“The Hell Ship” — The Tragic Story of the “Chapman” Convict Ship 1817

By Oxley Batman 1952

Fear caused the death of 12 men in the transport Chapman.

THE transport Chapman was a reasonably happy ship, as convict transports went, until a convict named Michael Collins decided to feather his own nest. Hoping for favors, he told Captain Drake a lurid story of a planned rising among the convicts.

That story began a series of tragic events which ended in 12 convicts being killed, 30 wounded, and the others starved and ill-treated for the remainder of the voyage.

Governor Macquarie’s secretary, Mr. Campbell, mustered the convicts when the Chapman reached Sydney in July, 1817, and was appalled by the reports he heard from them.

Macquarie ordered an immediate inquiry and wrote to the authorities in London. Macquarie placed equal blame on Captain Drake, his officers, Surgeon Dewar (the officer in charge of the convicts), and Lieutenant Busteed, commanding the military escort.

These officers, he alleged, had shown “wanton, indiscriminate and unprovoked cruelty toward the miserably unfortunate men entrusted to their charge.”

The evidence at the inquiry was shocking. From the time Collins told his story, the seamen and soldiers were in a state of panic. Every unusual noise, and many quite common noises, from the convict quarters were magnified into mutinies.

At last, on April 18, a cook on sentry duty near the convicts shouted an alarm. Seamen and troops rushed to arms and fired indiscriminately through the bulkheads.

Terry Kiernan, a convict, told the court of inquiry that most of the convicts were in bed, and all were in irons when the shooting began.

He heard third mate Baxter shout, “Fire away, boys, and kill them all.” The firing continued for an hour and a half, although the convicts had cried for quarter from the fourth shot.

Even then the frightened crew would not enter the convict quarters. The wounded and dying convicts, floundering in the dark, bled and suffered until dawn when a strong armed party ventured in.

The dead were thrown overboard, the wounded taken to hospital and the remainder double-ironed.

Four men, arbitrarily declared to be ringleaders of the “mutiny,” were taken to the deck and chained in the open. One of them, William Leo, said Dewar told him they would be kept there in all weathers until they reached Port Jackson.

The seamen put a rope around Leo’s body and threw him over board. Eleven times they let him sink under the water, then dragged him back again.

When he was dragged back on the deck, more dead than alive, soldiers pricked him with bayonets until the sergeant intervened.

On top of all that, he was given 42 lashes — and Dewar ordered brine to be poured on his bleeding back. Later, Leo said, during a second minor panic, Baxter ran up with a musket and shot one of the four chained men on deck.

The ship’s log supplied damning evidence of brutality. The day after the shooting, Captain Drake flogged 10 convicts — and one of his crew who was seen talking to a convict.

He punished 46 more convicts the next day; 33 convicts the day after that.

Thomas Higgins was given 24 lashes for telling a seaman, “It isn’t over yet.” Thomas Hall got 24 lashes for “rattling his chains and alarming the sentry.”

There was another panic one night when a few convicts rolled in bed at the same time causing a rattling of chains.

The following night someone shouted an alarm, “The convicts are rushing aft.” Another convict was killed and four wounded before Drake and Busteed could check  their frightened men. 

The officers used the excuse of a mutiny to put the convicts on half rations-and pocket the profits. Dewar told Kiernan, “If any one complains about rations I won’t flog him. I’ll shoot him.” 

Kiernan was flogged for breaking a link of his chains so that he could remove his trousers and get rid of vermin. He was flogged for speaking to Dewar in Latin. 

Only two or three men of the 200 convicts on board escaped a flogging during the voyage, he said. 

In desperation, to allay the fears of the crew, the convicts asked that they be chained to a cable at night. This, they thought, would free them from the incessant flogging. 

But convicts who coughed on the chain were flogged (Baxter said they had “insinuating coughs”). If they rattled their chains unduly they were flogged; if they wedged their clothes on the chain to stop rattling they were flogged. 

The frightened crew would not give the convicts knives to eat their meat. Some broke off the handles of their tin mugs to cut up their tough meat-and were flogged for it. 

