Battles and campaigns

Menage a Trois -The Deerhound Story

By Greg Bayne (with a lot of help from Len Ellison, Charles Priestley and Maurice Rigby)

 

The testimony to a good lecture is whether or not it sends me to the reference books. So it was with Len Ellison’s talk on the Alabama. Of course we knew the story, but Len put paid to some of the myths surrounding her and added a few extra snippets into the mix as well.

 

Picture Credit: We are grateful for the permission to use the picture of the Deerhound that resides at the Royal Mersey Yacht Club


During the post-lecture train journey home, my thoughts turned from the unexploded shell in the stern post of the Kearsarge to the third member of the battle, the Deerhound. It has been suggested that the presence of the Deerhound on that fateful day was more than coincidence, a sort of cunning plan on behalf of Britain to undermine the US and aid the CSA. The New York Times reported on July 7th 1864 that “We learn that the British yacht Deerhound, which happened to be so opportunely near the Alabama during her fight with the Kearsarge, and which rescued her commander, and at his urgent request took him into a British harbor of refuge, is owned by the firm of FRASER, TRENHOLM & CO., of Liverpool, who are the rebel agents for that port, and that she is thus almost as really rebel property as the Alabama herself. It probably was not wholly accidental that she happened to be on the spot at that particular time.” It was, of course, none of that nonsense, but the story needs to be told.

 

The yacht Deerhound was built in 1858 for the Duke of Leeds at the John Laird shipyard Birkenhead. She was a three-masted vessel, built of steel, with a screw-propeller, with a tonnage (builders’ measurement) of about 190, and engines of a nominal power of seventy horses. When in her usual trim she steamed twenty knots, being about two knots beyond the speed of the Alabama. Shortly after then, Mr John Lancaster (pictured right) bought her. He was a wealthy Lancashire businessman and cruised with his family under the Royal Mersey Yacht Club banner, which is still on the same site on the Mersey at Rock Ferry. There is a painting of the Deerhound picking up the Alabama crew in the lounge at the RMYC. Lancaster was an engineer, businessman, fellow of the Geological Society and in 1868 was Member of Parliament for Wigan. A key figure in the Kirkless Hall Coal and Iron Company and responsible for building the blast furnaces and coke ovens on the Kirkless site, he later became chairman of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company when the Kirkless Hall Company was amalgamated with the Earl of Crawford’s coal and engineering interests.

 

The Captain of the Deerhound was Captain Evan Parry Jones (pictured left). In June 1864 the Deerhound sailed for northern France with seven members of the Lancaster family on board. They sailed from the River Dart, having picked up as extra crew member Robert E Ferris, a Kingswear shipwright serving his apprenticeship in the local yards. On June 9th, the yacht was at St Malo, having cruised around the Channel Islands. The Lancaster family were landed and the yacht sailed to Cherbourg via Jersey to collect mail. The reason for the trip to Cherbourg was to attend the inauguration of a new casino, the Casino Bains de Mer. It was in fact a huge complex, with a concert-hall, lecture room, gaming rooms, billiard tables, a restaurant, gardens, fountains, hot baths and hydrotherapy facilities, as well, of course, as sea-bathing cabins. It also had some very elegant apartments where you could stay (William L Dayton, Jr, Second Secretary at the US Legation, apparently stayed there in June 1864, since one of his letters from Cherbourg to his father, the US Minister to France, has a “Bains de Mer de Cherbourg” letterhead and a picture of the building). Unfortunately, it was demolished by the Germans in 1943, as it was in the line of their guns! The Deerhound arrived in Cherbourg and anchored close the Alabama and another British yacht, the Hornet. Captain Jones reported that in the week preceding the battle, there was no communication between them except the usual pleasantries. The Alabama seemed to be preparing for an oncoming battle and refused the Lancasters a courtesy visit. On the Saturday, Jones went to the station to collect the Lancaster family. Knowing of the imminent departure of the Alabama, the family held a meeting and discussed whether to sail after the Alabama to get best view of the battle possible. It was put to a vote and Miss Lancaster, aged 9, gave the casting vote for sailing out. "

 

Events of the battle warrant another article need not be discussed here. Immediately after Kearsarge ceased firing on the stricken cruiser, the Deerhound sailed to offer assistance and Jones reports that Captain Winslow asked them to render all assistance possible to the drowning crew. They picked up 42 including Capitan Semmes. It is thought that a launch from the Kearsarge was looking for Semmes and after he was rescued by the Deerhound's launch, he escaped by donning a “Deerhound” cap and grabbing an oar, thus pretending to be a member of the rescue crew. It is of course doubtful that that the Deerhound crew would have handed Semmes over. With the survivors on board, the Deerhound set sail for England, resisting the idea that they should be handed over to the Kearsarge. In fact, as they had been rescued under a neutral ship, there was no obligation to hand them over. That evening, the Deerhound landed at Cowes, and after a short interlude of harbour formalities, the Alabama crew was landed at Southampton. James Mason later came to visit and personally thanked Mr Lancaster for their kindness and humanity.‘

 

In March 1865, John Lancaster also received a letter of thanks from Jefferson Davis with a resolution vote of thanks from the CSA Congress.

