John F. Messner. 264pp. Paperback £18.99 (or from about £15 on Amazon). Whittles Publishing / Glasgow Museums, July 2021. ISBN 9781849954822.

You may well ask why are we reviewing a book that is as Scottish as Boris Johnson’s nemesis, Nicola Sturgeon? It transpires that Liverpool pops up at various points in the narrative, as might be expected when you consider Liverpool’s major role in siding with the Confederacy during the American Civil War (ACW).

I confess that, although I have about 14 volumes on my bookshelf about ACW, I had never come across the name of Joannes Wyllie nor his ship the Ad-Vance. I have now, thanks to American-born Messner, a curator of transport and technology at Glasgow’s Riverside Museum. And hats off to him for what is an object lesson in historical research into Wyllie and the Ad-Vance, subjects almost unknown, even in their Scottish birthplace. Scouring archives on both sides of the Atlantic, he has left no stone unturned; where ships’ manifests have been unearthed, their contents are described, from bales of cotton down to the last nail.

Born in 1828 as John Wyllie (the ‘Joannes’ name-change came later), he first went to sea in 1852, made his home in Liverpool the following year and eight years later gained his master’s certificate here. His first command was the Bonita (formerly the Economist), a blockade runner owned by the famous Liverpool firm of Fraser Trenholm & Co., bankers to the Confederate Government for the supply of ships, arms and other war materiel. According to Messner, the 19 voyages of the Ad-Vance as a blockade runner made a significant impact on the ability of North Carolina to keep both the state’s soldiers and the civilian population supplied. Wyllie was its master for nine of those voyages.

Of particular interest to Liverpool historians is that, when the Ad-Vance needed major repairs after nearly two hard years at sea, its only practical option was to make a transatlantic round trip to Liverpool, then an important centre for shipbuilding and repairs, as well as Wyllie’s home for ten years when he was ashore. The Ad-Vance was berthed in one of Sandon Dock’s six graving docks, opposite Wyllie’s home in Boundary Street. Alongside it was another famous blockade runner, the Liverpool-built Colonel Lamb (a fine model can be seen in the Merseyside Maritime Museum). A third blockade runner, the Let Her Rip, had departed a few days earlier for Nassau. As Messner notes, Sandon Dock was “…a hive of blockade runner work.”.

Details such as this make the book of interest both to Liverpool maritime and ACW historians. As a bonus the book is also copiously illustrated.

Reviewed by Ron Jones November, 2021.
Image: The Ad-Vance leaving Liverpool 1864 by Samuel Walters ©Glasgow Museums.