The ship’s officers blamed each other. Lieutenant Busteed said Captain Drake was drunk “a good deal of the time,” and had no control over his men. On the night of the firing, they said, Drake “seemed very far gone in liquor.” 

Captain Drake said he had no doubt a “most horrid conspiracy” existed among the convicts. Busteed’s troops, he added, “were in a mutinous and disorderly state and my own crew could not be trusted.” 

They had fired without orders, he complained, and would not stop when he intervened. 

Campbell returned a withering report. 

Apart from the killings, the floggings and starvation — the convicts were on half-rations for three months — the chaining of 76 men to a cable all night was inhumane, he said. 

“Let a humane man figure to himself a fellow-creature, double-chained to a cable and handcuffed for three months — except when he was taken off to be flogged,” Campbell wrote. 

“This was inhuman, barbarous, and cruel beyond all reason — even a mutiny could not justify it.” 

But the other members of the court — Judge-Advocate Wyld and Police Magistrate D’Arcy Wentworth — reported to Macquarie that no criminal charges could succeed against the officers of the Chapman. 

Macquarie, who had intended to send them all home in irons to face trial for murder, wrote bitterly to London about the inadequacy of the report. 

Captain Drake took action to sue Macquarie for unlawfully detaining his ship during the inquiry. 

Macquarie sent Busteed and Dewar home under open arrest, together with three soldiers and a group of convict and military witnesses. 

But he knew no one would be adequately punished. Convict lives were cheap in 1817.

CHARGE OF MURDER ON BOARD A CONVICT SHIP
The Edinburgh Annual Register 1819

Admiralty Sessions, Monday, January 11, 1819

James Clements and John Drake were put to the bar, and arraigned for the wilful murder of John M’Ardle, on the 28th of April 1817, off St Jago, on board a convict ship called the Chapman, on the High Seas. The prisoners both pleaded Not guilty.

Sir Christopher Robinson, the King’s Advocate, opened the case to the Jury. He observed, that no subject of greater difficulty than the present case could be presented before any Court; the question now to be decided being, whether the prisoners at the bar had not gone much beyond the power entrusted to them. The prisoner John Drake was Captain of the convict-ship Chapman, on board which the murder was committed; and it was but fair to state, with regard to him, that this case had undergone some kind of investigation at Botany Bay. In consequence of an application to a Supreme Tribunal, the Captain had been allowed to go on bail; and he had this day surrendered himself to the laws of his country. The ship Chapman sailed from Cork on the 14th of March 1817, with about two hundred convicts, a crew nearly as numerous, and forty soldiers. For the first three weeks after the departure of the vessel nothing particular occurred; but on the 17th of April, a melancholy conflict occurred between the commander of the vessel and the convicts, under the supposition of an insurrection on the part of the convicts, and the consequence was the loss of many lives. This occurrence was not yet made the subject of a separate indictment. The principal transaction was that of the 28th of April, and to this the evidence would be chiefly directed. The leading testimony against the prisoner was that of the convicts, (who for this purpose had received the King’s pardon), confirmed, however, as they probably would be, in the most material circumstances, by the soldiers, against whose evidence the same suspicion would not exist.

