Seamus Breathnach’s examines Irish society through its norm-creating as well as its norm-breaking agencies. These include the Church controls of Ireland’s State -- its Schools, Law, Police, Courts, Prisons, Media and much more...


5.) Crime and punishment in 19th century Ireland.

5a.) The Riddle of the Caswell Mutiny (1875)

5b.) The Maam Trasna Murders (1882)


For a country surrounded by water there is little or no theme in Irishcriminology which addresses that fact. Seldom does one, therefore, run across a murder or a mutiny that was played out on the local stage, as it were. Sea-faring murders and exploits , it seems, belong to a shadowy history that no one quite remembers past the mention of Brien Boru and the Danes at Clontarf.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered this beauty in the National Archives. I felt an immediate compulsion to see it through, gather what papers there were available on it, and record it. My only regret was that the Archives could not produce the original map and sketch which was presented at the first trial; and no matter how I sought to find it – for it must be there, somewhere – nothing was forthcoming.Fortunately, as can be seen from the following extracts, an image of the real Caswell (which occupies pride of place on the book cover)as well as images of the dramatis personae, were retrievable from all kinds of unlikely places ,and with the assistance of several of those herein acknowledged.Out of small references, therefore, the story led on to two major mutiny trials in Cork in the mid-1870s – the first into the behaviour of Emmanuel Bombos, a young Greek, and, the second into the part played by Joseph Pistoria, a Sicilian. These trials afforded us some rare accounts of nineteenth century executions, and account of the attitudes of the public – the people of Cork particularly -- to the fate of the unfortunate offenders.There is no disguising the brutality of the mutiny or the ferocity of the counter-mutiny. Nevertheless, they cannot be dislocated from the prevailing attitudes of sailors at the time, or the prevailing attitudes to sailors, especially Greeks and Turkish sailors. Neither can the personality of Captain George Best be left out of the equation. In an extended Introduction I have tried to deal with the historical aspects of these ‘roles’, fully aware of the fact that words cannot replace actions.What follows here is a Synopsis, Acknowledgements, and an Introduction to the story of The Riddle of The Caswell Mutiny.



In December 1875 captain George ‘‘Bully’ Best found himself in Buenos Aires without a crew and without a cargo. His men had for the most part deserted him. Before making his way to Antofogasta, where he loaded up with Saltpeter (nitrate), he recruited a‘ mixed crew’ of Greeks and British.

The British refused to sail with the Greeks, and rather than allow them onshore to see the British Consul, captain Best beat them and put them in irons.. Even before the Caswell sailed for Queenstown on January 1 1876, an Irishman and a German jumped ship and were never heard of again.Obvious tensions might lead one to expect a British mutiny. And perhaps this might have happened had not the Greeks beaten them to it. For some unexplained reason the Greeks, under the influence of 'Big George' Peno, mutinied and killed the captain, the first and second mates, and the black Welsh steward. All four bodies were lashed to an anchor and thrown overboard.By February two of the mutineers, the brothers Pistoria, escaped by boat up the river Plate to Buenos Aires. The remainder drifted under Greek command until March 11th, when the British counter mutinied and killed two of their captors. A third mutineer was brought back to Queenstown to be tried for Murder on the High Seas.Young Christos Emmanuel Bombos found himself imprisoned with a sixty three year old Fenian named Thomas Crowe. Both men provided the spectacle of a 'double hanging' in Cork's male prison. A full eyewitness account is given of the executions, which happen to be one of the most striking events in nineteenth century penological literature.Three years later one of the escaped mutineers was arrested in Monte Video and a second trial was staged in Cork.Of the sixteen persons who set out from Buenos Aires:*two jumped ship;*four were murdered in the mutiny; *two were murdered in the countermutiny;*one was hanged in 1876 and another in 1879;

*and six returned to tell the tale.

The Riddle Of The Caswell Mutiny

Seamus Breathnach

* Paperback: 268 pages

* Publisher: Universal Publishers; (June 2003)

* ISBN: 1581125771









Chapter 1:

An Old Crew


Chapter 2:

A New Crew


Chapter 3:



Chapter 4:



Chapter 5:

The Trials of Bombos


Chapter 6:

Letters And Petitions


Chapter 7:

The Case Of Thomas Crowe


Chapter 8:

A Double Execution


Chapter 9:

Hue And Cry The Caswell


Chapter 10:

The Trial Of Joseph Pistoria (Alias Francesco Moschara)


Chapter 11:

The Execution of Francesco Moschara (Alias Joseph Pistoria)


Chapter 12:

Aftermath And Epilogue


Appendix A



Caswell Calendar










ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSAs might be imagined I have many debts to pay for kindnesses rendered while compiling this book.Amongst these creditors is my friend Padraigh O Snodaigh to whom I am indebted for more years than I care to remember. The debts extend as much for casual as for studied contributions over the years. At present I am indebted to him for reading the script before completion and for making some suggestions.I wish to thank Niall O Cearbhaill for reading a further draft, not to mention those O Snodaigh-inspired discourses at Club an Chonartha.I wish to thank Tom Rice for his comments and his companionship, the exchanges in the Eire Og Football Clubhouse, the post-prandial analyses in Teach Dolman and elsewhere in Carlow.I wish to thank Frank Taaffe for opening his considerable library to me, his family for support, and to Brid for making my sojourns and stopovers in Athy so pleasant and memorable.I also wish to thank Larry Darcy, Martina Darcy, ‘Pod’ Shaw, Mary Walsh, Betty Byrne, Monica-Byrne O’Malley, Stephen Fleming, Jacinta Schweppe, and 'Patsy' Hearns for their encouragement, enthusiasm and humour.I owe much to the National Archives, to the front desk operatives, and to Gregory O’Connor in particular for his earlier advices and assistance.I wish to pay special thanks to Cobh Library and to the Belfast, Dunlaoire, and Cobh Maritime Museums.

My gratitude to Penny Rudkin (of the Special Collections Library, Southampton City Council, Civic Centre, Southampton, SO14 7LW) for some useful hints and, in particular, for informing me of the exhibition, ‘Under sail - Swansea cutters, tall ships and seascapes 1830-1880,’ which was held at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Alexandra Road, Swansea.


Fear of the contingency of life is part of the human condition. While controlling some things that govern our lives we acknowledge the existence of other forces about which we can do little or nothing. In every walk of life people have to make choices, even when they are not in full possession of the facts. In this sense each of us enters endless relations without our will, knowing that we never have full possession of ‘all the facts.’

