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James Francis Waters was born on June 4, 1842 in Dundalth, Louth/Armagh County, Ireland.   James was the son of an Irish political exile whose father arrived in Tasmania, Australia in 1848 when he was only six years old.   Shortly after his father left Ireland, however, his mother died, leaving James, his brother and his sister to be brought up by his maternal grandmother; until 1856 when at the age of 14 James ran away and began his life on the sea.   Eventually arriving in the United States, James enlisted in the U.S. Navy on April 20, 1863, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a period of three years, as a Landsman.   He served aboard the USS “Princeton”, the “Lilac” and the “North Carolina”; until he was discharged on July 24, 1865.    Six United States Naval ships have borne the name “Princeton”, named after the town of Princeton, New Jersey, but the one Waters served on was the second “Princeton”. The second Princeton was a transport and training ship, launched in 1851 and commissioned in 1852.   Waters trained aboard her and served on her until he was transferred to the “Lilac”.


The “Lilac” was a steam tug built at Philadelphia early in 1863, acquired by the Navy on April 15, 1863 and commissioned at Philadelphia on April 28, 1863. The new tug joined the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron at Hampton Roads on May 2nd and during the remainder of 1863 operated in the Roads area and on the lower James River, performing dispatch, picket, and towing duty. On  July 4, 1863, the day of Vicksburg’s surrender and the day following the retreat of Lee’s army from Gettysburg, the Confederate tug “Torpedo”, carrying Alexander Stephens, steamed up to the “Lilac” under a flag of truce to request safe conduct to Washington; so that the Confederacy’s Vice President might confer with Lincoln as Jefferson Davis’ personal emissary.   For the next 2 days the “Lilac” carried messages between the Union Flagship “Minnesota”, Fort Monroe, and the “Torpedo”. However, Lincoln resolved to carry on all direct communications with the Confederate leaders, lest such contact be interpreted as recognition of the South’s government. On July 6th the “Lilac” took Stephens word that his request was “...considered inadmissible” and that “customary agents and channels are adequate for all needful military Communications...between the U.S. forces and the insurgents.”


On the night of October 15th, accompanied by the tug “Young America”, the “Lilac” ascended the James River in an attempt to capture a Confederate steamer reported situated above Hog Island. The southern ship however, had fled to safety before the Union ships arrived. On the expedition though, the “Lilac” shelled a lone Confederate signal station.

Early in 1864 Rear Admiral S. P. Lee ordered the “Lilac” to Beaufort, North Carolina for harbor defense and towing. As the year ended the “Lilac” returned to Norfolk, Virginia to help tighten the noose which Grant and Porter were closing around Richmond. On April 4th, as Lee’s army was about to be driven from the South’s capitol, the “Lilac” captured the Confederate Army tug “Seaboard” at the Tree Hill Bridge, which spanned the James River below Richmond. As the Confederacy crumbled the “Lilac” continued to operate on the James River until she steamed north in late May. She was decommissioned on June 16, 1865 and was sold at public auction at New York to H. G. Farrington on July 12, 1865 and re-documented as the “Eutaw” on October  5 , 1865; serving in commercial shipping until she was abandoned in 1888.

The “North Carolina”, Waters third ship, was one of nine ships to rate not less than 74 guns each; authorized by Congress on April 29, 1816. While nominally a 74-gun ship, a popular size at the time, the “North Carolina” actually had gun ports for 102 guns and originally mounted a total of  94  guns;  42 and 32 pounder cannons. She served throughout the Mediterranean,  but since her great size made her less flexible than smaller ships, she returned to the New York Navy Yard in June and served as a receiving ship upon which new recruits were inducted and from which many seamen were discharged. It was from there Waters was discharged on July 24, 1865

Records reveal, however, that Waters was not through with the U.S. Navy. James reenlisted again on September 13, 1865 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for another three years and again served aboard the “Princeton” and then the “Vanderbilt” before deserting on July 21, 1866. He was caught though, and held by police officers, on September 24, 1866. Apparently he was returned to service because records show he then served aboard the “Vanderbilt” again, and the “Suwannee”.