The Attorney-General, Mr Gaselee, and Mr Reynolds, were also counsel for the prosecution. The first witness called was Terence Kiernan. — He stated, that in March 1817, he was shipped on board a vessel called the Chapman, in the Cove of Cork. Several other convicts besides himself were shipped for Botany Bay, on board the Chapman. There were about two hundred convicts in all. The prisoner at the bar, John Drake, was Captain of the Chapman, and Clements was a marine on board the ship. After having sailed from St Jago, on the night of the 17th of April, a contest took place. He was not certain of the day, as he was not allowed to keep a log-book. Any convict with writing in his possession, he said, was immediately brought upon deck and put to death. On the 17th of April, several of the irons of the convicts were broken, and witness’s among the rest. On this day there was a great contest; and on the 27th or 28th of April following, another firing took place. The greater part of the convicts were confined between decks. Before the firing commenced on the 27th of April, he was in his birth, close to the deck on the star-board side, when he heard Baxter (one of the officers of the ship) say to Clements, “Are you there?” Clements said, “I am.” Baxter then said, “Raise a false alarm, and we will kill every bl–dy one of them.” Clements said, “We will; but it is too soon yet. Wait till the gentlemen go to bed, and then we will have more time.” Baxter replied, “It is a very good time now; the gentlemen are all in their cabins; and when you begin, don’t be commanded by Captain, Doctor, or Officers, and I’ll be accountable.” He then heard a sound, which he supposed to be the drawing of a ramrod. Witness lay in his birth, under the starboard fore-scuttle. He heard Clements use some expression about the Irish, and said, “I will let go.” He then put the muzzle of his gun down the scuttle, and fired his piece. The firing then became general, and it lasted nearly a hour and a half. Witness continued in his birth all the time, and never left it. Some time after the firing had ceased, Baxter, accompanied with soldiers, came among the convicts, and he there saw his messmate, John M’Ardle, dead in his birth. He appeared to have been killed by a bullet fired from some piece. The ball entered at the bottom of his stomach, and remained in his body. He believed the shot which killed this man had come from the soldiers’ apartment.

Cross-examined by Mr Common-Sergeant. — He never was in any gaol before the larceny for which he had been transported. He knew a man of the name of Crawley, a sailor on board the Chapman, who was put in irons for giving instruments to the convicts to break their irons. Witness himself broke his middle iron with a broom stick, and he saw seven or eight other convicts with their irons broken. Witness broke his irons before he arrived at St Jago, and before the 27th of April there were not one hundred and twenty convicts with their irons broken. He recollected a lever, and piece of tin in the shape of a knife, being found in the birth of himself and his messmate. He was flogged for this offence, and received a double punishment for speaking Latin to the Doctor. The Doctor said, “You are a good scholar, but a d–d rascal, and shall receive double punishment for it.” The convicts made pieces of tin into knives to cut their meat, not being allowed knives. There was a Bible in the convict prison, but he never heard any oath administered. Dr Dewar and Michael Collins had said, that oaths had been taken by the convicts to be true to themselves, and to take the ship. Collins was a convict himself. There was a convict also of the name of Francis Murphy. Witness never heard Murphy say that it was his intention to murder all the crew. Baxter, the officer, died on the voyage home. After the firing of the 17th he never saw any attempt to force the prison door. The door was perforated in many places, and he supposed one of the bullets must have hit one of the hinges, as next morning he saw the door hanging on one hinge.

Examined by the Bench. — He was designed by his father for the Church of Rome. The Bible found was not his property, but that of a Mr MacCoster. The muzzles of the muskets were fixed between the gratings of the hatchway. He did not see Clement fire down into the prison and only imagined he had done so by what he had said. To the best of his belief there were about twenty irons found broken. The soldiers had frequently ill used the convicts, and witness had refused to go on deck to get his allowance of wine in consequence of it. Until the 17th of April the convicts had nothing to complain of. Witness lay in a birth next to the deck.

Thomas Kelly was next called and stated that he was also a convict on board the Chapman in March 1817. On the 27th of April, about 8 o’clock at night, he lay in the upper birth of the starboard fore-scuttle. While in this situation he heard Clements ask who was that talking Irish below? One of the convicts answered that there was no one talking Irish. Clements then said, “If you do not keep quiet, I will let go.” He immediately fired his musket. Witness saw the flash, but not the muzzle, of the gun. Witness had been wounded in the contest of the 17th of April. The general firing commenced a minute or two after the first gun was fired, and continued for about two hours. The convicts cried out for mercy. John M’Ardle was killed in his birth, and witness’s brother, Bryan Kelly, also received a mortal wound.

Cross-examined. — When on board the ship, he never saw anyone sworn to murder the crew or to do anything else.

Examined by the Bench. — Witness slept in the upper birth, and Terence Kiernan slept under him in the lower birth. There were two tiers of births in the ship. Witness, although he lay so near the deck, heard no conversation between Baxter and Clements.

