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Colonial Cases

The Crew of the Freeman, 1879

[ship's crew]

The Crew of the Freeman

United States Consular Court, Shanghai
Bailey, 8 April 1879
Source: The North China Herald, 15 April 1879



Shanghai, 8th April.

Before D. H. BAILEY., Esq., Vice-Consul General.

Refusal of Duty by the Crew of the "Freeman."

   Eleven members of the crew of the barque Freeman were brought up this morning on the complaint of the master, which was as follows:

   M. L. Howes, master of the American barque Freeman on oath complains that Alexander Johnson, Christian Holn, William Parks, William Peterson, John Dean, Aaron Matson, John Matson, Frank Brown, Charles Brown, Henry Burkes, and John Oleson, seamen on said barque Freeman, and within the jurisdiction of this Court, did, on the 4th day of April, 1879, refuse to obey the lawful commands of the officers of the  said barque Freeman, and did neglect and refuse to do duty on board the said barque Freeman, and did generally act in a mutinous manner.

   The COURT asked the prisoners what they had to say in answer to the charge.

   CHRISTIAN HOLN assumed the position of spokesman and made a long statement, which was to the effect that on Thursday morning they went aft and asked the captain's permission to see the Consul.  The Captain replied that he would allow them to see the Consul when there was time.  He said there was not time just then, and asked them why they did not tell him they wished to see the Consul when the vessel was down at Woosung.  The Captain would not give them any satisfactory answer and seemed as if he wanted to put them off, and they then told him that they would do no more work until they saw the consul.  A man afterwards came on board and asked them if they were going to turn to, and they told him they were not until they saw the Consul.  This man then told them that if they did not turn to they would all be put in gaol, and they all consented to go to gaol rather than turn to.  The next day the Consular police constable came on board and took them ashore to gaol.  They again told the Captain they wanted to see the Consul, and the Captain replied that they had already seen him, what more did they want.  He (Holn) replied that they did not know whether the person they saw was the Consul or not, whereupon the Captain asked them if they thought he would bring a shoemaker or tailor on board to see them, and if they had not seen the consul did they think he would go so far with them as he was doing.

   The COURT asked what they wished to see the Consul for.

   HOLN replied for the bad business on board every since the pilot left the ship at New York.  It had been rough work for them all the passage - threatening to blow their brains out, or throw them overboard, and such like things.  He gave a rambling account of two occasions when he alleged he was assaulted by the mate, while the Captain was standing near.  This he said was on the 26th January and 26th February.

   The COURT explained to Holn that he could make his complaint of assault in the usual way, and the case would be heard.  The other prisoners were then asked what they had to say.

   BURKES said he had been struck by the mate five or six times.  On the 1st December the mate struck him with his fists.

   WILLIAM PETERSON gave particulars of an attack upon him by the mate, who struck him with a club and kicked him, and he alleged the captain saw it.

   The CAPTAIN told him he had better take that back as he was not there.

   JOHN DEAN complained of the abusive and threatening language used towards him by the Captain and the mate - mostly by the mate.  On several occasions they had threatened to blow his brains out.

   CHARLES BROWN said that on the 29th December the captain struck him with a broom.  The captain and mate had also struck him with their fists, and in November the Captain struck him with a rope.

   ALEXANDER JOHNSON explained that on the 26th February the chief mate struck him with a piece of plank four feet long.

   WILLIAM PARKS had not been assaulted, by the Captain and mate had used abusive and threatening language towards him.

   JOHN MATSON said in March the mate assaulted him with a belaying pin, and in January he struck him with the nozzle of a hose used for washing down the deck.

   AARON MATSON explained that the second mate had struck and kicked him on the 30th October, and on the 5th November he was knocked down by the second mate and kicked with his big sea boots.

   JOHN OLESON complained of three assaults by the mate, on the 5th, 12th and 13th January, and on each occasion blood was produced.

      The COURT said the statements of the prisoners embraced complaints of assault against the captain, mate and second mate.  Only the captain was present, and it was necessary for the mate and second mate to be in attendance also.

   The CAPTAIN said the second mate had been paid off from the ship.

   The COURT replied that he would have to be found and attend the court.

   Dr. LATHAM, the Clerk of the Court,   said the prisoners sent for him to see them in gaol that morning.  He went to see them, and they wanted him to receive their complaint, and he was going to take it, but when he found that each of the eleven had a separate complaint top make, he thought it would be best for them to tell their story in Court.

   The COURT said the best way would be for each man to make out his complaint - reduce it to writing - and then the person charged with the assault could be brought to the Court as well as the witnesses to be called.  He had heard what the prisoners had to say.  Their complaints would be entered, and the cases would be heard as soon as it was convenient to do so.

   In answer to the Court, the Captain said either tomorrow or next day would suit him for the cases to be tried.  His ship was now lying in the lower reach.

   The COURT said the cases had better be set down for hearing on Thursday next, at 10 a.m., and in the meantime the complaints could be put into writing and arrangements made for the attendance of the mate and second mate, and the witnesses.  Meanwhile the prisoners would have to return on board the ship, and do their work as they had done before.

