The Belfast Evening Telegraph (Enniskillen edition)
Thursday, August 7, 1941.
THE STORY OF A NIGHTMARE VOYAGE WITH A MAD
Capt. R.H. Davis, well-known authority on shipping topics, here
relates the grim tale of a trip on which a crazed captain
murdered the crew of his ship under the impression that they
were plotting mutiny.
The affair of the Mary Russell was at the time described in
the Belfast press as "an event without parallel in the annals
of maritime misfortune." This description was not in the
least exaggerated. The dreadful story has a certain amount of
local interest owing to the fact that her captain belonged to
Londonderry and that the captain of a Belfast brig also plays
a principal part.
The brig Mary Russell belonged to Cork. On May 9, 1828,
she sailed from the island of Barbadoes with a cargo consisting
of hogsheads of sugar and bales of hides. Her master was Wm.
[William?] Stewart, a native of Derry, and her crew consisted
of a mate and seven men, two of whom were muleteers working
their passage. There were also three apprentices, aged
respectively 15, 13, and 12 years. Also on board were a
young boy passenger and a man named Raynes, who was described
as a "naval gentleman."
All went well at first, but as the days went on the master
began to act in a peculiar manner ; the truth was he was a
dangerous lunatic, but as yet no one suspected it.
First he had a delusion that a mutiny was brewing on
board and that Raynes was the ringleader. Raynes, it appears,
was very friendly with the crew. He spent a lot of time
forward, and often conversed with them in Gaelic, a language
that the captain did not understand. The mate also incurred
his suspicion, and he ordered him out of his cabin and made
him sleep in the half-deck.
One day he charged Raynes with plotting mutiny, and when
the charge was denied he ordered one of the boys to throw
all the charts and navigating instruments overboard. He
also destroyed the log-book and told the mate that he was
to make no further reckoning. His idea was that this would
prevent the mutiny coming to a head, as he was the only one
on board who would have any knowledge of the ship's
position, as he had already stowed away sufficient charts
and instruments for his own use.
Death Threat to Mate.
Some days later the Mary Russell spoke to the Mary Harriet,
bound from New York to Liverpool. Both vessels hove to, and
Captain Stewart went on board and returned with a pair of
pistols. On the night of June 13 the mate came into the
cabin for an implement to trim the binnacle light, and on
leaving made a noise that awoke the captain. Next morning,
while the mate was asleep, the captain came along, woke
him, and told him that if he had found him forward with
the crew he would have him put to death as a mutineer.
The mate presumably resented such language, and there
were probably words between them. In any case the captain
threatened the mate with a harpoon and ordered some of the
men standing by to seize him. This the men refused to
do and walked away.
Here was mutiny in earnest, the men had actually refused
to obey his orders. The mate went below, and two or
three of the men went with him and, thinking to appease
the captain, they advised the mate to let the captain
make him prisoner, and, unfortunately, the mate agreed to
take this line of action. The captain had him bound,
and he was carried below and put in the lazarette, where
he lay for three days, and in that time was given only one
meal. The lazarette was a store room in a sailing ship
situated under the cabin, and was usually entered through
a trap door in the deck or floor.
In the madman's brain was now conceived the amazing plan
of making every member of the crew a prisoner and with
the assistance of the boys bringing the ship into port
himself. The brig was now about 400 miles W.S.W. of Cape
Clear, going along with a fair wind and fine weather. On
Saturday, June 21, the captain commenced to shorten her
down, and when the men were aloft he got the boys into
the cabin and told them of his plan.
He said that if they assisted him they would get 100
guineas each, and that he himself would get Ã…Â“7,000 or
Ã…Â“8,000 from Lloyd's and would also probably get command
of the largest ship out of London. The boys agreed to
help, and one of them was sent forward to tell one of the
men that he was wanted in the cabin by the captain.
WAITING WITH PISTOL.
How Crew Was Bound.
The cabin was entered by an almost vertical ladder,
and the man after descending found the captain standing
with a pistol pointing towards him. Two of the boys
came forward, and he allowed himself to be bound. In
this way, one at a time, six of the seamen were secured.