Michael Wood also a convict, was on board the Chapman. On the night of the 27th of April, he was in his birth, and heard Clements ask what noise there was below? A convict of the name of Murray said that there was no noise. Clements repeated twice that he would let go, and then fired his musket. The firing then commenced from the fore, after, and main hatchways. It lasted for more than an hour. There were six wounded in this affair of the 28th of April. The chain cable was so placed as to prevent persons below from coming on deck. The anchor was placed on the scuttle.

Cross-examined. — He heard no conversation on deck. He heard no threat among the convicts to throw the soldiery overboard, nor did he see any locks picked. He saw no convict with his irons broken. Dr Dewar had the irons taken off about thirty-five convicts because they were poorly. He never said to Jesse Warburton that there was a conspiracy among the convicts to seize the ship, murder the officers and crew, and carry the vessel to America.

John Brown, one of the marines on board the Chapman, was placed on guard on the 28th April. He was in the cabin when the firing commenced. He heard a rushing down below. He came out, and heard it said that the convicts had got upon deck. It was quite dark, and he heard a great noise. He heard no orders given by Capt. Drake. The firing continued about ten minutes. After the firing ceased, he saw Captain Drake on the quarter-deck.

Cross-examined. — The soldiers, and himself among them, slept upon their arms for six weeks, for fear of being murdered by the prisoners. As soon as the ship had passed St Jago, all the crew thought their lives in danger. It was the intention of the convicts to take the ship, and murder all the crew. After the firing on the 28th, witness went down into the prison among the convicts with Mr Baxter, and one of the convicts addressing Baxter said, “You may thank Corporal Brown (witness) for being present, or we would blanket you;” and witness understood this expression as an intimation that they would smother him.

George Cook was another marine on board the Chapman. On the night of the 28th of April, the first thing he heard was a report of a musket. The firing lasted for almost ten minutes. He did not know by whose orders the firing commenced, and did not see Captain Drake till after the firing was over.

Cross-examined. — He believed if the firing had not commenced, the ship would have been taken, and the crew murdered. He heard the convicts say, “Fire away, fire away; your ammunition will soon be gone, and we will take the ship.” He heard a rush of the convicts in a body against the prison-door, and it was forced off the hinges. They had then only to break through the bulk-head to get possession of the magazine of arms and ammunition. Collins, one of the convicts, stated, that the day after the ship left St Jago, it was their intention to take the ship, had not the Northumberland seventy-four gun-ship hove in sight. It was intended (Collins added) to throw the sentinels down the hatchway, to fasten the officers down in the cabin, and to seize the arms. Between the nights of the 17th and 28th of April several gun-flints and locks had been taken from the guns of the sentinels, and ten rounds of cartridges were abstracted. Collins also said that a feint attack was intended to be made, and the main body was to follow and take the ship.

This closed the evidence for the prosecution.

Mr. Justice Park said, that as no evidence had been adduced affecting Captain Drake, he should not call upon him for his defence.

The Attorney-General suggested, whether it would not be proper, with respect to Clements, to ask the opinion of the jury whether the story told against him was believed.

Mr. Justice Best. — Which of the stories do you mean, Mr. Attorney, for they all contradict each other?

The jury declared their opinion, that there was no occasion to put either of the prisoners upon their defence, and they were consequently acquitted.

CHARGE OF MURDER ON BOARD A CONVICT SHIP
The Edinburgh Annual Register 1819

Admiralty Sessions, Tuesday, January 12, 1819.

John Drake, Alexander Dewar, and Christopher Bustead, were indicted for the wilful murder of Daniel M’Cormick, on board the convict ship Chapman, on the 17th of April 1817, being then on the High Seas.

Sir Christopher Robinson stated the case to the jury at considerable length, but we will not follow him in the detail, nor do we think it necessary to go minutely into the evidence, it being nearly the same as that given in the preceding trial, the case having grown out of similar circumstances, though not applying to the same individuals. The prisoner Drake, the Captain, was, as our readers will observe, acquitted of the murder of M’Ardle. Mr Dewar was the surgeon of the Chapman; and Mr Bustead was the officer who commanded the troops on board.

