Commander Arthur Sinclair, CSN

Arthur Sinclair had served in the Union Navy but at the out break of war resigned his commission and 'went South' like many other Southern officers in the Union forces refusing to raise their swords against their own States.

This is such a long story that I will move to the end of the war and relate how Arthur met his demise.

In late 1864 the war was going badly for the Confederacy, and Stephen Mallory the Secretary of the Confederate Navy issued an order to Admiral Sam Barron the flag officer in Paris instructing him to return all officers who are not considered to be essential, home by what ever means available - and to hand over his duties to commander James Dunwoody Bulloch in Liverpool.

Sinclair had not been earmarked for any special duties and so made his way to Liverpool to obtain transport back to the South. It was whilst he was in Liverpool he became aware of the newly built, steel blockade-runner built by W. C. Miller of Toxteth for Crenshaw and Co. This he decided, would be the ideal way to get back home. The vessel was subsequently launched as the Lelia, named after his wife.

Loaded with mainly coal and lead, she was destined for Nassau where Sinclair would then take command of the ship and run her through the blockade. The vessel had a number of other 'passengers' aboard, referred to as super cargo, amongst these was Thomas Miller the son of William Cowley Miller the builder of the Lelia. He was there to see that everything was as it should be but he was due to leave the vessel at Queenstown (Cork) Ireland.

The trick that was most often used by the captains of blockade runners was to run out on dark stormy nights which would afford the most advantageous cover for their escape from Union blockading ships. Once at sea they, would then use their inbuilt speed to elude their pursuers.

On 14th January 1865, Sinclair was aware of the urgent need for lead to make bullets and the coal to use in the furnaces to produce the ammunitions for the army fighting a rearguard action against overwhelming odds, so the decision was made to run the Lelia out of the river Mersey, despite the 'glass' falling rapidly.

In heavy rain she made her way into Liverpool Bay heading for open waters where she could then ride out the worst of the weather. She headed for the Irish Sea but only got as far as the Great Orm's Head when the wheelmen reported the vessel as not answering the helm and being hard to steer. The huge waves which had been crashing over the vessel poured water into the forward cabins. With this extra weight in the cabins the ship began sinking bow first and her captain gave the order to turn back for Liverpool.

As she raced as fast as she could to reach the shelter of the river Mersey, all the while getting harder to steer, another ship signaled that she was coming to her aid; but as the Lelia was doing 18 knots there was no way she could be caught and so the chase was aborted. 

When the Lelia was off Prestatyn the order was given to lower the first two lifeboats but these were overturned by the back wash from the sides of the ship. The occupants scrambled back on board before the third and fourth boats were lowered. This time they both got away and rowed for the northwest lightship. As the third boat neared the lightship two men decided to try and swim for the vessel and the boat overturned and all were swept away and lost. The last boat got close enough before overturning and the occupants swam for the ropes that were thrown over the sides to aid the men to get aboard.

One man got his arms through a lifebelt that was thrown over to help him keep afloat. As Thomas Miller reached him he was told to hang onto this man as he would never pull him out of the lifebelt. Miller clung on in an exhausted state until a drowning man grabbed his leg and he was unable to hold on any longer and he was swept away and drowned also. The last that was seen of Commander Sinclair, was of him kneeling on the bridge in prayer. Only 12 of the 47 people on board the Lelia were saved, added to this was the loss of life of the crew of the Liverpool lifeboat. Only five of the 12 man crew were rescued when this boat overturned after a severe blow from a giant wave smashed the port side. Non of the men had donned their cork life jackets.

On 31 st May the remains of Commander Arthur Sinclair were hauled up in fishing nets 10 miles off the coast at Fleetwood. The skeleton was still fully dressed and it was eventually identified as that of Sinclair the gold watch in his pocket had stopped at 4-10, about the time the Lelia had sunk. The inquest into this drowning was held at The Steamer Hotel in Fleetwood, and Sinclair was buried in the council cemetery.

This is of course a potted history of the tale of this man buried in Fleetwood almost 150 years ago but the story continues.
Sinclair's great/great/grand-daughter and her son from Tennessee, visited the grave for the first time this year. On seeing the site and placing a full sized copy of the ships bell there, Lelia Sinclair Dickey Baldasari was emotionally moved and most grateful for being able to see her ancestor's final resting place; and the way it has been attended to by Fleetwood's cemetery department.

After placing the two flags on the grave, the next visit was to The Steamer Hotel in Fleetwood to see where the inquest was held, and see the room which has been designated, the 'Sinclair Room'.
We are indebited to Bob Jones, 290 Member, Liverpool for this article and acknowledge his vital role in ensuring Lelia's visit was such a success!