 

After the Alabama rescue the Deerhound was sold to Sir George Stuckley and on the opening or the Suez Canal in 1869 was the first British yacht to enter the ship canal. She was sold to a company in Zambia and she eventually foundered of the coast of Zambia in a storm. In between that in 1873 she was involved in a bizarre “gun smuggling” incident in Spanish waters.

 

LIST OF THE CREW MEMBERS FROM THE DEERHOUND AND LANCASTER FAMILY:

 

John Lancaster, Mrs John Lancaster, Catherine Lancaster (daughter), John Lancaster Jr (son), Robert Lancaster (son) G.G. Lancaster (son), Miss Wilson (niece), Miss Brown (Maid) Evan P Jones Captain Robert Hughes Mate Harry Adams ABS J Page ABS John Roe ABS Robert Broderick ABS William Roberts Steward Robert Durham Cook Wm Bell Engineer Wm Jones Fireman Marshall Fireman Robert Ferris ABS

 

From our ACWRTUK researcher Maurice Rigby we have found that Robert Hughes is buried in a pauper's grave at Anfield cemetery and Harry (also known as Henry) Adams, the man who pulled Semmes from the sea, is buried in a private plot in the Wirral.

 

Time on our hands

 

The Hornet was owned by James Bryant of the Royal Western Yacht Club was also in close proximity to the naval action and had managed to secure the seventy or so chronometers of the Alabama. Lt. Sinclair describes that just before leaving Cherbourg Semmes ordered the chronometers to be transferred to Captain Hewitt. In 1867 or 1868 Sinclair received a sterling cheque via Baltimore bank for his shares of the proceeds of the sale. He states that there was a request to keep details of the transaction “shady”. In truth it was the only division amongst the officers of the Alabama’s prize money. We do know that on Monday 28th June 1864 there were 68 chronometers forwarded to Mr Benjamin Nicholson of Messrs Camper and Nicholson in Portsmouth from the Hornet. Each one of them was engraved with the name of the ship from which they were taken. Where they went from there needs to be investigated.

 

The local Cherbourgeois author, Paul Ingouf (Coulez l’Alabama!) says that Semmes wanted to sell them in Cherbourg, but was forbidden to do so by the French authorities; he therefore handed them over to the Confederate agent there, Amédée Bonfils. This would not preclude their later being given to the Hornet. Ingouf also says that Semmes left $20,000 in gold with the French Customs and deposited “the ship’s funds”, 118,000 francs, in a local bank in the Rue des Corderies (today Rue François Lavieille - this street still has a number of old buildings, but there is no way of knowing which of them may have housed the bank).

 

The travels of Robert Durham

 

Another link to the Deerhound is the story of Robert Durham. An Australian researcher, Michael Rumff, contacted us for information about Durham. Here in Michaels words is his fascinating story:

 

We’ve certainly uncovered an unknown past for Robert Durham. I had looked at that Robert Durham in Liverpool before, and I have revisited it in light of our recent discovery that he was on board the Deerhound. I can’t really find another Robert Durham that it might be, and the occupation of “artist” is as bewildering as “cook”. All I can do is put together a story about a young man travelling the world. Reconstructing it 150 years later takes imagination.

 

We do know that Robert (b. 4 Jan 1837 in London) arrived in Australia in 1849 on “Posthumous”. In April 1855, his parents plus his three younger siblings travelled back to England on “Lightning”. His mother (Sarah) died at sea, and his father remarried Caroline Buston. In Sept 1856, he, his new wife, and the three children sailed on “Morning Light” back to Melbourne. The three children that did not make the trip were Sarah (who had already just married), Robert, and Henry, his younger brother.

 

In April 1855, Robert is 18 years, and if not working, probably expected to be doing so. I reckon he’s probably gone away to sea, working his passage back to England. Looking at family history, I just get an inkling that all may not have been well with the family when they find out they have lost their mother, and inherited a step-mother. Pure conjecture of course. Anyway, Robert has obviously got back to England and at some stage finds himself on the Deerhound. He does return to Australia in 1865. Once again, I can find no record of him arriving as a passenger, and from the tone of the newspaper article, I reckon it was only a passing visit. His residence in Liverpool I think may have only been between travels. What we do know however, is that he did eventually come back to Australia because on 15 July 1882, he married Mary Jane Palk –

 

The Argus Saturday 22/7/1882- “DURHAM-PALK -On the 15th lnst, at St Luke’s, Emerald Hill, by the Rev. Canon Dickenson, M A , Robert, eldest son of the late R. G. Durham, of Heidelberg, to Mary Jane, eldest daughter of Dr. Palk, J.P., formerly of Emerald Hill.”

 

Robert and Mary had no children; he’s no youngster when he eventually marries. Robert died 14 June 1909 at his home in Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne. Mary Jane died 9 July 1922. In later life he was a warder with his brother Henry at Pentridge prison. (Henry, b. 8 Feb 1839 also in London). Pentridge Prison in Victoria is now closed and it once held Ned Kelly as an inmate. In fact his remains lay on the site of the prison.