This fact of life is no less true for sailors, who live a life at sea, and in the 1870s they had their own peculiar concerns with which to cope. For our purposes -- which is to locate the parameters in which the story of the Caswell mutiny can best be related -- these concerns can be reduced to four. There was the possible fear of redundancy or displacement and/or a diminution of a sailor’s self-esteem (brought about by the development of steam). There was the definite fear of death (arising out of the ordinary and every day hazards of service on the high seas). There was also the constant apprehension of government on board a ship, which means, possible cruelty or personal violence from above (captain and mates) or rebellion from below (able bodied seamen), the one no doubt arising from the fear of the other. And finally, there was the sometime fear of racism, violence, or mutiny amongst one’s fellow crewmembers.

These four concerns apply exclusively in peacetime and were above and beyond the rigors of the sailor’s ordinary life at sea. One doubts whether we can understand a sailor’s lot in the 1870s; but if we look at these individual loci of possible apprehension, we may the more easily come to terms with comprehending something of what it must have been like.

Sail, Steam and the Suez Canal

With the European colonization of overseas territories came a dramatic increase in international trade from the mid-18th century onwards. Trading ships sailed along recognised trade routes, including the monsoon and wind corridors of the world. Perhaps the two greatest inventions, which impacted on imperial commerce, were steam and the telegraph. First developed in Britain at the end of the 17th century by Henry Newcomen, steam was further improved by James Watt in 1769, and was used in ships in the early 1800s. Even if it initially needed coal stations, steampowered vessels improved reliability and speed. They were also ingeniously free from the constraints imposed by winds and tides. The fear of displacement by steam was probably the most general and the least immediate of a sailor’s concerns. It is evident to us in the twenty first century that sail was eventually destined to be replaced by steam and, eventually, by nuclear power. In retrospect these progressive signs were unmistakable.

To take but two obvious if preliminary examples all we need do is to consider the enormous growth in the military and commercial use of ships or recall the opening of the Suez Canal.

Steam’s greatest assault on sail arose -- not surprisingly -- from its military potential. Throughout history the military demand for innovation persisted apace with the drive for national and international power. The sole purpose of ‘a man of war’ was to carry guns. In size, as well as in science, the deep focus of the State was on a ship’s military capacity. Henry VII’s most famous ship the ‘Great Happy’ or ‘Henri grace a Dieu’, weighed 1,000 tons, carried 349 soldiers, and housed 301 mariners and 50 gunners. That was in 1514. By adding 85 sea-going vessels to his fleet, Henry managed to hold the balance of power in Europe.

The value of sail-power or sea-power was never to be forgotten by the British. By logical extension it initially translated into the equation that more sails invariably meant more guns and better and bigger ships. Innovations were devoutly to be wished, and in the 1770s, copper plating was introduced to make the fleet firmer and faster. In the 1830s experiments in steam at Chatham began the eclipse of sail from a military standpoint, and by 1860 the Warrior, an iron clad teak warship, virtually made everything else obsolete. Its single-engine steam capacity only operated when challenged -- otherwise it sailed as a simple deterrent, concealing its prototypical capacity, at first as a steam-ship, but eventually as a nuclear submarine or as an Air Carrier. Hardly had the dust settled on the arguments about where to put paddles and propellers, when nuclear power found its way into the one-time coalbunkers.

But while nuclear power was some distance away in 1876. If we look at the contemporary ships, we find that most were concerned with size and capacity. The latest ships -- the HMS Baccanta and Boadicea, for example, had been newly launched at Portsmouth, while the HMS Euralus was still under construction at Chatham. These wern’t ironclads of the line, but rather swift unarmored corvettes used (like the Nelson off the Clyde) for cruising as well as 'looking after merchant vessels.' The more mature ships ranged from 3000 tons (the HMS Volage) to 5782 tons (the HMS Inconstant). Between this 3000-5782 ton-range lay others like HMS Euralus, which, while under construction in 1876, had a projected weight of 4070 tons; its engines propelling at 5250 indicated horsepower. The Euralus was expected to carry sixteen guns -- fourteen 4-and- a-half tons, and two 64-pounders, as well as a range of torpedoes. Its length between perpendiculars was 280 feet, its extreme breadth 45 ft 6 ins. and its depth in hold 15 ft 3 ins. It was being built to carry 400 tons of coals and its complement of officers and men was no less than 350. Already over threeand- a-half years had been spent on her construction, her keel having been laid on March 15, 1873. And by October ‘76 she was as yet litle more than half finished.

However impressive these military-type ships were, perhaps the best statistic to demonstrate how far the capacity for British shipbuilding had come was to be found on the Clyde; for nowhere had the shipbuilding industry flourished more than on the Clyde, which, in November 1876, employed no less than 40,000 workers. Not only that, but it was reckoned at that time that the Clyde's shipyards alone could re-build the whole of the British fleet in no more than two years.

There is no denying that coincident with steam came the widening of the world's waterways. Accordingly, in November 1869, the opening of Suez (forever associated with the Slave’s Chorus in Verdi’s Aida) celebrated the ‘shortcut’ to the East. This meant that steamers, now loading up with coal at Gibraltar, Port Said, and Aden, enjoyed an enduring advantage over the sailing ship. However glorious the history of sail is, in the 1870s it appeared to many that, for the first time, sail’s lucrative commerce was not just threatened, but was in time displaceable. Fortunately this did not happen suddenly, nor was it considered a realistic threat to the clippers of the '70s.

The worth of a small vessel like that of the Caswell, with a respective net and gross weight of 499 and 517 tons, can only be gauged against the undeniable thrust for bigger, better and more efficient ships. But just as it would be foolish to deny the State’s military expectations, so, too, would it be equally foolish to exaggerate the effects of those expectations. In the civil and commercial world of the 1870s, far from being threatened by steam, sailing barques like the Caswell were at the peak of commercial demand and were prized accordingly.

Before Suez, for example, sail tonnage reached a high of 4.6 million tons, whereas steam -- by gradual improvements -- shipped only 0. 8 million tons. Even five years after the Suez Canal opened -- that is three years before the Caswell mutiny occurred -- sail carried 4.1 million tons to steam’s 1.68 million. Aided by colonial wool, jute from Calcutta, and grain from San Francisco, sail held its own and even made a comeback.

As Basil Lubbock has convincingly argued (in The Last of the Windjammers (vol. 111, Glasgow, 1975), it was only in the eighties and nineties that sail’s great markets finally surrendered to improved steam. In the nineties the demand for large steel windjammers was undeniable, but this was twenty years after the Caswell mutiny, and even then, the four-mast barques could still give the steamers a run for their money on the open seas.

