There is scarce any one, we apprehend, who is in any considerable
degree conversant with the shifting scenes of human existence, who
does not know that many of the plain narratives of common life possess
an indescribable charm. These unvarnished details of human weal and
human wo, coming right from the mint of nature, decline the
superfluous embellishments of art, and, in the absence of all borrowed
lustre, clearly demonstrate that they are "adorned the most when
unadorned." They bear a most diametrical contrast to those figments of
diseased fancy, that nauseating romance about virgins betrothed and
lady love, which in so many instances elbow decency and common sense
from the pages of our periodical literature as "unwelcome guests."
It has frequently been said that sailors, above every other class of
men, have irrepressible hankerings after the wild and wonderful.
Certain it is, that he who will sit on a ship's forecastle of a bright
moonlight evening, will hear of "hair-breadth escapes," and perilous
adventures no less chivalrous and incredible than those which
Cervantes and the biographer of Baron Munchausen have attributed to
their respective heroes. Although the following incidents may excite
no very thrilling interest, they have at least the merit of truth. The
actors in this short drama are still on the stage, ready to testify to
this narrative of facts.
On the morning of the 14th of April, 1828, the ship Gold Hunter glided
majestically out of the Liverpool docks, with fair wind and tide. The
Mersey, from Liverpool to Black Rock, a distance of about three miles,
was literally covered with vessels of every character and nation,
which had taken advantage of the fair wind to clear the harbor. Here
might be seen the little French lugger, carrying back to Bordeaux what
its fruit and brandy had bought, as frisky in its motions as the
nervous monsieur who commanded it. At a little distance, the
square-shouldered Antwerper, sitting on the elevated poop of his
galliot, was enjoying, with his crew, a glorious smoke. You could
almost see them (and that, too, without very keen optics) put care
into their tobacco-pipes, anxiety curled in fume over their heads. A
not unfrequent sight was the star-spangled banner floating in beauty
over the bosom of the wave. The serenity of the atmosphere, the
ever-changing brilliancy of the scene, the tout ensemble, were well
calculated to excite the most pleasurable emotions. Every thing seemed
to give the most flattering assurances of a voyage of unruffled
This large squadron continued comparatively unbroken until it reached
Holyhead, where such vessels as were bound for Scotland, or the north
of Ireland, bore away from those which were bound down the channel.
The Gold Hunter, whose destination was a port in the United States,
was, of course, in company with the latter class. Those on board of
her very naturally felt great gratification in perceiving that she was
not only the most splendid and graceful ship, but the swiftest sailor
Before we proceed farther, however, we must in some measure acquaint
the reader with the inmates of the Gold Hunter. Notwithstanding she
was one of those floating palaces yclept "Liverpool packets," and the
captain a finished gentleman and skilful navigator, there were, on
this trip, but two cabin passengers,--an Irish gentleman (who had a
short time before sold his lieutenancy in the British army) and his
sister. The former had been engaged in some of England's fiercest
battles, and won some of her brightest laurels. The reason which
induced him to dispose of his commission, and forsake the hardships
and honors of military life, was a desire to visit some near
relations, who, at an early period, had emigrated to this country, and
who were now enjoying respectability and a competence. It was for this
object that Mr. Kelly and his sister had taken passage in the Gold
Hunter, at the time of which we are now speaking. It need hardly be
said, that they felt towards each other all that deep-toned and
romantic affection which in so characteristic a manner pervades Irish
The captain, who was a man of fine feeling and cultivated intellect,
spent most of his leisure moments in their company; and many an
evening, when the moon-beams played forth brightly on the rippling
water, and the bellying of the canvass seemed to assure them they were
hastening to the tender embraces of those they loved, would they sit
together on the quarter-deck, while Miss Kelly enhanced the brilliancy
of the scene by singing some of those wild, touching melodies which
she had learned to warble on her own native hills. Thus, "time trod on
flowers," and the incidental privations and inconveniences of a sea
voyage were greatly mitigated.