   HOLN said not one of them wished to put a foot on board the ship again.  They were in danger of their lives.

   The COURT replied that it was nonsense for them to talk in that way.  Who was going to take their lives?  They were now under the protection of the Consulate, and they would have all the protection the law afforded them.  There would be no assaults on board or violence used towards them, for if there were it would only aggravate the charges they had made.

   Two other of the prisoners said they could not return to the ship.

   The COURT said he did not propose to allow them to dictate what should be done.  They would have to return to the ship and do their work, and he could give them every assurance that they would be protected.  It was a great deal better for them to go on board and do their work, and he could not tolerate such a thing as to allow them to loiter about the Settlement when the ship wanted hands to look after her.

   HOLN repeated that they were afraid to go on board after what had happened.

   The COURT - I am going to hear your complaints and if they are sustained, and the assaults have been serious in their character, I will take the necessary steps to vindicate you.

   HOLN. - There is not a man in the ship who can please the captain or the mate.

   The COURT - That may be, but I am not going to hear that now.  I shall see you are protected, and your complaints heard in due course.  You asked to see the consul, and you have now seen him and made your complaints which will be reduced to writing in the clerk's office.  The cases will come on for hearing on Thursday, when you will have an opportunity to present your complaint in all its force.  Until then you must go on board the ship and behave yourselves.  It is a great deal more to your interest to go on board the ship than be stubborn and distaste what I am to do.  Do what I tell you, and I will see that you are protected.

   Prisoners were then removed from the Court to the clerk's room, where their complaints were taken down in writing, and the cases will come on for hearing at 10 o'clock on Thursday.

10th April.

The Crew of the barque Freeman.

   The eleven men belonging to the crew of the barque Freeman charged at the instance of Captain Howes, the master of the vessel, with refusal of duty and mutinous conduct, were again brought up on remand from Tuesday, when, it will be remembered, eight of them made complaints of assaults against the captain and the chief and second mates.

   The COURT said that in this case there were complaints on the part of the men against the Captain and mates, and a complaint by the Captain against the men.

   The CAPTAIN said that was so, but he had come to an amicable agreement with the men.

   The COURT had heard an agreement had been come to, and understood that the men agreed to take their discharge from the ship on condition that they withdrew the complaints they had made against the captain and the mates, and the captain withdrew the charge he had made against them.

   The CAPTAIN and the men said this was the agreement they had come to.

   The COURT said under these circumstances the complaints would be dismissed by mutual consent of both sides, and the man would be discharged from the ship with the usual guarantee; and he remarked that when the men were dissatisfied and the Captain also, it was better to have an amicable adjustment than a long controversy.

12th April.


   It will be remembered that late on Sunday night, the 6th inst., an application was sent from the Humboldt to the consulate to quell a disturbance on board, and the Deputy Marshal and others proceeded on board and arrested the prisoners, who have been in custody in the meantime.  They were now brought up on the complaint of the Captain, which was as follows:-

   John Henry Willey, master of the ship Humboldt, on oath complains that Aaron May, Thomas Hibbelet, Charles Organ and Charles Hermonson, seamen of the said ship Humboldt, and within the jurisdiction of this Court, did, on the 6th day of April, 1879, smuggle spirituous liquor on board the  said ship Humboldt, contrary to the Shipping Articles of the said ship Humboldt; that they were drunk and disorderly; that they used abusive and threatening language to the officers of the said ship Humboldt; they they refused to obey the orders of the officers of the  said ship Humboldt; that they went ashore from the  said ship without leave of the officers of said ship; and that they, the said Arche May, Thomas Hibbelet, Charles Organ, and Charles Hermomson, seamen as aforesaid, did conduct themselves on board the  said ship Humboldt in a mutinous manner.

   The COURT explained that the complaint of the captain charged the prisoners with smuggling spirituous liquors on board contrary to the Shipping Articles, that they were drink and disorderly and used abusive and threatening language to the officers of the ship, refusing to obey the lawful orders of the officers, and that they did generally conduct themselves in a mutinous manner.  He asked the prisoners what they had to say in answer to the charge, and whether they would like to be tried separately or together.

   Prisoners all pleaded not guilty, and elected to be tried separately.

   The case against Arche May was first heard.

   Captain WILLEY deposed that the prisoner was one of the best men he ever had in a ship, and had caused no trouble in any way during the passage from New York.  But when the ship went up to Tung-ka-doo, he burst out, was drunk all the week, the men fetching liquor on board, and he was unable top do any duty.  During the week prisoner went on shore several times without leave, but, with one exception, he was sober when he came on board, and he was not abusive or mutinous.  He simply had him put in irons and brought to the consulate to get him sober.

   Prisoner denied that he was on shore several times without leave - only on one occasion.

   CHARLES E. MILLER, the chief officer, spoke to the prisoner's inability to perform his duties through drink, and admitted that to his knowledge he was on shore only once without leave.  He had no complaint to make against the prisoner except the one of drunkenness.

   A seaman, the steward, and the second mate were also examined.

