1862 and a second Confederate cruiser is nearing completion at the John Laird shipyard in Birkenhead on the River Mersey. Known only as the Hull '290', this new ship is viewed with deep suspicion by the American Consul, representing the Union North. The '290' is being purchased under a private contract by Commander James Dunwoody Bulloch, CSN, an experienced naval officer and now Confederate Purchasing Agent; but Vice Admiral Seymour RN suspects that Union agents are also operating in Britain with an aim to destroy the new ship and assassinate James Bulloch.
Cornelius Quinn, a former sergeant with the Indian Army is awaiting execution for the murder of a fellow NCO. Quinn has been transported back to England and is incarcerated on the prison hulk Aurora. Seymour arranges for Quinn to be freed with the promise of a pardon. His task is to protect James Bulloch and the '290' at all costs!