Lelia: chapter 1: 14 January 1865

Information from book Lelia by Chris Michael (with permission) - see here .

As the boatman pulled them across the Mersey, Thomas Miller could see the Lelia more clearly. She had a menacing air. Painted in a drab colour and lying low in the water, she stood out from the other ships. With her long narrow hull and huge paddle wheels she looked built for speed, as indeed she was.

As the boat neared her, Thomas could see on her stern in yellow letters `Lelia Liverpool'. He felt proud, since Miller & Sons had built her, but also a little anxious since they were responsible for her innovative design which, he hoped, would give her an excellent performance at sea. He was in his late twenties, tall and already taking much of the responsibility for the shipbuilding company founded by his father.

He climbed aboard and was welcomed by her Captain, Thomas Skinner, and by her eventual commander, Arthur Sinclair. Their American accents and Southern hospitality were a noticeable contrast to the Liverpool way of doing things.

Arthur Sinclair was in his fifties, upright, with a distinguished bearing. His appearance confirmed his long experience: 42 years as a naval officer. He had the ruddy complexion of someone who had spent a lifetime at sea, a drooping moustache covered a generous mouth, hinting at his handsome appearance when a younger man. He was smartly dressed in blue-mixture woollen trousers and waistcoat, black and blue diagonal and diamond mixture sack coat, blue plaid woollen shirt and short wellington boots with calfskin feet and legs of morocco leather. With a full black satin cravat secured by a gold and agate pin, he was an imposing sight.

As they stood on deck, Thomas Miller was reminded of the smells and noises of a steam ship getting ready for her maiden voyage. There was a sulphurous tinge to the air from the smoke issuing from her two funnels. The hiss of steam escaping from the steam pipes was accompanied by a dull banging sound coming from below where the firemen were shovelling coal into her four giant boilers, and a slapping sound from the current as the tide flooding into the Mersey swept past them at anchor. There was a smell of newness: varnish, paint and polish.

They crossed the deck and went down the companion way to the cabins under the poop deck at the stern. The main cabin was very grand, with high quality fittings. Quite a crowd was there already: officers and passengers. The stewards were very attentive and the choice of food and beverage was as in a good hotel. It was a cold January morning, but with steam up, the cabin area was comfortably warm.

Conversation turned to the weather. It was not too windy but the sky was ominous. The barometer showed extremely low pressure, so there was a storm system nearby, but the storm warning signal had not been hoisted. They were waiting for the Liverpool pilot to come aboard before setting off.

Soon the pilot, William Williams, arrived and the order was given to proceed. From the cabin they could hear the shouts of the men and rattle of the chain as the anchors were raised, then the impressive noise as her two giant engines started turning. There was a slow thudding as the pistons moved up and down and lots of hissing as the valves let steam in and out of the cylinders. The paddle wheels made a thrashing noise as they swept the water astern. She was under way.

There were few onlookers on this cold winter morning; no fanfare, brass band, synchronised hooting or any such display. She slipped quietly out of the Mersey, heading for a clandestine rôle in the American Civil War.