   The COURT thought the prisoner had been guilty of an indiscretion, but his case was not a very serious one, and taking into consideration the good opinion the Captain and the mates had of him, the punishment he had already received seemed to be sufficient, and the charge would be dismissed.

   The case of T. Hibbelet was next taken.

   Captain WILLEY deposed that the prisoner was the worst man he ever saw on board a ship - he had threatened his life, the mate's life, and the second mate's life.  Prisoner had been in gaol, and when he was brought on board by the Marshal he worked a short time, then refused duty, and threatened that he would cause trouble on board.

   The COURT said the charge in this case seemed to be refusal of duty.

   The CAPTAIN said that was so, but there was also the abusive and threatening language the prisoner had used, and his general conduct on board.  Prisoner, he alleged, had been the cause of all the mischief that had been done.

   The mate deposed that on Friday prisoner was brought on board from gaol by the Marshal and shortly afterwards, when asked to turn to, he asked for something to eat in a very insulting manner.  He directed him to the cook who supplied him.  Prisoner afterwards did a little work, but on Sunday morning when asked to sweep the decks with the other men, he refused duty.  This was the only work done on the ship on Sundays, and did not take more than an hour.

   The second mate and the steward gave confirmatory evidence.
   In answer to the Court, the Captain said the prisoner did not take part in the row which caused him to send to the consulate for assistance.

   The prisoner denied having misconducted himself in any way.  He did refuse duty on Sunday morning, but he did so because he was ill and unable to work.

   An able seaman deposed that the prisoner had behaved himself as well as the other men on board.  When prisoner refused duty on Sunday morning he was sick, having complained of cramps in the stomach during the night, and he did not get up until breakfast time.

   The COURT said the prisoner might be a very difficult and disagreeable man to deal with, but that was a question which was not under consideration at present.  Prisoner apparently had a bravado style of talking, which was no doubt annoying to his officers, but, from the evidence, it did mot appear that he had committed any overt act, beyond refusing duty on Sunday, when there was only an hour's work to do, and when he alleged he was sick.  Of course seamen must obey the lawful commands of their officers, and it was the prisoner's duty to have satisfied the officers that he was sick, and then he would have been excused from duty.  It did not appear, however, from the evidence that the prisoner had committed himself to deserve much more punishment than he had already received, and he would be liberated on the payment of a $1 fine and costs.

  1. ORGAN's case was next heard.

Captain WILLEY said this prisoner had gone ashore many times during the week and fetched liquor on board which had led to disturbances.  On Sunday last he was going backwards and forwards all day for drink, and at night it was so bad that he sent to the consulate for assistance.  A basket of liquor was found in the fore castle, and the crew were drinking all day on Sunday.

   Prisoner, in answer to the Court, admitted he had taken liquor on board, and said he was aware it was contrary to the Articles, but it was a sailor's failing, and the crew were all to blame.

   Five bottles of liquor which were found in the forecastle were produced, and the mate testified to finding six other empty bottles in the same place.

   The COURT  admonished the prisoner for taking liquor on board, saying it tended to a breach of discipline, promoted disorder, and was calculated to cause improprieties and break up good relations between officers and men.  Besides, it was demoralising and jeopardised the safety of the ship, inasmuch as it rendered the men unable to perform their duties in case of fire or accident, and he should punish the prisoner as an example to others.  Prisoner had already been in gaol nearly a week, which was to be taken into consideration, and he would have to go to gaol for another week.

   Prisoner said his conduct had been no worse than any other member of the crew, and alleged that it was animosity on the part of the mate that he had been singled out when one was as bad as the other.  Captain Willey, he said, was one of the best masters he had ever sailed under, but the mate was not a good mate, and he felt sure it would not be safe for him to go back to the ship.

   The case of C. HERMONSON was next heard.

   Captain WILLEY said the charge in this case was the same as in the last one - drunk and disorderly, going ashore without leave, and bringing liquor on board the ship.

   Prisoner admitted taking one bottle of liquor on the ship, which was taken from him by the mate, who put him in irons.

   The COURT pointed out that there was no authority for officers of vessels to put men in irons when the vessel was in harbour, within the jurisdiction of the court, except in cases of emergency of an extraordinary character, imperilling the safety of life and property, and even then the authorities provided by the Government, with jurisdiction in such matters, should be immediately communicated with.

   The mate explained that the prisoner came on board under the influence of liquor, and when he took the bottle of liquor from him he also found two large "rocks" in his pockets.  Prisoner became violent when the liquor was taken from him, demanded it back and threatened him, and then he ordered him to be put in irons.

   The COURT said if this statement were correct there was some excuse for the course that was taken, but officers should be very careful about putting men in irons without the jurisdiction of authorities appointed to carry out the law, or it might lead to trouble in various ways.  He should inflict the same punishment in this case as in the last one, and prisoner would have to go to gaol for one week.

   The prisoner Hibberlet expressed his disinclination to return to the ship.  He was afraid something more serious might occur, as all the officers were "down" upon him.

   The COURT told him he must go back to the ship and behave himself.

   Hibbelet has .lodged a complaint against one of the officers of the ship, and the case will come on for hearing in the course of a few days.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School