed as Store Keeper in Engineers Department)

Thomas Wilson - Fireman, SaRney Street

Robert Kenney - Fireman, Athol Street, Single Samuel Cormick - Fireman, Raymond Street, Single (Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland.)

John Casey - Fireman, Regent Street

Thomas Kinsel - Fireman, Barlow Street

George Murray - Fireman, Blake Street

John Burke - Fireman, Tatlock Street

Peter Devlin - Fireman, Darwin Street, Married (Glasgow)

Bartholomew Shaw - Fireman, Bentinck Street

John Jackson - Fireman, Newsport Street, Single (Manchester)

Thomas Seddon - Fireman, Blackstone Street

John Cunningham - Fireman, Russell Street

John Kelly - Fireman, New Hedley Street

William Halkin - Fireman, Slade Street

Peter Laverty - Fireman, Dryden Street (Late of Alabama)

William Williams - Liverpool Pilot, Chatsworth Street (Buried at St. James Cemetery, 10/4/1865 and recently appointed third officer of No 1 Liverpool Pilot Boat)

Theophilius Cuddy - (Late of Alabama)

"Listed as Passengers*

Thomas Miller - Son of the Builder
Mr. Hobson
John B. Cropper
James W. Clarke
Captain Arthur Sinclair
Magnus Park - Pilot (Cork, Ireland)

"Missing Lifeboat Men*
Robert Clark[e]
Bernard Murphy
Harry Green
Peter Martindale
James Martindale
George Hanson Miller
John Manson

"Rescued Lifeboat Men"
Thomas Hutson
Master Griffith
Thomas John Hamill
Henry Colins

REFERENCES LNRS Box 6, 39 & 40 - A C Wardle
Americas Secret War in Welsh Waters - J W Jones
Illustrated London News Maurice Rigby

lan Cook 1994

********

N.B.

All the information on this page is reprduced here by kind permission of Mr Ian Cook of England.

Back to Ships

*

Home