In the 1870s, therefore, the eventual if dismal destiny of sail may have been visible but was not as yet felt except in the most rarified circles. For most people, steam merely pronounced the value of sail as a commercial venture, and, under its competitive stimulus , says Lubbock, ‘Sail came to its perfection’. The clippers of the seventies were reckoned to be the most beautiful ever launched, the most perfect being that composite of wood and iron called the Torrens, an Adelaide passenger ship launched the same year as the Caswell. The Caswell, of course, was no less elegant if built for cargo, and, if not superior to the American Cape Horners launched in the eighties, she was perfectly admirable in her time.

That being the case, one might have expected the captain of the Caswell (and the owners and the insurers) to pay due attention to the selection of crewmembers as well as to their treatment and well-being. The commercial status of the Caswell deserved no less. And since both of these matters were firmly in the hands of the captain, much depended on his personality and judgment.

Hazards on the High Seas

So, if the sailor had no fear of displacement, what other fears did he have?

The second -- and by far the more significant -- external concern of seamen in the 1870s arose from the natural hazards attaching to life on the high seas. These included disease, disasters, and assorted accidents. If we look at each of these briefly, it will be apparent that most fatalities increasingly came from accidents. Mutinies, by contrast, if not infrequent, were numerically minimal when compared with the other risk factors facing a sailor who chose his ship at random.In the case of disease, the story of the discovery of the prophylactic properties of limejuice is a convenient example. It happened that during the blockade of Toulon in the summer of 1793, many of the ships’ companies became afflicted with scurvy. It became such a threat that Lord Hood, then commander in chief in the Mediterranean, forbade ships carrying scurvy from entering port, and in effect prohibited them from obtaining even necessary supplies! His Lordship was provident enough, however, to allow one ship into port for the express purpose of obtaining lemons for the use of the fleet.This incident was most fortuitous, for, in due course, due largely to the consumption of lemons, it became evident that the incidence of sickness in the Royal Navy fell from one-in-four to one-in-ten annually. This welcome discovery progressively relieved the clogged hospital bays on the ships themselves as well those in dry dock.In time, the general supply of lemon-juice provided other valuable advantages to the navy, not least in the ability of ships’ companies to continue at sea for longer periods than hitherto had been the case. The lemon subdued scurvy. And with the widespread and gradual improvement in general hygiene, coupled with the introduction of an ample supply of beef and vegetables (again by Lord Hood) -- particularly during their service in blockades -- other longterm advantages were to follow. This did not mean that medical mishaps were brought under foreseeable control. Hardly! As late as 1895, for example, the Trafalgar traveled from Cardiff to New York and then to Batavia, where to avoid Java fever, the men were virtually imprisoned. Some sailors escaped and one was recaptured. Unfortunately, when he was taken on board, he infected the crew, and. many of those on board the Trafalgar died of Java fever. Later still, in 1907 when the Cape Horn arrived at Falmouth, she docked with beriberi, killing one and hospitalising others. In short, the fear of contagion on the high seas was ever present. One need only recall the history of fever, plague, dysentery, small pox, typhus, cholera, malaria, and other diseases too numerous to mention, to realise the contribution made by modern medicine to the longevity of the average sailor. But for our purposes it must be realised that disease was only one form of possible hazard -- and a minor one at that! Other hazards, by contrast, included accident, collision, wreckage, ice, fire and fog, as well as countless others too numerous to mention.

As the following brief extract demonstrates, the mortality rate for sailors in the 1870s had multiple as well as decvastating causes.

“1873, Jan. 22. -- British steamer Northfleet sunk in collision

off Dungeness, 300 lives lost

1873, Nov. 23. -- White Star liner Atlantic wrecked off Nova Scotia, 547 lives lost.

1873, Nov. 23. -- French line Ville du Havre, from New York to Havre, in collision with ship Locharn and sunk in sixteen minutes, 110 lives lost.

1874, Dec. 24. -- Emigrant vessel Cospatrick took fire and sank off Auckland, 476 lives lost.

1875, May 7. -- Hamburg Mail steamer Schiller wrecked in fog on Scilly Islands, 200 lives lost.

1875, Nov. 4. -- American steamer Pacific in collision thirty miles southwest of Cape Flattery, 236 lives lost.

1878, March 24. -- British training ship Eurydice, a frigate, foundered near the Isle of Wight, 300 lives lost.”


The above extract, taken from the Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters (edited by Logan Marshall - see also Website at <ftp//ftp.biblio. org>) acquaints us with the general sea-faring risk in the 1870s from random causes other than disease. Deaths from mutiny, which brings us to our third concern, were by contrast quite insignificant numerically.

Government OnboardPerhaps what fascinates people about mutiny is not so much the numbers killed as the social and political relationships that bring it about. Mutiny is rebellion at close quarters. It is first and foremost about a captain and his crew, and how that relationship is formed and fractured. It is about understanding why a crew, against all the odds, including its own selfinterest, should turn on its captain with venom and hatred. Unlike disease, the source of mutiny does not reside in a force outside human control, nor is it ever the result of accident. Quite obviously, it is the product of human will, and ought, therefore, to be amenable to reason.In this sense the actions of the captain and crew of the Caswell should also be amenable to reason. And even if it is at the turn of the twenty first century that we reflect upon a matter that occurred in 1875/6 -- when full details and records are hard to come by -- we can, nevertheless, sketch some aspect of that mutiny, delineate its contours, and, where possible, fill up the canvas with some colouring. Towards this end it is necessary to say something of the government of the sailing ship, particularly through our historical image of both the sea captain and his crew.Thus far we can see how the need for benevolent autocracy on board ship was universally appreciated and constantly justified. Disease and plague always called forth severe government -- one which all too often imposed conditions that would quarantine the crew for days and weeks. It is axiomatic to say that in times of plague the individual survives by virtue of group action. In the interests of survival all hands have to act as one. This also meant, of course, that --whether by way of excuse or genuine concern -- a ship could within seconds be turned into a floating prison, too often with a tyrant at the helm.Sea-CaptaincyFor centuries the ferocious character of the English sea captain was bound up with the fortunes of the fleet and the rise of the nation state. At first, in the age of discovery, the captain was seen as a patriotic explorer, (Columbus, Magellan. Drake and Raleigh), then as the defender of Faith and Fatherland (Granville, Frobisher, Gilbert, Howard of Effingham, and Nelson), then as a free-for-all buccaneer (captains Henry Morgan, and Henry Avery), as an adventurous pirate (captains Teach, Gow, and Kidd), and latterly as either an Officer in the Royal Navy, a Gentleman or as a simple laissez-faire entrepreneur in the Merchant Navy. Little need be said about the patriotic explorers; for whether we talk about Europe or the Argentine, the West Indies, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Mexico, North or South America -- there is hardly a country outside China in which we will not find a goodly supply of full-bodied admirals and conquistadores cluttering up every public square from Trafalgar to Trinidad. And O’Connell’s Street in Dublin (before the demolition of Nelson’s Pillar by the IRA) was no exception. To a great extent the sea captains carried autocratic cruelty across every gangplank, as if it were a perquisite of government upon the high seas. Whatever their personal profiles, they were held up in the public mind as patriots with personas as prominent as their statues.