The “Vanderbilt” was a wooden, side-wheel steamship built in 1856 at Greenpoint, Long Island, New York for commercial trans-Atlantic passenger service. The U.S. Army chartered her for use as a transport soon after the outbreak of the Civil War and in March 1862 she was turned over to the U.S. Navy and converted into a battle cruiser. Commissioned as the USS “Vanderbilt” in September 1862, she spent the last two months of 1862 and all of 1863 searching in the Atlantic Ocean and West Indies for the Confederate cruiser “Alabama”. While she never found the elusive enemy warship, the “Vanderbilt” did capture three merchant blockade running ships suspected of trafficking with the enemy, including steamer “Peterhoff” in February 1863, the steamer “Gertrude” in April and the bark “Saxon”  in October 1863.

Following repairs that occupied much of 1864, the “Vanderbilt” patrolled in the North Atlantic against blockade runners operating out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She also served on the blockade off Wilmington, North Carolina, beginning in November 1864 and took part in the December 1864 and January 1865 attacks on Wilmington's Fort Fisher that resulted in closing that port to Confederate commerce. In the spring of 1865, the “Vanderbilt” carried Sailors to the Gulf of Mexico and towed ironclads between East Coast ports and was used as a receiving ship at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, in Kittery, Maine, during the summer of 1865.

From November 1865 through June 1866 the “Vanderbilt” sailed from the U.S. Atlantic Coast around South America, escorting the ironclad “Monadnock to San Francisco, California. During October and November 1866 she visited Hawaii, carrying that country's queen home from the U.S.. The “Vanderbilt” was laid up at the Mare Island Navy Yard from May 1867 until April 1873, when she was sold to private owners.

The USS “Suwannee” on which Waters served, was a double-ended, iron-hulled, side-wheel Gunboat of the Civil War. Built at Chester, Pennsylvania, the Gunboat was launched on March 13, 1864 and was commissioned on January 23, 1865.

Ordered to the Pacific Ocean, the new double-ended Gunboat departed Philadelphia at dawn on February 17, 1865 and proceeded by way of New York down the Atlantic coastline looking for Confederate ships involved in raiding Union commerce vessels; especially the CSS “Shenandoah”. The “Suwannee” then steamed up the Pacific coast and arrived at Acapulco, Mexico, where she joined the Pacific Squadron on  July 30, 1865; whereupon  the side-wheeler was promptly ordered back to sea to search for the infamous “Shenandoah”.

After the “Shenandoah” surrendered to British authorities at Liverpool, England, late in the year 1865, the “Suwannee” cruised along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Canada and was wrecked on  July 9, 1868 in Shadwell Passage, Queen Charlotte sound, British Columbia. Waters was discharged from the Navy yet again, on August 20, 1868. There was another “Suwannee” in operation under Union control, a side-wheeled paddle steamer under contract to the U.S. quartermaster department, and is often confused with the USS “Suwannee”. She foundered in a storm and sank 23 miles south of Little River Inlet, South Carolina off the coast, in December 1866; loaded to the hilt with hundreds of Enfield rifles, canteens, Parrot cannon, Gallagher and Remington carbines, cavalry sabres, artillery shells, lead bars, and SNY, US, and Eagle belt plates; but she was not the USS “Suwannee”

Still attracted to the sea, James again reenlisted at Benicia, California, on January 19, 1869; for another three years as a seaman, serving according to a letter from the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation,  aboard the “Pensacola” and  “Jamestown”; until he was again discharged, as a Quartermaster.

The “Pensacola” on which Waters served was a screw steamer launched by the Pensacola Navy Yard August 15, 1859 and commissioned on December 5, 1859 for towing to Washington Navy Yard for installation of machinery. She was decommissioned on January 31, 1860, then commissioned in full on September 16, 1861.  She was decommissioned on April 29, 1864 for the installation of new and improved machinery and again recommissioned on August 16, 1866 where upon she sailed round Cape Horn to join the Pacific Squadron, serving from time to time as flagship.

