A Pirate in Melbourne

First published

A Pirate in Melbourne 29 January 1893

It's like something out of a romantic novel. The American States are in the midst of a bloody civil war, and look what happens, a Confederate cruiser, Shenandoah has arrived in Port Phillip and the citizens are falling all over the place.

Shenandoah's master, Captain Waddell, is a handsome six-footer from North Carolina. Had Prince Albert himself arrived from Buckingham Palace, the social lights of Melbourne couldn't have done more fawning.

Shenandoah sailed from the Cape of Good Hope. On the way Waddell sank and burned 11 of President Lincoln's ships. As he did so he took prisoners, and the best cabins on the Shenandoah have been occupied by captains' wives. There is a big difference of opinion. The Age is thundering. It accuses the Shenandoah of being nothing more than a pirate, preying on peacefully voyaging ships of the American Republic, and filling the pockets of the crew with prize money.

The Argus thinks very differently and, one suspects, has the sympathy of most Melburnians who look upon the South as the underdog. It says: 'The United States is a Government which has kept no faith with her enemies and has broken every promise to its friends - a Government which under the pretext of a Crusade against slavery, has committed crimes against civilisation more detestable than any slavery'.

Mr Blanchard, the U.S. Consul, is furious and has protested to the Governor, Sir Charles Darling. But the Shenandoah is anchored just a few minutes row from the pier at Sandridge. Everything that can float, every little sailboat, has been out to inspect her. One gentleman, far from young, sailed up to the Shenandoah, then made a mad leap aboard, whereupon he declared he, too, was a Confederate.

Every licensed boat has been made available to run a courier service. There has been a stiff breeze out on the Bay. A lady and two gentlemen were in a whale boat. They were rounding Shenandoah's stern when the wind caught them and they capsized. The men were helped on board, but the lady went off with her rescuers. She felt she was not a presentable sight in her dripping crinoline.

Captain Waddell threw his ship open to the public and on Sunday the Victorian Railways put on special trains. The Argus reported that 7074 people went to Sandridge by train. As they left the vessel, they gave it hearty cheers, showing they were all for the Southern cause. Captain Waddell and his crew have been invited to Ballarat for a special dinner and, would you believe, there is a private dinner at the Melbourne Club, attended by Judges of the Supreme and County Court. Captain Waddell and his officers were guests of honour.

The Age again is angry. It says:

That the soft headed flunkeys who are recognised as leaders of the Melbourne Club are capable of any misdemeanor against common sense and good taste, there can be no doubt. Success to the Confederate cause will, of course, be drunk in gin cocktails which the gentlemanly pirates are said to be good at brewing.

Under the terms of Victoria's neutrality, Shenandoah is supposed to be here for only 24 hours to gather provisions. The way things are shaping it could be here for ever.

Further reading: Rebel Down Under, Cyril Pearl.

From a retrospective series Keith Dunstan wrote for the The Age Newspaper to mark the 1988 Australian bicentenary

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