CSS Shenandoah In Melbourne, 1865, By Walrus.


(CSS Shenandoah burning whalers in the Bering Sea)

The confederate raider CSS Shenandoah visited Melbourne in the colony of Victoria in 1865. She was berthed within a hundred yards of where I keep my yacht today. Despite Britain declaring itself neutral in the WBS, the people of Victoria strongly sympathised with the Confederacy.  The ship was opened for inspection for two days and thousands of Victorians visited it.  In our yacht club museum there is a copy of a menu for a dinner given by the club for her officers. The officers and crew were regarded as celebrities and received a lot of hospitality from the city while Shenandoah was repaired, revictualled and sent on her way around the world. The union prisoners on board were handed over to the US Consul.

A local museum, Seaworks, is about to host a small museum display on the subject. I will report when I have seen it.


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33 Responses to CSS Shenandoah In Melbourne, 1865, By Walrus.

  1. turcopolier says:

    Her captain was shown a copy of a San Francisco newspaper that announced the end of the war. A captured whaler captain had the paper. Captain Waddell dumped the battery over the side and sailed her to Liverpool where he surrender to the British.

  2. Leith says:

    A noble ship and gallant captain. Amazing record even though his crew was understaffed. The US Navy honored him in 1964 naming the guided missile destroyer DDG-24 the USS Waddell.
    Although IMO it would have been a better strategy for the Confederate Navy to use the $$ spent on the CSS Shenandoah to beef up the James River Squadron. That squadron put a hurt on the US Navy unmatched until Pearl Harbor. Or put it into more technological innovations like young officers and rank&file Confederate Navy men did with the Hunley, the CSS Virginia, and torpedo development. Or put the money into gunboats on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers? Or maybe even go ahead and buy the Shenandoah but use it to harass the Union blockades like Semmes did successfully in Texas waters.
    But that was not Waddell’s fault. SecNav Stephen Mallory, whose background was in maritime law (i.e. wreck & salvage), was the one who pushed the losing strategy of commerce raiding.

  3. John Joyce says:

    There is a belief among some that the officers and men of the CSS Shenandoah were extremely popular; and were memorably entertained by the fairer citizens of Melbourne, from titled ladies to scullery maids.
    The officers stayed at the Melbourne Club, at no charge of course.

  4. Walrus,
    I was only vaguely aware of the Shenandoah. I was much more familiar with the CSS Alabama and the USS Kearsarge. Being in grammar school during the Civil War centennial, we completed several school projects over several years. A friend of mine and I decided to build the Revell 1/96 scale plastic models of the Alabama and the Kearsarge and complete an in depth study of their construction and battle off Cherbourg. I don’t know what happened to those models. They were pretty impressive even having crew manning the ratlines and the guns.
    I see in the wikipedia article that Waddell filled out a good part of his crew while in Melbourne. A nice piece of history. i look forward to your report on the museum display. Do you ever have any tall ships sail into Melbourne. We have quite a few put into Alexandria Seaport over the years. I usually make a point of visiting, but I still kick myself for missing the Houkulea when she sailed in.

  5. EEngineer says:

    I recently found “Drachinifel” on YouTube. Hundreds of hours of naval nerd videos done as only a Brit could. Almost entirely WWII and earlier.

  6. scott s. says:

    It has some notoriety here, as Waddell stopped and seized the Bark Harvest, flying the flag of the Hawaiian Kingdom in what’s known as the Pohnpei Incident.

  7. turcopolier says:

    Waddell was actually a lieutenant commander but as CO was called captain by universal naval custom. I would be curious as to what was for dinner at your club. This fellow Waddell must have been really something. Instead of going in to Seattle or San Francisco to surrender he went all the way to the UK. http://i2.wp.com/www.defensemedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/James-Iredell-Waddell.jpg

  8. pl,
    Waddell did have a concern that he and his men could be charged with piracy by the US and he wasn’t aware that no attempt was made to charge Semmes with piracy after the sinking of the Alabama. I could understand his reluctance to sail directly into a US port. Still he could have sailed back to Melbourne rather than all the way to Liverpool.

  9. Mark K Logan says:

    He left Liverpool the year before with half his crew, who were probably hired Brit seamen for the most part. It’s a fair assumption those men, at least, wanted to go home. Apparently the rest of his crew came from Melbourne and the article says they were “stowaways”. I read “prisoners”. Unlikely they wished to go back to Australia, at least not in that boat.
    They thought the end of the war had made them outlaws and for outlaws mutiny is never off the menu. He may have had no choice in the matter.

  10. turcopolier says:

    TTG and Mark Logan
    Yes. Let us do all we can to detract from the man’s reputation. How about Raphael Semmes? Going to knock him down as well? Enlisted men were signed on for a cruise in the Civil War era, not for a period of service. Both the US and Confederate navies followed this practice. Crews (not officers) were normally multi-national and Blacks were enlisted by both navies for many ratings and not just messmen as was the policy in the US Navy until the 1950s. The multi-national crew of CSS Alabama stood at the rail and sang Dixie as she sortied from Cherbourg to go out and fight USS Kearsarge, a much bigger ship. A French military band played it for them from the pier.