Until the publication of Alexander Exquemelin’s De Americaensche Zee- Rover little or nothing was realized of the inner autocracy of a ship’s government. The book appeared in Amsterdam in 1678 and in London in 1684. Only then did the reading public get a glimpse into the buccaneering persona. The sacking of Panama in 1671 by captain Henry Morgan helped to correct the patriotic pomp in which Drake and the Elizabethan explorers basked. Throughout the first quarter of the eighteenth century -- perhaps the high point of piracy on the high seas-- murder, rape, robbery, and pillage became synonymous with sailing. In his famous account of piracy, Charles Johnson (another nom de plume of Daniel Defoe?) selected his captains because of their crimes. Accordingly, in his 'General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates' (London, 1724), there is hardly a sea-pirate, with the exception of Anne Bonny (the Cork lass tried in Jamaica in November, 1720), who did not die a most violent death; or whose head, like Blackbeard’s, did not eventually decorate the end of a Bowsprit.

Yet it is through the medium of ‘high literature’ that these very violent sea captains are romanticised. In the person of the sea captain, violence manifests itself in defence mode, defending the faith, or, later on, the realm or, later on, in defence of personal honour. It only becomes social when Defoe’s famous novel entitled, The Life and Strange and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719.

Hitherto it was argued that Crusoe was based upon the experiences of Alexander Selkirk, who ran away to sea in 1704. Selkirk requested to be left on an uninhabited island in the Juan Fernandez Islands some hundreds of miles off the coast of Chile. He reputedly spent over four years there before being rescued by a crew of mutineers. This most Christian of anarchists then contrives to cultivate a servant (a native, ‘Man Friday’), while being, at the same time, beset by cannibals -- the moral of Crusoe being to demonstrate that society and hierarchy are two social imperatives which imply a third, namely, the need for a captain -- preferably one with an English accent who sits at the governmental helm of things. This moral is further evident in Crusoe’s two sequels, The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and The Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe, (1720). The violence and autocracy of the virtuous sea captain is unashamedly continued in The Life, Adventures, and Pyracies of the famous captain Singleton, (London 1720) and The King of the Pirates, Being an Account of the Famous Enterprises of captain Avery (1724). Both Singleton and Avery are depicted as exploitative egoists, violent if needs be, and rational rather than reasonable.

A century later the English-speaking sea captain became suitably refined. Even when Herbert Melville’s Moby Dick connected the New England Quakers with cannibalism, the quiet dignity of captain George Pollard was assured. In general, however, the focus began to shift from the rugged captain to the sea-faring experience itself. In the 1820s accounts like The Red Rover and The Pilot, A Tale of the Sea, by James Fenimore Cooper (Two Vols. New York, published by Charles Wiley, 1823) brought home the excitement of exploits in the Americas. Again patriotism featured significantly, and the psychotic sea-captain was being refined considerably.

The Common SailorFrom concern with the denizens of the quarterdeck to concern for those of the forecastle, is a long way to travel; for quarterdeck and forecastle may be only yards away on a ship, they are also as distant and as dismal as class relations are on land, the difference being, that on board ship one end of the town cannot at any time turn its back on the other. And to introduce these onboard tensions to the world, it soon became apparent that the common sailor -- not at all unlike the common twentieth century ‘cowboy’ under Hollywood management -- had to be sterilised before his pedestrian concerns could be brought to bear on public consciousness.

At first he was Christianised (even Quakerised) by Thomas Lurting (The Fighting Sailor Turnd Peaceable Christian: HTML at; London, 1711). And only two centuries later could he be introduced to the fair sex, when he was romanticised in a sentimental way by Margaret Marshall Saunders (Her Sailor: A Love Story: Boston, L.C. Page, 1900). Later still, as sail had lost its savagery, the sailor became sanctified by age both by S. T. Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner' and F. C. Woodworth's 'Stories by Jack Mason, the Old Sailor', (NY. 1851). Woodworth, under the pseudonym, 'Theodore Thinker,' wrote a series of 'old-man-of-thesea' stories laced with blueberry-pie morality, recalling the adventures of whaling and travel. These stories were aimed at a younger generation with a growing interest in sea-faring adventures.

With the exception of the Mutiny on the Bounty, very few serious works touched upon the internal dynamism of government on the high seas, and when they did, they pointed up the exact same moral dilemma. There have been several movies made of Mutiny on the Bounty, not least because it harvested a crop of concerns that is common to all of us, even in our everyday lives. It is this gripping moral dilemma in which we recognise ourselves immediately. And through it we identify with the subject matter of the mutiny, which resonates throughout all cultures. In Act 111, Scene 1, Hamlet shouts it from world end to English-speaking world end:

“To be or not to be, that is the question: Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and

by opposing end them?”

This is the question that Fletcher Christian poses when he can take no more of Captain Bligh’s cruelty. Everywhere in the river of life we are all called upon to try and stop the flood, 'to take arms against a sea of troubles' and somehow end them. How we respond to violence is at the centre of our identity' it is what rivets us to Hamlet as well as to the Mutiny on the Bounty.

It is also the question which, in even graver terms , confronts Martin Luther, the religious reformer. And he answers: ‘Hier stehe Ich; Ich kann nichts anders.’ ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ And on a less elevated plane it also constitutes the Riddle of the Caswell Mutiny.It is by virtue of these concerns that Richard Henry Dana, Jr's account of his experiences in the early nineteenth century have become so important. In his Two Years Before the Mast (The Harvard Classics, 1909-14), this young Harvard student reminded his readers of the less savoury side of a seaman’s life. When he shipped out of Boston in August 1834 on the brig Pilgrim, he witnessed many things, but none had left such an indelible impression on him as the unnecessary flogging of two colleagues -- Sam, and John the Swede. Not unlike what happened on the Bounty, Dana demonstrates how a ship could be transported within minutes into the most violent abode. What is of particular importance to us, and to our understanding of the Caswell mutiny, is the group dynamic, or the effective chain of reactions to the captain’s abuse of power. Because of this single issue we have dwelt at length -- and, hopefully, profitably -- on Dana’s extraordinary narrative.