Patrick Smith was a prisoner on board the Chapman in April 1817. There were about 200 persons on board altogether. He remembered the 17th of April. He was in bed about 9 o’clock on the night of that day, and was alarmed by the report of a gun; after that he had heard several more: it appeared as if proceeding down the main hatch. He heard the soldiers run over the deck, and the cry was raised of “Mind the fore hatch,” “Mind the main hatch,” &c., and then the firing continued very briskly for nearly two hours. He did not remember any particular remarks made at the time by the soldiers, but about the close of it he heard the prisoner, Captain Drake, give orders to cease firing. He heard not the least noise among the prisoners before the firing commenced. He was not amongst the prisoners; being allowed to act as surgeon’s mate, he was permitted to sleep in the sick-bay. After the firing had nearly ceased, he heard the convicts cry out, “Mercy,” “Mercy,” several times. He heard nothing but moans after that for the night. In the morning, he saw MacCormick with two other persons brought in; M’Cormick was dead. The prisoner Dewar came down the morning earlier than usual. Witness heard him say to the convicts, “You brought it upon yourselves.” 

Cross-examined by the Common Sergeant. — Did not hear the convicts confess that they had brought it upon themselves. They made no answer to the charge of having brought it upon themselves. He always heard the convicts say they were innocent. He persisted in saying that there was no rush of the prisoners before the firing commenced. There was none near the part where he was; and if there had been any, he must have heard it. In the morning, he saw the door of the bulk-head somewhat damaged, but that was caused by the firing. One ball had struck the box into which the bolt shot, and broke it; and two others struck the hinge, so that the door fell open. He never heard that the guard was turned up twice on the night of the 12th, five days before the present transaction. He knew Hoyle, one of the convicts, and heard him complain of having been severely used by his fellow-prisoners. This was before the 17th. He did not hear him say that this ill usage was caused by his having refused to take an oath. He heard the convicts charged with administering oaths to each other, but he knew of no such oaths. 

By the Court. — He never heard of any disturbance before the 17th. He knew that several of the convicts had got off their irons. There were less than 80 in that situation. There were some men punished before the 17th, but he did not recollect that it was for breaking their irons. 

John Fagan examined by Mr Gaselee. — Was a convict on board the Chapman, and was in the habit of occasionally assisting the Doctor in the hospital. His account of the firing and of the conduct of the convicts was nearly similar to that given by the last witness.

In his cross-examination, he said he did not know of any misconduct on the part of the convicts. About five days before the 17th he heard an alarm on deck, and a shot fired, but could not say what was the cause.

Francis Murphy examined by Mr. Reynolds. — Witness was a convict on board the Chapman, on the 17th of April. There was a muster of the prisoners that morning, but it was not to examine their irons. He went to bed about seven o’clock. Not many of the convicts then remained up. About nine he heard a running on deck, and soon after that a firing down the main hatchway. Baxter, the third mate, thrust a cutlass down the scuttle, and cried out, “you d–d convicted villains, are you coming on deck? but we are ready for you.” Witness heard Lieutenant Bustead say, “Fire away;” and Captain Drake said, “You d–d convicted villains, we shall soon be between decks with you; we’ll fire amongst you and scatter you.” The convicts cried out for mercy several times. There had been no noise among them more than usual, on the early part of that night. 

Cross-examined by Mr Alley. — He had been in three gaols in Ireland, and was bred up in the victualling line, but was never a doctor. He did not know that he was to be doctor when the ship was taken and the crew murdered. Dr Dewar charged him with such an intention, but it was not the case. He never confessed to any person that he was to be doctor, or that the guard and crew were to be murdered. He was called upon deck the day after the firing, placed upon his knees, and a blunderbuss presented to his head by Baxter, who told him he would blow his brains out, unless he confessed. He was then asked, whether he did not know that a plan had been laid to take the ship, and murder the crew. He never said to several persons on that occasion, “It was God’s truth, that it was the intention of the convicts to murder the officers and guard.” He was certain he never said any thing like it to any body. He never went round for the purpose of administering an oath, and never saw or heard of one being administered. On the 16th, there was a muster for examining the irons. There were only six or seven persons with their irons filed off. He did not hear Captain Drake say, “Soldiers, cease firing, and we shall see whether we cannot make them quiet by going below.” 

