Paddle Steamer with Colourful Gun-Running History becomes Dive Trail

English Heritage launches 5th Underwater Dive Trail off Lundy Island in the South West of England

The wreck of a 19th century paddle steamer on its way to run guns and supplies for the Confederate Forces of the American Civil War, is the latest underwater dive trail being launched today by English Heritage and Wessex Archaeology.

The Iona II sank in 1864 close to the eastern shore of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel, on her first trans-Atlantic voyage amidst rumours about her cargo. The Iona II is the fifth underwater tourist trail for protected wrecks to open since 2009 and is part of an English Heritage project to create up to a dozen trails by 2018 for historic wreck sites dating from the 17th to the mid-20th centuries.

Terry Newman, Maritime Archaeologist at English Heritage, said: "The Iona II was originally designed as a fast ferry for the Clyde but it was swiftly sold to an agent of the Confederate Government of the southern states of America which was at war at the time with the northern federal states. The paddle steamer was lost on its maiden voyage to America where it was to embark on its new occupation as a Confederate gun-runner. This dive trail is an important historical reminder of a part that Britain played in the American Civil War."

Peta Knott, Coastal Marine Archaeologist for Wessex Archaeology, said: "This is the only protected paddle steamer lying in British waters and divers on this new trail will be able to see the remains of the ferry's engines, boilers, and components of the paddle wheels which are still visible on the seabed. We have had great support from the diving community in developing this trail and look forward to working with them in the ongoing preservation of the wreck."

Other dive trails already running include HMS/mA1 submarine launched in April 2014 which was the first British-designed and built submarine used by the Royal Navy which sank in 1911 in the Solent. There are also dives to three sunken wooden warships which have attracted hundreds of licensed divers since they were launched three years ago. The wrecks are:

  • HMS Colossus, a 74-gun warship built in 1787 which sank off the Isles of Scilly in 1798
  • the Coronation built in 1685 and lost off the coast of Plymouth in 1691
  • the 'Norman's Bay Wreck', possibly a Dutch ship which sank during the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690 near Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex

The Iona II was built in 1863 by J&G Thomson Ltd at Govan near Glasgow in Scotland and had a specially-designed twin cylinder oscillating engine which reputedly gave a top speed of 24 knots. The speed of the vessel was considered a factor in its acquisition by Confederate Government agent Charles Hopkins Bostier of Richmond, Virginia. The wreck was rediscovered in 1976 and it was first designated in 1989 under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973).

Licensed divers on the new trail will be will be given an underwater guide to help them navigate the wreck and recognise key features. The Iona II dive trail is also located in the Lundy Marine Conservation Zone giving divers the added benefit of being able to see colourful marine life such as hydroid, small predators related to jelly fish, sea anemones, coral and the rare pink sea fan which provides an important habitat for marine life.