16 February 2015

From New Zealand troopship to Confederate raider

CSS Shenandoah, via Wikipedia

A noteworthy ship that sailed under the Shaw Savill flag in 1863 with troops for New Zealand was the Sea King, which later was to achieve much notoriety as the Confederate raider Shenandoah in the American Civil War. The Sea King was a full-rigged, auxiliary-screw ship of 1152 tons, built by Alexander Stephen & Sons in their Kelvinhaugh yard for Robertson & Co. of Glasgow. She was the first composite-built screw steamship and the first to challenge the tea clippers in the China trade. Her speed on trials was eleven knots. While fitting out she was spotted by agents of the Federal Government of America, but before they could buy her she was taken up by the British Government to carry troops to New Zealand. 
The Sea King sailed from Woolwich on November 11, 1863, with some 300 troops, 37 women and 69 children, and called at St Vincent for coal fifteen days later. When nearing the meridian of the Cape on December 23 she encountered a heavy gale which caused deck damage and during which the troops were battened below for ten hours. She arrived at Auckland on January 27, 1864, after a passage of seventy-seven days made mostly under sail. 
From Auckland the Sea King went up to China and loaded for London, where an agent of the Confederate States arranged for her transfer to American control. With an ample supply of coal, ostensibly for a voyage to Bombay, she put to sea without arousing the suspicion of the British authorities. Off Madeira she was met by another vessel with guns and supplies and handed over to Confederate officers who commissioned her as the Shenandoah. During a cruise of six months under the command of Lieutenant Waddell, she destroyed thirty-seven Federal ships. The Shenandoah was lying in the Aleutian Islands, off Alaska, when Waddell learned of the end of the war and decided to run his ship to some European port. After a passage of 23,000 miles in 122 days the Shenandoah arrived in the Mersey where she was given up to the naval authorities. Her ship's company were released unconditionally and she was handed over to the American consul. In later years she became the Sultan of Zanzibar's yacht and was wrecked on the African coast in 1879. 
- Sydney D. Waters, Shaw Savill Line: One Hundred Years of Trading, Whitcombe & Tombs, Christchurch, 1961, p.16-7.

On 29 January 1864 the Daily Southern Cross newspaper provided a detailed run-through of the particulars of the Sea King upon its arrival in Auckland, and congratulated 'the owners, captain and officers on the successful issue of its first voyage'.

On 8 November 1865 in London, The Times opined on the Shenandoah's unwelcome arrival at Liverpool, and argued that 'it would have been a great relief to ourselves, though little advantage to the United States, had the Shenandoah been simply excluded from the Mersey and left to rove the seas till she should fall into the hands of her pursuers', i.e. the US Federal Navy forces.
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