The nameless captain had apparently been picking on people for a few days. He had already threatened the cook with a flogging for dropping some wood on the deck. Now he was reproaching Sam, who was 'a good sailor,' even if he was a little 'slow.' John the Swede and others were standing by the main hatchway when they heard the captain’s voice ' raised in violent dispute' down in the hold:  -

“You see your condition! You see your condition! Will you ever give me any more of your jaw?” No answer; and then came wrestling and heaving, as though the man was trying to turn him.

“You may as well keep still, for I have got you,” said the captain. Then came the question, “Will you ever give me any more of your jaw?”

“I never gave you any, sir,” said Sam; for it was his voice that we heard, though low and half choked.

“That’s not what I ask you. Will you ever be impudent to me again?” “I never have been, sir,” said Sam. “Answer my question, or I’ll make a spread eagle of you! I’ll flog you, by G-d.” “I’m no negro slave,” said Sam.

“Then I’ll make you one,” said the captain; and he came to the hatchway, and sprang on deck, threw off his coat, and rolling up his sleeves, called out to the mates -- “Seize that man up, Mr. A__, Seize him up! Make a spread eagle of him. I’ll teach you all who is master aboard.”

With this the crew and officers followed the captain up the hatchway, and after repeated orders the mate laid hold of Sam, who made no resistance. They then carried him to the gangway. It was at this stage that another crewmember responded.

“What are you going to flog that man for, Sir?” said John the Swede, to the captain.”

Upon hearing this, the captain turned on him and ordered that he be put in irons. John the Swede went peaceably aft to the quarterdeck, while the captain attended to Sam. The captain was going to whip Sam personally while the crew ‘grouped together in the waist’, and Dana began to feel sick and angry at the sight of a man being ‘fastened up and flogged like a beast.’ Having lived with Sam for months, Dana said that he regarded Sam as ‘his brother.’ Describing his mixed reactions, he reflected:

“The first and almost uncontrollable impulse was resistance. But what was to be done? The time for it had gone by. The two best men were fast, and there were only two beside myself, and a small boy of ten or twelve years of age. And then there were (beside the captain) three officers, steward, agent and clerk. But beside the numbers, what is there for sailors to do? If they resist, it is mutiny; and if they succeed, and take the vessel, it is piracy. If they ever yield again, their punishment must come; and if they do not yield, they are pirates for life. If a sailor resists his commander, he resists the law, and piracy or submission are his only alternatives. Bad as it was, it must be borne. It is what a sailor ships for.”

This last sentence is striking in its ambiguity. When one thinks about it , it is very difficult to understand what Dana means. He is hardly saying that sailors should stoically accept even inhuman conditions or breaches of their human and constitutional rights with impunity! Or is this what he actually expects from sailors? How much is endurable short of selfdefence?

Further on in the episode Dana writes:

“Swinging the rope over his head, and bending his body so as to give it full force, the captain brought it down upon the poor fellow’s back. Once, twice six times. “Will you ever give me any more of your jaw?” The man writhed with pain, but said not a word. Three times more. This was too much, and he muttered something, which I could not hear; this brought as many more as the man could stand; when the captain ordered him to be cut down, and to go forward”.

With this the captain now turned his attention to John the Swede. According to Dana, he stood on the quarterdeck, bareheaded, his eyes flashing with rage, and his face as red as blood. He was swinging a rope and calling out to his officers, “Drag him aft! Lay hold of him. I’ll sweeten him, etc., etc”. Having conceded to a peaceful flogging at first, the Swede then began to resist, but was subdued by the officers. And when he was made fast, he turned to the captain, who stood turning up his sleeves and getting ready for the blow, and asked:

“Have I ever refused my duty, sir? Have you ever known me to hang back, or to be insolent, or not to know my work?” “No”, said the captain, “it is not that I flog you for; I flog you for your interference, for asking questions”.

“Can’t a man ask a question here without being flogged?”

“No”, shouted the captain; “nobody shall open his mouth aboard this vessel, but myself”, and began laying the blows upon his back, swinging half round between each blow, to give it full effect. As he went on, his passion increased, and he danced about the deck, calling out as he swung the rope: -- "If you want to know what I flog you for, I’ll tell you. It’s because I like to do it! – Because I like to do it. It suits me. That’s what I do it for”. The man writhed under the pain, until he could endure it no longer, when he called out, with an exclamation more common among foreigners than with us-“Oh, Jesus Christ! Oh, Jesus Christ!”

“Don’t call on Jesus Christ,” shouted the captain; “he can’t help you. Call on Captain T__. He’s the man! He can help you! Jesus Christ can’t help you now!”

At this juncture Dana tells us that he could look no longer. His blood ran cold and he turned away in disgust and horror. He revisited the scene with thoughts of revenge, but, again, ‘the falling blows and the cries of the man’ called him back to reality. At length the Swede was cut down. Every one else stood still at his post, while the captain, ‘swelling with rage and with the importance of his achievement’ strutted the quarterdeck, calling out to the crew:

“You see your condition! You see where I’ve got you all, and you know what to expect! You’ve been mistaken in me -- you didn’t know what I was! Now you know what I am!"

“I’ll make you toe the mark, every soul of you, or I’ll flog you all, fore and and aft, from the boy, up”

“You’ve got a driver over you Yes, a slave driver -- a negro-driver! I'll see who’ll tell me he isn’t a Negro slave!”

Shortly after this John the Swede’s back was swollen and covered with stripes in every direction. He asked the steward to ask the captain to let him have some salve, or balsam, to put upon it. “No,” said the captain, who heard him from below; “tell him to put his shirt on; that’s the best thing for him; and pull me ashore in the boat. Nobody is going to lay-up on board this vessel.”Dana also recalls his fear that John the Swede, whom he regarded as a violent man and who was armed with a knife, might mutiny. In fact he didn’t. Dana also noted that the captain was probably armed. He also pointed out that the option of resisting for either Sam or John (and Dana?) meant that they ‘would have had nothing before them but flight and starvation in the woods of California, or capture by the soldiers and Indian bloodhounds, whom the offer of twenty dollars would have set upon them.’

The sleepless nights of the men groaning in pain settled a gloom over everyone, and made Dana reflect:

“I thought of our situation, living under a tyranny; of the character of the country we were in; of the length of the voyage, and of the uncertainty attending our return to America; and then, if we should return, of the prospect of obtaining justice and satisfaction for these poor men; and vowed that if God should ever give me the means, I would do something to redress the grievances and relieve the sufferings of that poor class of beings, of whom I then was one.”