  11. Mark K Logan says:

    What did I write that detracted from his reputation?

  12. turcopolier says:

    Mark Logan
    You imply that he had lost control of his command. I think that is not true.

  13. Mark Logan says:

    I don’t see that as detracting from his ability at all. In his situation no captain is capable of forcing his men to do whatever he wishes. If what I think went down he kept command and did the right thing by his boys.
    The old stories of the early exploration of the Pacific is filled with situations like this. Some of the greatest captains had to accept they could not act without keeping in mind the feelings of their crew. I think the funniest one is the tale of Shelvocke. His rotten ship got driven ashore at Juan Fernandez. The law of the time that once the ship is destroyed the captain lost his command. This was a tough situation. The only way home was to build a new boat. Shelvocke wisely let the men work through the process of appointing different leaders, until finally they got tired of bickering and re-appointed Shelvocke as captain.
    They built small boat and with it they managed to take a larger one, and then a still larger one, the Sacra Familia, and returned -rich. Hell of a job in my eyes.

  14. pl and Mark Logan,
    I also fail to see how anything I wrote detracts from Waddell’s or Semmes’ reputations. I’m truly curious as to why Waddell chose to sail to Liverpool rather than some other neutral/friendly port like Melbourne. Given that 42 Australians signed on with Waddell when he visited Melbourne, I would think that would have been a reasonable final destination for the Shenandoah. However, a report from the 7 Nov 1865 edition of the Liverpool Mercury stated that Waddell decided on Liverpool shortly after learning the war was over. Apparently there were no long deliberations, just a captain’s decision. Perhaps he chose England itself rather than an English colony just to settle things directly or he preferred the freedom of the longer voyage. Who knows?
    As far as Semmes goes, he captained a remarkably successful series of raiding expeditions over two plus years. The Alabama and the Kearsarge were comparable in configuration although the Kearsarge was the heavier ship. They were both three masted sloops of war with single screw steam power. Both were slightly over 200 ft in length and 30 ft beam. Their armament was also comparable. The Kearsarge has 2 11 inch Dahlgren guns, 4 32 pounder guns and a 30 pounder Parrot rifle. The Alabama had a heavy, long-range 100-pounder, 7-inch bore Blakely rifled gun, an 8 inch smoothbore gun and 6 32 pounder guns. The primary difference was the Alabama suffered from deteriorated gunpowder, wear and tear of two years at sea without refit and surprisingly poor gunnery. They kept up a high rate of fire, but the Kearsarge’s gunnery was far more accurate. Despite eventually losing his ship, Semmes had done nothing to sully his reputation as a courageous and skilled Naval officer.

  15. Leith says:

    Admiral Semmes had two US Navy destroyers named in his honor. One hell of a sailor IMO. And he was also a CSA Brigadier leading an infantry unit of grounded sailors from the James River Squadron.
    But even so, the commerce raiding mission pushed on him by CSN SecNav Mallory was never going to work. Even with the 83 ships he captured or sank, the maritime trade of the Union neither stopped nor slowed down. Insurance rates climbed but that was it. Semmes did more good for the Confederacy sinking the USS sloop of war Hatteras off of Galveston keeping that port open as a logistics lifeline for the Confederacy. And later in his career his sortie down the James River damn near captured Grant’s major logistic base at City Point, which would have saved Richmond.

  16. Leith says:

    Waddell did have legitimate concern about sailing into an American port after he learned the war was over three months after the fact.
    Lots of merchants and shipowners in San Francisco & Honolulu were clamoring for piracy charges against him for his sinking/capturing 30 ships after the war had ended. At least one newspaper listened to their complaints and in print referred to his ship as the ‘Pirate Shenandoah’. But he was never charged, now was Admiral Semmes, nor was Maffit nor any other Confederate sailor.

  17. turcopolier says:

    Mark Logan A skilled commander always keeps command by persuading his people to obey him.

  18. walrus says:

    Col. Lang,
    Yes, up to a point a commander was a salesman. The ultimate authority was that by definition an officer could navigate. An enlisted man could not and was prevented from trying or learning.
    My father had to call on that authority when his crew considered mutiny on the way to Australia and wanted to kill him and return home, he told them they would never see home again if they killed him. The Moros are basically coastal sailors unlike the Polynesians who were/are blue water navigators.
    I have a certain regret about the existence of GPS. I still have my sextant, tables and chronometer. I used to be good for a few hundred miles of dead reckoning down here and a I have the 1955 sailing directions that contain information now no longer considered relevant, even if it isn’t PC, calling certain islanders “half castes”.
    I will report on menus, etc. in a month or so.

