The wreck of the paddle steamer Lelia is one of a small group of marine and other heritage assets associated with British involvement in the American Civil War. Built in Liverpool late in the war, it was a technically advanced and purpose-built blockade runner ordered clandestinely on behalf of the Confederate Government. Leaving Liverpool for Bermuda on its maiden voyage on 14th January 1865, the Lelia foundered in Liverpool Bay as a result of the force of the weather, with the loss of forty-seven lives.
Reasons for Designation
The PS Lelia, located in Liverpool Bay, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: The wreck of the paddle steamer Lelia is one of a small group of marine and other heritage assets directly associated with British involvement in the American Civil War;
* Period: The Lelia is highly representative of British complicity in attempting to run the Union blockade during the American Civil War of 1861-1865; purpose built for this task it also represents an early, technically-advanced use of steel for the period;
* Survival: The remains of the Lelia are considered to survive well given information obtained from a number of recent surveys including recovery of the bell marked "Lelia 1864";
* Potential: As much as 1.9m of deposits amidships within the hull remains buried offering the potential for preserved cargo (comprising British-manufactured munitions), machinery and structure, and;
* Group value: The Lelia shares group value with other designated assets in England and Scotland that are linked to blockade running, specifically the paddle steamers Iona I (shipwrecked 1862, Firth of Clyde, on the Scottish list of protected sites) and Iona II (shipwrecked 1864 off Lundy Island, National Heritage List for England 1000051).
The wreck of the paddle steamer Lelia is one of a small group of marine and other heritage assets associated with British involvement in the American Civil War. Built in Liverpool late in the war, it was a technically advanced and purpose-built blockade runner ordered clandestinely on behalf of the Confederate Government.
Leaving Liverpool for Bermuda on its maiden voyage on 14th January 1865, the Lelia foundered in Liverpool Bay as a result of the force of the weather, with the loss of 47 lives. Another 7 lives were lost when the Liverpool No 1 lifeboat was lost whilst being towed out to pick up Lelia survivors from the NW Lightship.
At the beginning of the American Civil War, the Confederacy lacked the manufacturing capability to sustain a war with the more industrialised northern Union. It therefore found itself having to import war supplies, including guns and ammunition, in order to sustain its war effort. With its agricultural economy denied access to northern markets, it also found itself even more dependent upon the southern states' existing raw cotton export trade with Europe, and particularly Britain and France. However, this trade was vulnerable to disruption by the Union Navy, which had inherited almost all of the warships of the pre-war state. The Union knew this and in 1861 imposed a naval blockade of the main Confederate ports in an attempt to strangle the southern war effort.
The Confederacy responded to the blockade by building ironclads to defeat the blockading fleets and commerce raiders to sink Union shipping and draw their warships away from the blockade. Neither of these strategies proved ultimately successful. They also acquired fast steamships, mainly paddle steamers, from British and other shipbuilders. They hoped that these could breach the blockade by a combination of speed and stealth, carrying cotton and tobacco out and war supplies back in. The Leila was one such steamship, built in Millers shipyard in Toxteth, Liverpool. It is recorded as having steel frames and shell plating. Although it was difficult to obtain in the necessary quantities or quality, at least partly due to the insatiable appetite of the railway companies, Millers was one of a number of Liverpool shipbuilders experimenting with the early use of steel as a steel ship was lighter than an iron vessel of the same size. It allowed greater cargo space and greater speed, highly desirable characteristics for blockade runners.
The wreck was discovered and identified in the early 1990s when a bell marked ‘Lelia 1864’ was recovered. Subsequently in 1997 a diving inspection was undertaken by the Archaeological Diving Unit. An abortive diving investigation was carried out by RDF Media in 2003 for an episode to the Wreck Detectives TV series and Chris Michael published his research into the wreck in 2004. The survey company Osiris carried out a sidescan sonar survey and its successor company Bibby HydroMap recently carried out a high quality multibeam survey.
The site consists of a main area of shipwreck material, together with two unidentified but clearly anthropogenic outlying geophysical anomalies. The main area of wreckage is at least 50m long and has a width of at least 21m, taking into account outlying debris, although the width of the intact structure is no greater than 12m.
The wreck itself consists of the partially intact and partially buried remains of a single deck ferrous paddle steamer. The engine space and boiler rooms are upstanding and contain the remains of one of two oscillating engines and two sets of boilers, with less well preserved bunkers and cargo spaces fore and aft of this. One of the paddle wheels survives, as does what is probably a steam winch, which is not in situ. The deck and all above deck structures do not survive, although debris from these may survive on site.
The bottom of the vessel is buried and infilled. Comparison between the plans of a probable sister ship suggest that there is potential for 1.2-1.9m of deposits amidships within the hull. Cargo may survive at the bottom of the holds fore and aft, together with in-situ or displaced machinery, including structure of the engines and cranks amidships.