Thomas progressed from the slums of Manchester to finally stand his watch in the engine room of the most famous confederate warship of all time.
In 1849, their grandfather, Captain James McDowell, in his search for his daughter Anne, found her children Thomas and Anne Wheeler within the Manchester Workhouse, where they had been since the death of their mother in 1845. Their lives were changed completely after their rescue and introduced to their relations, in Manchester and finally in Birkenhead where they lived, went to school and Thomas started his apprenticeship in Lairds Iron Works.
Thomas had always loved engineering, after a short voyage in his grandfather's ship, he fell in love with the sea, his desire was to become a marine engineer.
Out of his time in 1862, having worked on one of Laird's ships, numbered "290", he decided to join her. With only two engineers aboard, "290" sailed from the Mersey in July. She twice narrowly escaped USS Tuscarora before reaching the Azores, where she was armed and took on her Confederate officers, and renamed CSS Alabama. Captain Semmes proceeded to cause havoc within the merchant marine of the US. Junior Engineer Thomas Wheeler, had cause to worry during the battle, when Alabama sank the warship USS Hatteras.