Sea Stories

The Mutineers A Tale Of The Sea

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 peacefulness. 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 in sight. 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 relationships. 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 spun-yarn." 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 pertinaciously disregarded. 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 together. 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 die there." 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 keeping." 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 frustrated.

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