"Last night the English steamer 'Modern Greece',
in attempting to enter New Inlet, off Fort Fisher, got
aground. She is laden with powder, rifles and rifle
cannon. The enemy are shelling her. We have sunk her to
wet the powder and prevent an explosion. Have sent down
steamers to aid and push to save some of the cargo. She
is three-quarters of a mile from shore, which prevents
us keeping the enemy's vessels far enough off to prevent
their shelling her." So wrote Confederate Brigadier
General S.G. French at Wilmington following the vessel's
grounding in the early hours of June 27th, 1862.
The freighter, built at Pearson's yard in
Stockton, was originally for the Hull to Baltic timber
trade, but had been purchased that year, three years
after construction, by the one-time Mayor of Hull,
Zacharia C. Pearson.
Pearson it was who had scented the
potential profits to British business via successful
blockade running ventures. He had set up the London
registered company of Z.C. Pearson & Co. and was
actively engaged in the trade through the Bermuda based
'middle man', John T. Bourne.
The 'Modern Greece' was only
marginally suitable for blockade running. With a depth
of 17 feet 2 inches allied to her length and breadth of
210 and 29 feet respectively, she was a large vessel for
No doubt with profit as its prime motive,
Pearson was attracted to the vessel's capacity of 753
tons though, and with speculative gains of over 100 per
cent from a successful round trip, Pearson and his
cohorts presumably relished the anticipated good news.
On May 16th 1862, the U.S. Consul at Falmouth reported
"...the departure of the 'Modern Greece' from
that port on the 2nd ultimo with a cargo, it is
suspected, for the rebels." Bound ostensibly for the
Mexican port of Tampico, the 'Modern Greece',
camouflaged in a slate grey paint, undertook the most
hazardous part of its mission as dawn broke off the
North Carolina coastline amidst the hazy first hours of
June 27th 1862.
Approaching New Inlet that murky morn, she
was spotted by two U.S. patrolling ships, the U.S.S.
'Stars & Stripes' and the U.S.S.
'Cambridge', which immediately opened fire with its
parrott gun. The 'Modern Greece' responded in
the only way she could, by hoisting the British flag and
making full steam ahead for the protection of Fort
Fisher's guns by running parallel to shore. Initially,
this plan succeeded but about half a mile from the Fort,
the steamer ran hard aground whilst under heavy Yankee
Orders were given to abandon ship and this
the British crew did. The 'Cambridge' continued
firing upon the stricken vessel for several hours
afterwards - ceasing to enable her jubilant crew to
breakfast - until a total of 106 rounds had been fired.
This shelling effectively sunk the 'Modem Greece',
and by August 17th her spar deck was level with the
waterline, with only smokestacks and masts still
standing. Her hull, it was noted, had already settled
into the sandy seabed.
The resourceful Confederates, however,
were eager to salvage everything possible from the cargo
and had soon begun an extensive operation to recover
munitions and supplies from the vessel's holds.
Official reports from both sides survive
today detailing the types of cargo saved, the
non-military part of which was auctioned, as 'The
Wilmington Journal' of June 30th, 1862 records: "We
understand a large proportion of the cargo of the Modem
Greece advertised for sale at auction 8th inst. is in a
damaged condition, and we are requested to say
catalogues of that saved in good order will be prepared
as soon as the ship is discharged, and the quantity
Following the sale of all salvaged
non-military goods from the 'Modern Greece' her
usable military artifacts, including engines, rifled
cannon, Enfield muskets and some powder, the ship passed
into history, or so it seemed.
The vessel's location, covered in sand
around thirty feet down, had been passed down the
generations until, in early spring 1962, a fierce storm
ravaged the North Carolina coast. The high winds and
water managed to uncover the sand from the wreck and
shortly after divers from the Naval Ordnance School in
Maryland inspected the ship's remains. Their prognosis
was encouraging, stating that the hull had been cleared
of sand to below the main deck and that the cargo was
Several U.S. departments soon became
involved and navy divers began to salvage this cargo
from the wreck, commencing on March 15th off a rented
shrimp boat 'Wayne R'. Seventeen Enfield
rifles, 3 Whitworth shells, a triangular bayonet,
several saber bayonets and a ship's anchor were
recovered in the first three days of diving.
Eventually articles such as lead for shot,
hardware of all description, house wares, surgical goods
and instruments, tin, steel sheet, wire, plus military
goods were salvaged from the wreck. Many of these
articles are displayed at the state of North Carolina's
official museum site. Among her cargo were items from
several Liverpool manufacturers including Newton Keates
& Co and Newton Lyon & Co.