Peter Allen, a man of colour, (examined by Sir C. Robinson,) was also a convict on board the Chapman. He remembered the 17th of April. On the night of that day he heard one of the soldiers call out to Captain Drake that there were some men at the hatchway; to which the Captain replied, “Fire away.” The firing then commenced, and continued till he was wounded. After that he could not tell what passed, having been rendered speechless and insensible by the shot. There had been no previous disturbance among the prisoners. The next morning he was called upon deck by Captain Drake, and told to confess who were the ringleaders of the mutiny, but he said he knew nothing of it. He was then told to prepare for death, but was afterwards sent below. 

Cross-examined by the Common Sergeant. — He had heard of the guard being called up a few evenings before the 17th. There was a row, which he heard was caused by some of the convicts attempting to get on deck by the cable scuttle. He never saw any person attempt to get up. 

By the Court. — There were only two or three up when he went to bed; but he admitted that, in his depositions before the Magistrates, he had sworn there were twenty convicts up at that time.

John Ryan, examined by the Attorney-General. — Was a convict on board the Chapman, and remembered the 17th of April. There had been no noise or disturbance of any kind among the prisoners before the firing commenced.

Cross-examined by Mr Alley. — Witness was examined in the cabin a few days after the 17th. On that occasion he acknowledged that Morrison, M’Laughlin, Peter Allen, and some others, were the ringleaders of the mutiny, and that the object was to murder the Captain and crew, and to take the ship. He also said on that occasion, that the reason why the 17th was fixed upon was, that they would then be near the Line, and of course nearer to the coast of America. The whole of the crew were to be murdered, with the exception of one sailor, who was to be kept as long as there was any use for him, and then to be thrown overboard. A hundred of the convicts were to be kept with irons on, in order to deceive any King’s ship which might board them. Frank Murphy (one of the witnesses) was to be a doctor, Morrison to be captain, and Peter Allen (another witness) was to be chief mate. The plan was, (as he said then), that a feint attack was to be made on one part of the ship, the better to cover the real one, which was to be made on another part. He told all this at the time, merely to save his life. He told all this at the time, merely to save his life. He told the same story when he arrived in harbour to Mr. Campbell, the Secretary to the Governor; but when he got on shore he denied it all, because it was not true.

Re-examined by the Attorney-General. — The story he told to the Captain was not true. He told it to save his life. Collins, (another convict,) who had been called into the cabin, was in it when witness entered. The Doctor and the Captain asked him to say all he knew about it, but he said that he was as ignorant of any thing about a mutiny as the child unborn. The Doctor said, “I’ll make you know: you shall be flogged first and shot after.” The Captain then came, and importuned him to tell what he knew, adding, that he would save his life by confessing as Collins did; that he would be sent home, and should have a great deal of money. He then confessed all that Collins told him, but it was not true. He told the same thing to Mr Campbell, but he was then a prisoner.

To a question by the Court, he answered, that he was not in irons, but could walk about along with the sailors.

William Lea examined by Mr Gaselee. — He remembered the night of the firing: it lasted about two hours and a half. He was brought on deck the next morning, put on his knees along with others, and was told, that as he was the greatest rascal he should die first. He was then asked whether he had a cap to pull over his eyes. He said no, and one of the sergeants pulled his shirt over his head. He was then informed that he had but ten minutes to live, and desired to confess. He told them he had nothing to say, but was ready to die, and they might fire away as soon as they liked. He was asked whether he would take his oath that he had not been sworn as to the mutiny. He said he did not wish to be sworn, as he was going to die. The Doctor then said that they (the soldiers) might fire away as soon as they pleased. He was after that taken up by the Doctor and ordered to be flogged; but he was not flogged. He was tied to a rope and thrown astern, and towed after the ship for some time. He was ducked nine or ten times. This was by the Doctor’s order. When he was taken on board he was not able to speak or hear. He was frequently afterwards punished, and was kept chained to the poop for fourteen weeks, until they were within a few days’ sail of New South Wales. On one occasion, he made some confessions to the Doctor; but he did so to save his life, and what he said was not true. He only answered yes or no to the questions put by the Doctor.