  19. turcopolier says:

    Yes, well, a prime rule of the art of command is to never give an order that you think will not be obeyed because if it is not, then they will not obey you in the future. That is why leading by example is such an important part of command. My uncle John Henry Lang was at the 3rd Battle of Ypres as a Canadian soldier seconded to the British Black Watch. He told me that while his company waited for the barrage to shift toward the Germans, the company commander, a young Englishman who look like “Leslie Howard in a trench coat” went up and down the line shaking hands with each man. When the fires moved, he drew his revolver, climbed out of the trench and walked forward into no man’s land. He never looked back to see if they were going with him, so, they all did. They never saw him again. That is leadership.

  20. turcopolier says:

    If you go to the Navy Museum in the Washington Navy Yard in DC you will see the rudder post of the Kearsarge with an unexploded shell of the Alabama embedded in it. If that round had exploded the Kearsarge would have been unsteerable. Fortunes of war.

  21. Fred says:

    “by definition an officer could navigate. An enlisted man could not and was prevented from trying or learning.”
    Is/was that Australian naval practice? That hasn’t been the case in the USN for some time. I’m glad you still have your sextant. I could tell you a tale about getting it wrong when the 400cycle generators go down and you lose your electronics, but that incident is embarrasing to many parties, though not the QM1 who knew how to use same gear you did.

  22. turcopolier says:

    My uncle John in the pre-WW2 navy was a QM in the Yangtse River Patrol. the Navy had him trained to a level in which he was a licensed Yangtse pilot and had a Master Mariner’s license.

  23. Fred says:

    Exactly. The QM1 on our sub was once an instructor at QM school. That didn’t matter to the XO or the latest USNA grad who was sailing champion in his prep school.

  24. Mark K Logan says:

    We must guess why sail half way around the world to Liverpool, but the wiki article says the Melbourne sign-ons had been “stowaways”. I assume they were prisoners of some type and hence PITA to the local government.
    I can think of a couple reasons besides a crew that did not wish to be stuck in Australia.
    They clearly had friends in Liverpool, friends who had helped set up the deal that got them the ship. He may have felt that they deserved a fair shot at re-obtaining the ship. Also their primary quarry had been whalers and they bagged quite a few. It’s a fair guess they had accumulated many barrels of valuable whale oil, and the crew likely would have been promised a share. A tricky transaction considering their status. He would seek the friendliest port. Liverpool.

  25. turcopolier says:

    One of the heart warming results of the cruise of CSS Shenandoah was the permanent damage they did to the New England whaling business.

  26. Mark Logan,
    Those 42 Australians signing on with Waddell were first called stowaways because of international law at the time. It was illegal recruit in a neutral country. Those 42 were not officially signed on until the Shenandoah was in international waters. Many in Melbourne and in most of Australia were sympathetic to the Confederacy. This was clear in the welcome offered to Waddell by Walrus’ yacht club. There’s a book about this incident although I haven’t read it. The short section shown on Amazon was interesting. I’ll have to check out our libraries.
    According to the article from the 7 Nov 1865 edition of the Liverpool Mercury linked in the Wikipedia page, The Shenandoah had some whale oil, but not much. Your theory about returning the ship to the original owners and being among those who obtained the ship sounds about right to me.

  27. The Shenandoah definitely damaged the New England whaling fleet. Commerce raiding claimed 46 whalers. The Union also bought 40 whaling ships and used them to try to block the shipping channels of the ports of Savannah and Charleston. Another 33 out of 40 whalers of the Arctic fleet were lost in the winter of 1871 when they became icebound off Alaska.

  28. turcopolier says:

    As you know, Waddell returned to the US in 1870 and became first a merchant marine captain and then commissioner of fisheries in Maryland.

  29. pl,
    I’m also aware he was an Annapolis graduate and later an instructor at USNA as well as a very successful US Naval officer.

  30. turcopolier says:

    I suspect that Waddell polled the crew as to where they wanted to go. I doubt there was ever any chance of “obtaining” the ship. It would be a prize to be disposed of by an admiralty court.

  31. turcopolier says:

    He, Semmes, Maury and a lot others were successful US Navy officers before the war. The Confederacy had more qualified naval officers than it had ships. These guys had all resigned their USN commissions, and those resignations had been accepted.

  32. Mark K Logan says:

    Greenpeace will someday erect a statue in his honor. Someday.
    I harbor a different image of the crew. IMO there were probably only a handful of CSA men aboard, the rest were the same stock which manned most privateers and ships with Letter Of Marque: Particularly adventurous tars. Those men were not prone to joining causes. Their own lot took more than enough tending-to.
    The docks of the British Empire were filled with ex-man of war men and Waddell forged a crew out of that lot. Getting them all back to dock save one is no small accomplishment and there appear to be no stories of cruelty or floggings. It seems the crew went away after that trip with little comment which says they got paid.
    This speaks about as well of Waddell as a captain as is possible.

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