The first “Jamestown”, on which Waters also served, was launched in 1844 by the Navy Yard, Gosport, Virginia and commissioned on December 12th. After much service and serving with the Atlantic Blockading Squadron and in the Pacific protecting American commerce from Confederate privateers, the “Jamestown” arrived at Mare Island on July 23, 1868, was decommissioned there on August 13th and recommissioned on January 25, 1869 following repairs. It was about that time that Waters joined her crew. For almost 3 years the “Jamestown” cruised the Pacific on the west coasts of North and South America, and as far west as Tahiti and the Fiji and the Hawaiian Islands. She was then decommissioned on October 7, 1871 and placed in ordinary at Mare Island; where Waters was discharged on January 17, 1872.

James reenlisted a fourth time, on January 18, 1872 for yet another three year period as a seaman, and again served aboard the “Pensacola” and then aboard the “Independence”. The USS “Independence” was the third ship of that name and the first ship of the line commissioned in the United States Navy; launched on  June 22, 1814 at the Boston Navy Yard. She served and sailed all over the world, was decommissioned and re-commissioned several times, until she ended up at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California, on October 2, 1857. There she served as a receiving ship, during which time Waters was discharged, for the fourth time, as a coxswain, on January 16, 1875.

It seems James was destined to live on the sea, because he reenlisted yet a fifth time, as a seaman at Mare Island, for yet another three years; serving then aboard the “Independence” and the “Pensacola” until March 21, 1876; when he was reported “missing without leave” for 10 days and it was finally determined he had in fact deserted again off Mare Island, California. According to records in Waters pension files, even before he deserted James was reported “being without leave” from the “Pensacola”, on March 10, 1876 and a reward of $20 was posted for his apprehension.

James, even after having served all that time at sea in the Navy and having deserted on several occasions, after leaving his ship in 1876 he went on to join the Merchant Marines; cruising the waters between San Francisco and Sydney, New South Wales.  Having received news of his father’s whereabouts, whom he had not seen in some thirty years, Waters left the U.S., arrived in Tasmania on July 3, 1879 and was reunited with his father in Hobart on July 4th.  He finally settled down in Tasmania and married Rachel Elizabeth Dunton that same year, having ten children of whom only two survived; Mary and Florence Waters. Two of his sons, however, did live long enough to participate in World War I.

His son Patrick married Julia Cecilia Campbell on July 22, 1920 at St. Mary’s Catholic Hobart. Patrick was buried on January 28, 1955  at 60 years of age at Cornelian Bay Cemetery. His last address was 46 Federal Street, North Hobart. Cecilia Julia Waters was buried on April 10, 1947 at 48 years of age, also at Cornelian Bay. Her last address was at 46 Federal Street, North Hobart. There is also a Julia Waters buried at Cornelian Bay Cemetery, on May 3, 1947 at 86 years of age; her  last address was at 244 Liverpool Street, Hobart.

James applied for and was granted a pension in 1909, certification No. 41308, which began on August 5, 1909 at a rate of $50 (US) a month; which he received until his death on February 22, 1923. His wife, Rachael, was then awarded a widow’s pension which she received until her death in 1929.

James Francis Waters spent his final years in the Hobart, Tasmania area; where he died on May 22, 1923 and was buried in the Cornelian Bay Cemetery, on the shores of Hobart Harbour. Rachel, when she died, was buried there as well.


Bureau of Navigation Records, Department of the Navy

 Bureau of Navy Personnel, United States Navy Department

 Cornelian Bay Cemetery Records, Tasmania

 “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships”, Dept of the Navy

 "Lifeline of the Confederacy; Blockade running during the Civil War”, Stephen R. Wise, 1988

 Tasmania State Library, Hobart, Tasmania

 “The Tasmanian Mail”, newspaper, July 4, 1979

 “The History of the American Sailing Navy: the Ships and their Development”, Howard Chapelle, 1949

 "The United States Navy: A 200-Year History", Edward L. Beach,1986.

 U.S. Pension Records, Washington, D.C.

“Warships of the Union and Confederate Navies”, Paul H. Silverstone

Joan Baker, Queensland researcher


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