August 30, 2019

Wreck of paddle steamer throws light on British support for Confederacy slave states during US Civil War
Britain has long been proud of its historically progressive attitude to slavery, frequently pointing to the fact that this country abolished the trade across its territories as early as 1833. But beneath the waters of Liverpool Bay lies something that should dent our complacency about this country’s role in the ending of human bondage. The wreck of the paddle steamer Leila, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1865, sheds new light on the actions of some British businessmen in supporting the southern slave states of the Confederacy during the US Civil War. Now the wreck - described by historians as “one of the most historically-significant in the north west” - is to be granted protected status on the advice of Historic England. The 19th century paddle steamer was on its maiden voyage from Liverpool to Bermuda loaded with guns and supplies for Confederate forces when it foundered on 14th January 1865 during stormy weather in Liverpool Bay, with the loss of 47 lives. The wreck on the Leila on the seabed in Liverpool Bay Credit: Historic England Leila was secretly built in Liverpool on behalf of the Confederate Government late in the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 as a purpose-built vessel to run the blockade imposed on the southern states by the Union forces of Abraham Lincoln. She was technically advanced for her day and was designed to evade the northern Union ships enforcing the blockade. Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “The Lelia is one of a small group of British ships involved in British complicity in running guns and munitions to the Confederates. “Though the UK remained officially neutral throughout the American Civil War, the Leila comprises evidence of the British financing of blockade runners that sent munitions and luxuries to Confederate ports in return for cotton and tobacco. As such it is very significant as historical evidence.” Although the British Government’s position on the blockade was officially neutral, opinion in Britain over the issue of the Civil War was split. Many Lancashire cotton workers supported the blockade and the Union’s fight against the slave states, even though it resulted in a downturn in the weaving industry and severe hardship for their families. Such was their support for the abolitionist cause that a statue of Lincoln was erected in their honour in 1919, with a plaque reproducing his letter of 19th January 1863 to the Manchester cotton workers thanking them for their support. Statue of Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Square, Manchester, inscribed with his letter of thanks to the city's cotton weavers Credit: Phil Portus / Alamy Stock Photo But there were those in Britain willing to take advantage of the war and help supply the slave states with goods and materials. At the start of the Civil War, the Confederacy lacked the manufacturing capacity to compete with the more industrialised northern states and so relied on importing war supplies, including guns and ammunition, to sustain its war effort. It acquired fast steamships, mainly paddle steamers, from British and other shipbuilders, intended to breach the naval blockade of its main ports imposed by the Union in 1861 in an attempt to strangle the southern war effort.  They hoped a combination of speed and stealth would help them to break the blockade, enabling them to carry cotton and tobacco to Europe and war supplies back to the Confederacy. The Lelia was built in Millers shipyard in Toxteth, Liverpool, where shipbuilders had been experimenting with the early use of steel, which, being lighter than iron, allowed for larger cargo space and greater speed - perfect for blockade runners. The paddle steamer was only identified in 1997 after a bell marked ‘Lelia 1864’ was recovered from close to the wreck beneath Liverpool Bay by a local diver. An infra-red photograph of the wreck of the Leila Credit: Historic England The partially-buried remains of the Leila include one of the paddle wheels, the engine and boiler rooms, less well-preserved cargo areas and a steam winch.  The deck and all structures that were on it have not survived, but as much as 1.9m of its hull remains buried in the seabed, raising the prospect that its cargo of British-manufactured munitions and machinery may have been partially preserved . The Leila is one of three blockade busters to have been discovered in British waters. The other is the paddle steamer Iona II, which sank in 1864 in foggy conditions close to the Isle of Lundy in the Bristol Channel on her first trans-Atlantic voyage. The Iona II’s sister ship Iona I, also a paddle steamer believed to be involved in gun-running, was lost in 1862 in the inner Clyde Estuary, near Greenock, in Scotland. Rebecca Pow, Heritage Minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Protecting sites like the wreck of the Lelia helps us to preserve an important story about Britain’s role in the American Civil War.  “Although the conflict happened over a hundred years ago, it is right that we ensure the protection of this site so we can learn more about one of the most significant shipwrecks off the coast of North West England and broaden our knowledge about our nation's seafaring history." A print depicting the upsetting of the Liverpool lifeboat during its ill fated attempt to rescue the crew of the Leila Credit: Historic England
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