Nothing worthy of special notice occurred until about the 25th of
April, when Mr. Kelly, who was walking on the weather side of the main
deck, accidentally overheard the following conversation, between three
or four of the crew, engaged in caulking the seams just under the lee
of the long-boat.
"I tell you, once for all, a cargo of silks and broadcloths aint
a-going to do us any good without the ready cash."
"Ready cash! why, man, how many times must I tell you that there is
specie on board? the old man has two or three thousand dollars, and
Kelly has a bag of sovereigns, or my eyes never saw salt water."--"And
the girl," said a third voice, which Mr. Kelly knew to be the
steward's--"and the girl did not jingle her bag for nothing the other
day, when she walked by me: something there, or my head 's a ball of
Kelly was transfixed with utter horror and amazement; but fearful lest
some one might perceive him, he crouched under the long-boat, which
afforded him a partial concealment. In this situation, he listened
with breathless anxiety, to the development of their plans, so
murderous that his very blood ran cold in his veins.
When the villains came to the blackest, most awful, portions of their
scheme, their voices were instinctively hushed into almost a whisper;
so that it was only the general outline that Kelly could gather. He
found that it was their intention to wait until some dark, dismal
night, when they would rush on the captain, himself and sister, and
murder them in their beds, rifle them of their money, and take
possession of the ship. It was their design to spare the life of the
mate, whose services they needed as a navigator. After having done all
this, they were to steer directly for the coast of Africa, where they
hoped to dispose of the cargo to the negroes. If successful, they
expected to carry thence to the West Indies a load of slaves--if not,
to abandon the ship entirely, taking with them the specie, and
whatever light articles of value they conveniently could. They
anticipated no difficulty in introducing themselves into some of the
settlements on the coast as shipwrecked mariners; and, as vessels
frequently left the settlements for the United States, they supposed
they might procure a passage without exciting any suspicion.
Kelly was a man of such imperturbable self-command, that he found no
difficulty in repressing every symptom which could indicate his
knowledge of the diabolical conspiracy. It was no part of his
intention, however, to conceal any thing from Capt. Newton; to the
captain, therefore, he made an unreserved disclosure of all that had
come to his knowledge. At first they were at a loss what measures to
take: one thing they thought of the greatest importance, which was to
keep Miss Kelly in entire ignorance of what was transpiring on board.
Some uncurbed outbreaking of alarm would be almost certain, such was
the excitability of her temperament. This, in their present situation,
might be attended with the most disastrous consequences.
The captain determined to eye with particular vigilance the motions of
Harmon, who, from the part he took in the conversation alluded to
above, appeared to be the ring-leader. Here, in order that the reader
may fully understand the narrative, it becomes necessary for us to
make a very short digression.
The government of a ship is, in the strictest sense of the term,
monarchical, the captain holding undivided and absolute authority. The
relation he sustains to the sailor resembles very much that of the
master to the slave. Consequently, in order that this relation be not
severed by the sailor, even the faintest color of insubordination must
be promptly quelled. If any master of a ship suffer a sailor to make
an impertinent reply with impunity, he immediately finds his authority
prostrate and trampled upon, and his most positive commands
The day after that on which Mr. Kelly had communicated the startling
intelligence to the captain, was somewhat squally. The latter was
standing on the weather side of the quarter-deck, giving directions to
the man at the helm (who happened to be Harmon) respecting the
steering of the ship:
"Luff! luff! keep her full and by! Mind your weather helm, or she'll
be all in the wind. Down with it, or she'll be off! I tell you, if you
don't steer the ship better, I'll send you from the helm. You don't
keep her within three points of her course either way!"
All this was said, of course, in a pretty authoritative tone, and
Harmon impudently replied, "I can steer as well as you, or any other
man in the ship."
Capt. Newton's philosophy was completely dashed by this daring answer,
and he immediately gave Harmon a blow with his fist, which Harmon as
promptly returned sprawling the captain on the deck.