Cross-examined by the Common Sergeant. — He used sometimes to work for the armourer, but never took any tools from him. He was put in irons the day before the firing, and was afterwards told that it was in consequence of his having been accused as one of the ringleaders.

Examined by the Court. — When he was asked by the Doctor who was to be armourer of the ship, he said that he was. When asked, where the ship was to be taken, he said to America. He had said before that no person had told him anything of the mutiny, and that he only answered yes or no to the questions of the Doctor. He now said that his memory was bad, and he could not recollect positively.

Thomas Turner, a soldier of the guard on board the Chapman, remembered the night of the 17th of April, as he was on duty from six to eight o’clock. He got orders to fire if the prisoners should attempt to come up. He got no orders on that night different from those he received on other occasions. He heard a noise in the prisons below, as if a rush was made fore and aft. He called down to the convicts, to know what was the matter, but received no answer. He then heard some of the soldiers say, that the convicts were forcing the bulk-head. Soon after this he heard the firing. It was towards the sick-bay. He heard no orders given to fire, and could not say whether it was commenced by the soldiers or sailors. The firing lasted about a quarter of an hour. He did not see any of the convicts until after the firing had ceased. He then saw some of the them come round under the main hatchway, and heard them cry out for mercy, and say it was their own fault for beginning it. During the firing he did not see any of the three prisoners at the bar.

Cross-examined by Mr Alley. — When the convicts begged for mercy, and said it was their fault, mercy was shewn to them. There was a number of persons dressed, and walking about; they did not appear as if they had been in bed. There was a great noise, as of a violent rush. He remembered the inspection of the irons on the 12th. The rivets of many of them had been filed off, and some rope-yarn stuffed into the place of them. By this means they thought to pass muster, and when they got down they could easily shake their irons off. About sixty of them were found with their irons off one morning. They frequently broke them after their being repaired. On the day after the firing, he found the bar under the scuttle had been bent, which must have bend one from below. If those bars had been removed, the convicts could have come on deck four at a time. There was such confusion on deck, that the soldiers did not know for some time whether the ship was their own, or in possession of the convicts.

By the Court. — The lock and hinge of the door of the partition were broken; not as if struck by a bullet, but by force of another kind. During the confusion, he heard some person in the prison say, that if the convicts could get the upper hand, they would give no quarter.

Richard Vickary was a soldier on board the Chapman. The prisoner Lieutenant Bustead, was his commander. On the night of the 17th of April, the sick-bay door was broken open, and he heard a rush. All the soldiers were ordered to arms, and to muster on the quarter-deck. In about five minutes after, the firing commenced; and during the firing, Bustead was the only one of the prisoners he saw.

Cross-examined. — There was a rush aft and a-head at the same time. The soldiers all thought their lives were in danger; and if the convicts had got possession of the ship, none of the crew would have been left alive.

The evidence having proceeded thus far, Mr Justice Best addressed the jury, observing, that the Learned Counsel, on the part of the prosecution, at the suggestion of himself and his learned brother, had refrained from calling any more witnesses until the opinion of the gentlemen of the jury had been known. It was the opinion of the Bench, that the provocation in this case given by the convicts completely justified the rigorous measures taken to quell this insurrection.

The jury immediately acquitted all the prisoners, and they were consequently discharged.

Sources:

  1. Hell Ship (1952, January 19). The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955), p. 13.
  2. Charge of Murder On Board a Convict Ship. The Edinburgh Annual Register 1819 Vol. 12 Parts I. and II. p. 52
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.