There are many lessons to be learned from Dana’s account - which is why we have dwelt upon it so long. First of all, we can see that what began with the captain’s distemper and his threat to the cook was soon followed up by his bullying of Sam. This in turn led to Sam’s public flogging. This public humiliation affected the crew, particularly John the Swede, who could not suppress his sense of injustice, so he fled to the side of the oppressed. Before long the whole crew was upset, but none of the others, including Dana, said anything. The captain continued his abuse, revealing even further depths of cruelty and an utter contempt for those in his charge. In such circumstances considerations of mutiny are no more than thoughts of self-preservation. Dana and the crew of the Pilgrim were now caste in the mould of Hamlet and Fletcher Christian, to rebel or to be bear witness to enormous injustice?The second lesson we learn is somewhat more difficult to come to terms with, and when we compare Fletcher Christian with Richard Dana Jr., both of whom are faced with Hamlet’s dilemma, then we can appreciate how difficult the problem is.

Not all men live with the discipline (or the future prospects) of Richard Dana. Some men are present-dwellers; they are less apt to defer gratification, whether that gratification comes from the assurance of future vengeance or from a sense of delayed justice. Moreover, such men have a morality of action, rather than one of reaction or introspection; they demand redress now, concurrent with the offence, rather than hereafter in retrospection, whether that retrospection is recounted in a court of law or in a novel. Richard Dana vowed to redress ‘the sufferings of that poor class of beings’, of which he was temporarily one. He did not vow to redress the injustice he saw done to Sam or John the Swede. Moreover, the redress he envisaged would follow only ‘ if God' should ever give him the means to do so. Some men of action (Christian Fletcher and Hamlet, for example) might argue that he had the means to redress the injustice before his eyes, and that he did not need God to provide the wherewithal for that redress.

The problem with Dana’s account is the problem with Dana’s morality. His relation with the captain (and the cruelties he was inflicting) was no more constrained that Christian’s was to Captain Bligh or, for that matter, Hamlet’s relation to his Father-in-law, the King of Denmark. Unlike Hamlet and Fletcher Christian, however, both of whom felt constrained to act, Dana, on due consideration, decided not to. He admitted that he felt compelled to act but decided not to do so -- hence that problematic phrase “Bad as it was, it must be borne. It is what a sailor ships for.”Men of action invariably wish to redress wrong spontaneously, wherever they find it. It may be quixotic, but not everyone is endowed with the fortitude and restraint, which Richard Dana exhibited. In point of fact Dana went on to practice law and politics. And during the operation of the Fugitive Slave Law, he acted as counsel on behalf of the fugitives Shadrach, Sims, and Burns. Abraham Lincoln appointed him United States District Attorney for Massachusetts. But this is still beside the point. The question is and was: Should Richard Dana have spoken up like John the Swede, and taken the lash? Or, alternatively, should the crew have revolted and at least restrained the captain? Maybe there are some occasions when, under severe provocation, mutiny is the moral thing to do.It is desirable that we analyse Dana’s narrative a little further.

There is obviously a great difference between what one feels when injustice is done to oneself, and what one feels when it happens to others in our presence. When we are personally confronted with unkindness or cruelty, we have a choice. We can resist it or bear it. It is peculiarly within our individual power to make such a decision. If we choose to bear it, it is because forbearance is very much a part of our character, of our individual psyche, of our peace-loving stoical personality. Proverbs and truisms applaud and encourage such forbearance as a virtue. Hence we hear that ‘Great minds suffer in silence.” We are content with our own unique sense of restraint and fortitude. We choose to bear ‘the whips and scorns of outrageous fortune’ rather than ‘take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.’ If we are Christian, we say we ‘turn the other cheek.’ We 'grin and bear it.’ This we do personally, and for ourselves. We could, of course, take action -- or at least we say and believe that ‘we could take action', thereby emphasizing the fact that we have made a virtuous and stoical decision to bear up to the adversity in question. If we did actually take action, it would assuredly be by way of some kind of alternative outcome -- alternative, that is, to our agreeable self-esteem and, possibly, to our life style as well. In this way we can see that we are authors of our own tolerance or martyrdom.

But when strangers are confronted with unkindness or cruelty in our presence, something else happens: we are pitted in a different mould. We are summoned to witness evil, to look on, to be excluded from the action. It is others who are suffering while we remain silent. We can neither adopt the pain stoically nor ameliorate it in the person of others. We are forced to witness cruelty, and the harsh truth is that we cannot bear to watch others suffer unnecessary pain, even the pain that we would stoically endure ourselves. Hamlet is activated out of a love for justice and for the memory of his murdered father, Luther does it for truth, integrity and the state of Catholicism under a corrupt Papacy. But Christian Fletcher and John the Swede are no less high-minded; they sacrifice themselves for others.What inflames us most, perhaps, is the wanton cruelty to helpless others. Our most intimate sense of justice is ravaged. All our most sanctified senses of civilized living come forward and demand redress. It is the march of the righteous and, because it cannot be borne by us personally , it compels us to action. By the same token, those who in our presence, inflict gratuitous pain and suffering, especially on innocent or inadequate people -- people who have not got our privileges, our restraint, our education, our fortitude, our affection - they soon become the object of our most forceful and violent feelings. What first gave us character is now in utter revolt and cannot be subdued or, alternatively, can only be subdued with enormous difficulty. Even when we see animals badly treated, we rebel with a violence that is disproportionate to our ordinary character. Our revolt is intended to edify the wrongdoer, but only after peace is secured.

That is why ‘teaching someone a lesson’ has far too often become associated more with violence and vengeance than with education. That is also why in some circumstances spontaneous violence is the only lesson in morality possible. I do not mean premeditated violence or war carried out in retrospect or, indeed, war that is not defensive in nature, but action that is designed to ‘teach the enemy a lesson.’

At a personal level, the problem with humans is not so much that they are diabolical, but rather, like John the Swede, they are angelic:magnificently angelic. Sam submitted to a flogging by a cruel captain, John the Swede voiced his objections and took the whip, and Dana lived to tell the tale. Had someone taken action, we would have had a capital trial for mutiny. Wherein lies morality then? In the captain? In Sam’s submission to unjust and brutal discipline? In John the Swede’s quixotic if magnanimous gesture? Or in Dana’s narrative? And if they had resisted, what court could capture the moment in which they all ineluctably and ineffably took part? For many people spontaneity has its own morality, it holds its own court, and who is to say it is not the highest court in every land!

