Mystery Photo solved. American Civil War Monitor.

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    William Lindsay

    A neighbour of mine recently showed me the diaries of his grandfather Lieutenant M Bryan RN. With all his journals was a photograph album and in this album was the attached photograph dated 1868. I had no idea what the vessel was. I showed it a few SNR members and they were foxed too. With the kind help of Peter King, we were able to solve the problem. He contacted the Curator of the Naval Museum of Halifax who provided us with the solution:-

    “The vessel in the photo is of the USS Onondaga and it was an ironclad river monitor built for the Union Army during the American Civil War. It was not uncommon for both Union and Confederate ships to make their way up to Halifax during the war. Britain and its colonies were officially neutral for the duration of the war, however tensions did exist between Britain and the United States. Confederate operators secretly used the Maritimes as a base in violation of British neutrality. So Union navy ships were sent to patrol [the area]”.

    From what I understand, the ship was bought by the French in 1867 and commissioned in 1869. The prefix H.I.M.S. probably stands for His Imperial Majesty’s Ship since this was during Emperor Napoleon III’s reign. There are several photos of the craft on the internet (see including one of her in Brest. The trip across the Atlantic must have been rather fraught! It is possible that the attached photo shows the ship being prepared for the ocean crossing.

    Lieutenant Bryan’s photo album contains more wonderful photographs. Fifteen of so will be featured in a forthcoming online issue of the Navy Records Society.

    Acknowledgement: I am grateful to my neighbour Mr Tim Jurden for allowing us assess to the photos, and to Captain Peter King for his help in identifying the ship.

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