One hundred and fifty years ago, a state-of-the-art, Clyde-built paddle steamer was wrecked on its way to making history in the American Civil War. Built as one of many river steamers for the Clyde, the Iona II stood out from similar vessels with a revolutionary oscillating engine, unprecedented luxury passenger accommodation and a competitive top speed of 24 knots.
After a single summer transporting passengers around the Western Isles of Scotland, Iona II was sold to the Confederates to transport guns and supplies. The steamer’s incredible speed was going to be used to run the Union blockade of America’s southern ports. The river steamer was strengthened for open ocean conditions and departed Glasgow on 16th January 1864.
By the time the Iona II reached the Irish port of Queenstown, some of the crew decided that the strengthening measures had been insufficient. The majority of stoker firemen mutinied and refused to cross the Atlantic, with one of them quoted as saying:
“Oh! We are quite willing to bear the lash of the law for it”
Glasgow Herald March 23 1864.
With the rebellious firemen in jail and replacement crew on board, the Iona II steamed into the Celtic Sea on 30th January 1864. A storm struck, the vessel took on water and the boilers began to go out. The captain and crew nursed the Iona II into the shelter of Lundy Island where they were all rescued off the sinking vessel in the early hours of 2nd February 1864. As it happened, the firemen had been right!
The Iona II tells an amazing story of superior Clyde-shipbuilding, the long tradition of paddle steamers in the Western Isles, and the little known British involvement in the American Civil War.
Wessex Archaeology is creating a dive trail for the Iona II.