As the nineteenth century wore on, the increasing press coverage of mutinies and court cases, gave rise to a more realistic picture of life at sea. The image of the English-speaking captain remained somehow unscathed if not sanctified. Writers like Joseph Conrad and John Masefield and a myriad of lesser writers, taught us both about idealized captains like Lord Jim as well as reluctant seamen like Dauber. They also focused our attention on the general conditions of life then obtaining at sea.But high literature is not always a good guide to great morality. Lord Jim, to my mind, is a case in point. It is a story of the redemption of a British naval officer who is damned initially for his cowardice, then lionized as a selfless hero. The novel may have been fiction, but the initial act of cowardice and dishonor was, it is believed, based on fact. The story (1900), originally intended as a short story, was enlarged into a novel and opens (as does the film) with an account in 1880 of the British first mate, A.P.Williams, who, with other officers, abandoned the steamship Jeddah, after it sprung a leak. In abandoning the ship they also abandoned the Muslim pilgrims who were now facing certain death. By sheer good fortune another captain in another steam ship happened by and brought the Jeddah to safety. In the film of Lord Jim the Jeddah becomes the Patna, and the story relates how the guilt-ridden British naval officer seeks redemption for his initial mistake. He finds it in helping islanders win their freedom. That Lord Jim sacrifices himself in the process is more logical than real; and even if it was real, the hero is caste between two simple poles, one of cowardice and one of bravery, these being the dominant ethical values of both the writer and the protagonist. Breaking your word to a boatload of people, who will assuredly die because you have deliberately misled them, is hardly redeemable, especially if the tale follows hot on their miraculous survival. It is rather like pleading guilty to an act of pedophilia and later claiming, ‘anyone can make a mistake’ by way of defence. Moreover, to redeem one's soul by self-immolation does not to my mind excuse the initial wrongdoing. What Conrad has done to redeem his English-speaking sea captain is -- it appears -- done out of a debauched celebration of the art of story-telling -- hence the triumph of egoism over altruism.

The English-speaking captain survived in the public mind - even to the present day - in the approximate persona of James Onedin, protagonist in a popular television serial, The Onedin Line. He is meant to be understood as the best of a bad lot, the ‘lovable rogue.’ Even in make-belief the anti-hero is untouched by the slave trade, questionable contracts, and ‘dodgy’ merchandise. By implication every scam and questionable enterprise is to be excused by captain Onedin’s early penury, especially his do-or-die necessity for success, which we, the viewing public, are meant to understand implicitly. Hence whatever pathologies are revealed, they are transcended by our common ambition and acquisitiveness, our shared indulgence in some common drive to escape some ghetto of European or American ordinariness. To assist us in thinking well of Nineteenth Century sea captains, captain Onedin is portrayed as less aggressive than his contemporaries. Diametrically opposed to this make-belief background we have the word of Basil Lubbock that real bullies abounded throughout the period:

“It must be admitted that there was a type of man found on the quarterdeck in sail who has become almost extinct in steam. This was the sea bully. One of the most notorious of these buckos was Captain Bailey of the big full rigger Dovenby Hall. He was a terrible brute with an uncontrollable temper, a ready fist and vilely blasphemous tongue. He was murdered by his coloured steward on the passage home from San Francisco. At the trial both Bailey’s wife and daughter testified that they could not live with him, and the steward got off with a life sentence.” (The Last of the Windjammers, Vol. 1, Glasgow,1975, p.49)

By the turn of the twentieth century, what had been romantic and patriotic had now become comic. As far as the British Isles were concerned the last of the rapacious pirates survived solely in Penzance where, with Gilbertian humour, they flirted ferociously, did their indentures meticulously, and captured the odd Major General, whose daughters they married.

Even the secrecy surrounding advancement in the ‘Queen’s Navee’ was fully exposed by the Chorus of HMS Pinafore:

CHORUS: Now landsmen all, whoever you may be, If you want to rise to the top of the tree, If your soul isn’t fettered to an office stool, Be careful to be guided by this golden rule: Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,

And you all may be rulers of the Queen’s Navee!

However beguiling television videos and good yarns are, they are the product of the twenty first century. For our part the belligerence of the English sea captain prevailed well into the 1870s and after. He was neither romantic, nor patriotic nor comic, but the remnant of the high pirate era, when violence at sea was a way of life. How the twin forces -- of the need for commerce, and of the responsibility for order on board ship -- are forged in the personality of captain George Best remains in the realm of conjecture, until, that is, it is revealed to us through evidence. We can only judge of these things from the evidence available and presented. The standards we apply -- either to the need for order on board or the need for commerce abroad - - derive from the ordinary expectations that we would exercise ourselves in a location and a time that bespeaks these dual ideals.Thus far, then, we know that the competition of steam did not diminish the value of either the Caswell or her crew. We know that seamen faced very dangerous hazards at sea, even if mutiny did not itself bulk large as a major hazard. In this respect the role of the sea captain is crucial. Upon his persona depended the moral ethos of the ship, particularly when that ship carried a mixed crew. But how dangerous and unusual was the 'mixed crew’ in the 1870s?Racism and the Mixed Crew:

It has been said that the Caswell mutiny was primarily due to the mixed crew on board, as if the mixture of Greek and British sailors was the sole cause of the mutiny. Mixed crews in the age of sail were practically as traditional as the art of sailing itself. From earliest times multi-racial and multi-national crews abounded. Even at Trafalgar the crews were mixed, the ‘black watch’, it is said, growing numerous enough to relieve the 'white watch’ on alternate shifts. Moreover, Lubbock tells us:

“Practically every nationality in the world has a representative on the lower deck in Nelson’s fleet -- and with the usual result, the German, the Dane, the Dutchman, the Dago, the Souwegian and the Finn gradually assumed the ways and the outlook of the Britisher, often married an English girl and gave his sons to the Empire.” (Lubbock, Basil, The Last of the Windjammers, Vol. 1, Glasgow, 1975, p.62)

Even the Nantucket Quaker-Whalers aboard the famous Essex in 1820 were mixed of race -- and captain George Pollard lived on to see them eat each other, not out of hatred, but out of hunger. Twenty years later R.H. Dana Jr. observed that in his time three quarters of the crews were mixed. In this connection we might also remember that the word ‘sailor,’ as opposed to ‘mariner’ or ' oarsman’, only becomes popular in the era of mercantilism, when unbridled movements of trans-national and migrant workers, whether captive, conscripted or recruited, were mobilised by the Nation State. The oarsmen -- rowing to the beat of a drum or the sound of the lash -- had served the needs of the Greek city-state, as well as the Roman and Medieval fleets of southern Europe. As military vessels, their fearful traffic held sway well into the eighteenth century but, because of their enhanced size, speed, and firepower, the sailing ship took over. At least that was the case with the ocean-going Atlantic vessels. In the coastal waters of the Mediterranean, things were otherwise designed; the highly maneuverable galleys were still in use and the galley sentence was meant to secure a continuing supply of labour.

