...for helping our forthcoming investigation of the American Civil War blockade runner Lelia in Liverpool Bay.
Earlier this year Wessex Archaeology was asked by Historic England to undertake a survey of the wreck of this well-known vessel, lost on its maiden voyage in 1865 and subsequently found by diver Chris Michael in the 1990s. The Lelia, named after the wife of the Confederate officer on board who was to take over command when the ship arrived in Bermuda, Commander Arthur Sinclair, proved unequal to the weather it encountered as it sailed out of Liverpool, heavily laden with coal and stores for the voyage. Built and financed in Liverpool, the Lelia was part of a not so clandestine and highly risky trade between the supposedly neutral Britain and the southern states. They depended upon acquiring the latest British-built steamships to evade a Union Navy that was attempting to strangle the Confederate war machine by blockading its ports. Whilst small, fast ships such as the Lelia were ideal for the shallow approaches of the southern ports, taking them across the rough waters of the Atlantic and the Irish Sea wasn’t easy and a number were lost before they had even left British waters.
The first stage in our investigation has involved working out what data is already available for the wreck. We have extensive contacts in the survey industry, so we were pleased to learn that Bibby HydroMap had recently trialled one of their latest bathymetry equipment and setups, which consisted of a Teledyne Reson SeaBat 7125 multibeam echo sounder in each hull (Dual head configuration with an 8 m separation), on the wreck and their Survey Manager, Gustav Pettersson, agreed to process this data for us. The result can be seen below – a highly detailed three dimensional representation of the current state of the wreck. Although much of the hull and superstructure of the partly buried wreck have disappeared, the outline of the four rectangular boilers can be seen in yellow and the flues that connected them to the funnels in red. Between each pair of boilers can be seen the engines, one of which is still connected to a paddle wheel. The other wheel is missing and the large dent that is visible in the part of the hull where it should be suggests that Chris Michael’s theory that the Lelia may have been hit by the anchor of one of the very large ships that use the anchorage that it lies in could be correct.
The data that Bibby HydroMap has provided will now be used as a basic site plan of the wreck. This will enable our diving investigation to target key areas rather than having to survey the whole wreck site, saving time. Watch out for a future news report on what that investigation reveals.