Description of the Sea King (Shenandoah), in the North British
Mail, 18 August 1863
Yesterday, Messrs A. Stephen & Sons launched from their new
shipbuilding shed at
Kelvinhaugh, another of their wood and iron combination ships.
This vessel is a fine steamship of about 1,200 tons, and to class A1
thirteen years at Lloyd`s
She is named the Sea King, and is, we understand, the first screw steamer
built on the principles of iron frames and wooden planking, and also the
first steamer that has been specially constructed for the China trade,
having been built with a view of competing with the fastest ships in the
direct from China to London, in bringing home the first teas of the season.
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
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 accomodation with bathrooms and
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 eight inch 68 pounders,
two 12 pounders,
all smoothbore, and two 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
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
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 depradations.
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 antwhere near her, and forbade the use of his name in connection
Lt. William C.Whittle jr., designated second officer for the new cruiser, was
instructed by Bulloch, to take a room at Wood`s Hotel, in High Holborn,
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
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 siezure 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, includin four 55- hundredweight, 8 inch
smoothbore guns, two 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 tfor her purchase, and for the cruise was 53,715 pounds
10 shillings and 9 pence.
Waddell specifically requested George Harwood, who had served Semmes as chief
boatswain`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 boatswain, 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 first 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 Luarel 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 1864, 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 twenty three out of fifty five
men were willing to sign on, and the majority of those for six months only.
Thirty two 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.
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