Saturday, September 15, 2012

Emily St. Pierre


This painting is quite possibly a collaboration between Wm. G.Yorke and his 15 year old son; Wm. H. Yorke. The Charleston-based Confederate blockade runner Emily St. Pierre; is shown wearing the British ensign and hove to under the guns of the Federal sloop-of-war U.S.S.James Adger; a sixteen gun paddle steamer with a topsail schooner rig; passing her stern to leeward with guns run out. All sails on the Union vessel are furled and she is under power.

One of the sloop's boats is shown alongside the British vessel debarking a boarding party. Armed Federals may also be seen on the St Pierre’s deck. A second boat is seen pulling away containing an armed party with possibly the ship's captain for questioning. This painting was descended through the family of the Emily St. Pierre’s steward who; in an interesting historical note; assisted the ship's master; Captain Wilson and two crew members in recapturing the vessel from the American prize crew.

The Emily St. Pierre was another blockade-runner, owned by the Trenholm Company. Her captain was William Wilson, a Scotsman. On 18th March 1862 after sailing from Calcutta, the ship was nearing the bar at Charleston, when the captain of one of the blockading ships, the USS James Adger, having this vessel on his list of suspected ships, stopped the Emily St. Pierre on the grounds that her British registration was illegal and, it was noted that the cargo of saltpetre was also listed as contraband. The Federal captain also pointed out the name ‘Charleston’ was found on many of the items and the ship's name had been scraped from her stern, plus the fact Wilson himself had been seen throwing a package over the side, adding to the overall suspicions.

Following its capture, the Confederate seamen were removed from the ship with the exception of the cook, Louis Schelvin and a steward, Matthew Montgomery, plus Captain Wilson who was ordered to take his ship to Philadelphia. This determined Scotsman however, hatched a plan to recapture his ship and he drew the cook and the steward into his plan. Whilst Lieutenant Josiah Stone, the acting master, was on watch duty, they bound and gagged the mate while he was asleep. In another room the engineer was treated in a similar manner.

Captain Wilson then requested that Lieutenant Stone should come to his cabin on the pretext of checking a chart, as he was not sure they were correct. On the way Stone was threatened with an iron bar, at which point the steward who was following them, gagged him so he could not raise the alarm. Captain Wilson, now having taken the Lieutenant’s gun, ushered three men into a hatch, saying it was on the orders of the Lieutenant, and locked them in. The helmsman was also put in the hatch at gunpoint. As the watch from below stumbled out onto the deck they were tied up in pairs. One reckless crewman drew a knife and was immediately shot for his foolhardiness. This quickly induced the others to surrender. In total there were fourteen in the prize party, including the mate and Lieutenant Stone.

Captain Wilson had now regained control of his vessel but remained some 3,000 miles from Liverpool with only the cook, and a steward, who could neither reef, nor steer. Eventually the Emily's new prisoners agreed to assist as best they could although there was only one of them who could steer a little. The Captain had to lie aloft and perform the duties normally done by the seamen on board as he could tell a storm was brewing. Later, after the storm passed, he worked for twelve hours, rigging up a jury rudder as the tiller had been damaged.

A month later on 21 April 1862, the ship finally anchored safely in the River Mersey. The British as a whole saluted the enterprise of Captain Wilson. It is also reported, with Charles Kuhn Prioleau, of Messrs Fraser, Trenholm and Co. beside him, the valiant Captain Wilson, stepping ashore, tired and dishevelled from a lack of sleep, regaled many an eager audience of his recent escapade. The Emily St. Pierre ship was one of the first to fly the Confederate flag in Liverpool having first flown the Southern flag whilst she was in Calcutta.

On the 3rd May 1861 Captain wilson received a presentation of a gold Chronometer and china Tea Service paid for by 170 local merchants. Additionally, the Mercantile Marine Service Association presented him with a gold Medal and a sum of £2,000 was paid by the owners. Both Louis Schelvin, and Matthew Montgomery were each presented with a purse of twenty guineas and a silver Medal. The owners also gave them £300 each.


  1. Thought I had clicked on 'ol Remus by mistake. :)
    Great painting and an interesting bit of history.