Harmon then deserted the helm, leaving the ship to the mercy of the
tempest, and hurried forward to the forecastle, hoping there to
intrench himself so firmly as to resist all attacks from without.
The captain, as soon as he could recover from his amazement, went to
the cabin door and cried out,
"Mr. Kelly, our lives are in danger--will you assist me, my dear sir,
to secure one of my men, that cut-throat Harmon. We must blow up this
scheme in the outset, or we are gone."
Kelly had too little coolness in his constitution to stop to discuss
the matter, when he knew that the life of a dear sister might depend
on the issue. He saw, in a moment, that the conspirators would take
courage, unless they were immediately overpowered. He therefore
instantly joined Capt. Newton, and they proceeded to the forecastle
Threats and commands had not virtue enough to bring Harmon from his
hiding-place. Some more effectual expedient must be resorted to.
Accordingly, brimstone was introduced into the numerous crevices of
the forecastle, and the atmosphere rendered insufferable. Frantic with
suffocation, his eyes flashing with rage, he brandished savagely a
huge case-knife:--"You, Newton! and you Kelly! I swear that, if I am
obliged to leave this forecastle, I'll sheath this knife in your
breasts, you infernal tormentors!"
Like the chafed, wounded, maddened bull, which his pursuers have
surrounded, and which is drawing close about him his dying strength,
for one last furious charge, was Harmon, when Kelly, with most
provoking coolness, said, "Harmon, you shall leave that forecastle, or
It soon became evident that he was making preparations to leave: they
therefore planted themselves firmly near the gang way through which
alone he could possibly come out. Soon he bolted furiously through,
making, as he passed, a desperate plunge at Capt. Newton, with his
enormous case-knife. Had not Mr. Kelly, at this moment, by a dexterous
effort, struck Harmon's arm, one more immortal spirit would have been
disencumbered of this "coil of mortality." Instead of this, the
villain was disarmed, and his dangerous weapon danced about harmlessly
on the top of the waves. Harmon was now powerless; and they found no
difficulty in putting irons upon him. During the whole of this
contest, his associates did not dare to offer him the least
assistance: on the contrary, each stood silently apart, eyeing his
neighbor with fear and distrust.
When Mr. Kelly returned to the cabin, he found that his sister had
fainted away through terror. Volatile salts, and the assurance that
all her future fears would be entirely groundless, had the effect of
restoring her very speedily. * * *
On the morning of the 23d May, Charleston light-house was descried
from the mast-head. Not a remnant of apprehension lurked behind; every
pulse beat gladly; anticipated joys filled every bosom. It was not
long before the revenue cutter, from which floats the stripes and the
stars, was seen bounding over the billows towards the Gold Hunter. She
was soon along side, and, after an interchange of salutations between
the vessels, the commander of the revenue cutter boarded the ship.
After many inquiries, Capt. Newton requested the United States officer
to step into the cabin, where he laid open all the circumstances
connected with the abortive conspiracy.
"Capt. Morris," said he, "I shall be obliged to call on you for
assistance in bringing these men to punishment."
"Such as I can grant," replied Capt. M., "is at your service; but how
shall we proceed?"
"Put the men into irons, and then I consign them to your safe
These intentions were announced on deck; and if ever consternation
and rueful dismay were depicted in human countenances it was in the
case of those who had entered into the conspiracy, but who, till now,
had supposed that all their plans were enveloped in midnight secrecy.
Manacles were put on them all without difficulty, and they soon found
themselves securely lodged on board an United States vessel.
At the fall term of the Supreme Court of South Carolina, four men were
arraigned on an indictment of "mutiny on the high seas," on board the
ship Gold Hunter. The evidence was so conclusive, that all the
ingenuity of the prisoner's council, twist itself as it would, could
effect nothing. The jury found a verdict of guilty, without leaving
their seats. Harmon was sentenced to the penitentiary five years; the
others four years each. Thus was a most dangerous indevotion