These two nautical traditions (with their origins perhaps going as far back as the Holy Roman Imperial split between Byzantium and Rome) were so different in fact that over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries they gave birth at either end of Europe to two quite opposite penal regimes. On the one hand the Mediterranean States introduced the galley sentence while the northern countries founded the Workhouse. If we are going to examine the mutiny on the Caswell, or any other mutinous ship claiming a mixed pedigree as its source, it behoves us to look briefly at how the penal and punitive aspects clung to the sailing ship well into the nineteenth century.


Throughout the 16th century European poverty was increasing apace with an expanding population. The new crime and the new plague were called ‘vagabondage.’ The feudal order was in a state of collapse, and private retainers and soldiers were being disbanded and turned out of the old manorial estates. Enclosure movements shed the land of its 'structurally unemployed' laborers and yeomen. The influx of bullion from the New World gave rise to an increase in prices. Basic necessities rose faster than wages, and the agencies of poor relief were choked off in the general struggle between Papal power and the rise of the Nation State. Power was passing from Pope to Prince, from the Saviour of Souls to the leaders of nations. It was England versus Spain in the sixteenth century, then England versus Holland in the seventeenth. Pirates became patriots, and begging and pillage abounded in the cities and ports of Europe -- the only organizers of discarded labour centered on the urban factories and the workhouse. In the south, galleys required hundreds of oarsmen rowing in unison. The triremes of ancient Greece had used them to great effect. The work was strenuous, dangerous, and severely disciplined. In times when demand for oarsmen was not met with an adequate supply, the wages of the fleet rose abruptly, and where excess demand remained, the fleets supplemented the labour force with galley slaves. These slaves came from the ranks of Turks and North Africans who may have been bought or taken captive in war. When the growing fleets of the 15th and 16th centuries could not satisfy the demand for oarsmen, the authorities looked to the criminals to augment the ranks of the fleet. Condemned convicts whom the State wished to kill were now pressed into the service of the military. From Spain, Italy and France the Galley Sentence spread north, to the Netherlands in the 1520s and to Belgium and Austria in the 1550s.

The galley sentence was so terrible that, according to one authority,

”The wretches condemned to it would sometimes sever their own arm or hand in order to escape it. The practice was even so common that a decree of 1677 made it punishable by death.”

At a time when corporal punishments were so countless and cruel, capital punishments were seen as their mere extension. The galley sentence in the North was to prove short-lived, not least because of climatic conditions. Climate notwithstanding, under Elizabeth plans were made to create an English galley fleet. In 1597 a statute authorized the banishment of vagabonds or, alternatively, their conscription into the galleys by the courts of quarter sessions. The execution of felons was stayed. These included robbers, but not murderers, rapists, burglars or witches. The act aimed at salvaging the strong and the able bodied. In time it widened, further executions were stayed, reprieves were granted, and galley sentences were encouraged.A Commission in 1615 authorized the transportation of felons ‘fit to be employed in foreign discoveries or other services beyond the seas.’ The preamble of the 1615 Commission followed the language of the 1602 Commission in that the monarch ordered that some of the ‘lesser offenders’ condemned to die be redeemed by corrective punishment and by  service profitable 'to the Commonwealth in parts abroad.’

Notwithstanding a congery of purposes -- namely, to avoid the severity of the medieval blood sanctions, to correct the offender, and to exploit his labor -- they all had the punitive instinct in common, and it was this that motivated the workhouse, the prison, and, to a lesser extent, the nineteenth century sailing ship. Imperial expansion also moulded the policies of banishment and transportation. Generally speaking, however, the galley sentence was short lived in the North, and increasingly gave way to the bridewell or workhouse, which mirrored in the north what the galley sentence did in the south. In the 1550s a bridewell, the former Royal Palace in London, was converted into a workhouse or ‘house of correction.’ A bridewell in Norwich soon followed (1565), then a workhouse movement, begun in London and Norwich, soon spread to Amsterdam, Antwerp, Paris and the cities of the German Hansa.

The bridewells filled up with young vagabonds, ‘sturdy beggars’ and ‘disorderly’ persons, all of whom were compelled to work to sustain themselves. Just like the ship or later on, the prison, the workhouse was designed to introduce the inmate to the regimen of honest labor. It would train him in a working skill, and it would reform his character through discipline and moral instruction. The close trade connections between the Netherlands and England inspired the Dutch to exploit their labour in a similar manner. Religious instruction, penal reform, and the exploitation of labour, became the rasion detre of the Tuchthuis (Amsterdam, 1590s), the Zuchthaus (Bremen, 1615) as well as the Belgian Workhouses. In time a model workhouse was set up throughout Europe’s major cities (e.g. Lubeck, Hamburg, Danzig, Breslau, Vienna, Leipzig, and Frankfurt), including Belgium (e.g. Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent). Such was the supportive connection between the use of the criminal law and the forced exploitation of labour, that its worst aspects were never reformed until the middle of the eighteenth century. This reform was reflected in Cesare Beccaria’s slim Treatise on Crimes and Punishments, which became the focal point of reform throughout Europe. The Italian criminologist was by no means the originator of growing European resistance to the blood sanctions. On the contrary, talk of reform had begun long before Beccaria -- but his was the decisive blow against the old monotonous and religious theatrical cruelties of the ancien regime. The ship, whether propelled by oarsmen or by sail, played an important part in the displacement of these medieval blood sanctions. In so doing it helped as an intermediary in giving birth to the modern prison system. ‘Hulks’ and ‘convict ships’ were used as floating prisons on the Thames, the Liffey, and occasionally on the Lee. The ship was also used as a means of transporting convicts to the new plantations in the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand.

Transportation, or the wholescale removal of thousands of convicted criminals from one country to another became a European policy. It managed to divide the world in two, such that people quite sensibly spoke of two worlds, the 'old' and the 'new' world. To talk disparagingly about 'mixed crews' or to conceive of them as odd or undesirable is hard to take seriously. Whatever objections the British had to a 'mixed crew' such objections would have to be more specific and would have to arise out of some more specified political or personal circumstances.

Generally speaking, however, the penal disciplines, the tensions of former times, survived in the work ethic of the nineteenth century sailing ship. In some ways the sailing ship was worse than the workhouse for here the Introduction gender gap was complete and absolute; and whatever considerations might be afforded to regimens that included women, none attached to a sailing ship. Seamen picked oakum and had as grueling a regimen as obtained in any northern workhouse. Sailors were expected to work and never to slouch or relax.

It will soon become apparent that the crew of the Caswell came from two different sailing traditions, the one from the Mediterranean and the other from the Atlantic. It was as if the Caswell had inherited an overarching history of which her captain and her crew were perfectly unaware.


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