There were now only two left.
The seventh man may have had his suspicions aroused,
for when he was halfway down the ladder he looked round.
When he saw the captain with the pistol in his hand he
didn't wait to discuss matters, but made a bolt for the deck.
The captain let go both pistols, but fortunately they
both misfired, and the man escaped forward and joined his
companion in the forecastle. It is hardly credible that,
although these men were safe enough in a sunk forecastle,
where he could not get a shot at them, the captain actually
talked them into coming out and agreed to be bound by the
Next morning, Sunday, a bright ides entered the madman's
brain. He secured some staples and drove them into the
cabin deck at the heads and feet of each of the prisoners,
and then with a length of rope to these staples he lashed
each prisoner. Next he went forward to see how his other
two prisoners were getting along, and was profoundly
shocked to find that one of them had managed to free
himself. When this man refused to allow himself to
be again bound the captain fired two or three shots at
him and, although not seriously wounded, he fell down
and pretended to be dead.
A few moments afterwards a sail hove in sight and,
although distress signals were exhibited, the stranger
sheered off, probably being suspicious of a trap on seeing
a ship going along with a fair wind under shortened canvas.
The captain turned his attention to the man he had shot,
intending to throw him overboard, and was cute enough to
notice that the supposed dead man had moved his position.
He again fired at him, and the bullet entered his leg.
The man got to his feet. Armed with a harpoon and axes,
the captain and the boys attacked him. A terrible fight
Struck with an Axe.
He rushed the captain, knocked him down, and took the
pistol from him, but before he could do anything more he
was struck on the head with an axe by one of the boys.
Covered with blood, he managed to get away and hide
himself in the fore hold.
That afternoon another ship hove in sight. They were
now getting among shipping. This vessel also sheered off
and refused to have anything to do with this suspicious
looking craft. This seemed to drive the madman to
distraction. Followed by the boys and armed with a
crowbar, he butchered every one of the seamen that were
lying lashed to the cabin deck. Below him in the lazarette
the mate was lying, and he was next to be dealt with.
In the cabin deck or floor there was a hole for
ventilation, and through this hole with a harpoon the
captain attacked the mate, who was lying bound underneath.
Although severely wounded, the mate managed to roll
out of range of the harpoon. Beneath him were bundles of
hides, and the madman kept jabbing at these until he
felt sure that his victim had been despatched.
The mate afterwards managed to get clear of his bonds.
He then broke through the wood bulkhead and joined the other
wounded man in the fore hold. Apparently quite satisfied,
the captain now lay down and fell asleep, but was awakened
by hearing a voice hail the Mary Russell. He rushed up
on deck, and a ship was hove to quite close by.
The stranger asked the captain what was the matter, and
he was told by Captain Stewart that there had been a mutiny
on board, that eight of the mutineers were dead, and that
one had escaped. One account says that the stranger was
the Belfast brig Mary Stubbs, and another that she was
an American vessel, the Mary Stubbs, bound from Barbadoes
to Belfast. The stranger lowered a boat, and her captain
(Callender) came on board, and, needless to say, he was
horrified by what he saw. He then went along with
Captain Stewart to search for the man that had escaped to
the hold, and Captain Callender persuaded the man to
come on deck.
To the consternation of Captain Stewart up came his
mate also. These two wounded men were in such a condition
that they were sent on board the Mary Stubbs, from which two
seamen were transferred to the Mary Russell to help the
captain and the boys to navigate her. Both vessels now
proceeded on their way towards Cork. Two days afterwards,
on the 25th, Captain Callender again visited the Mary Russell,
and he was no sooner on board than Captain Stewart began
to tell him that the two seamen he had sent on board were
also plotting to murder him. It was only then that
Captain Callender for the first time began to realise that
Stewart as a madman. The men that he had sent on board
the Mary Russell refused to stay any longer, and to get them
to carry on Captain Stewart was induced to return with
Captain Callender to the Mary Stubbs.
The ships were now approaching land, and twice Stewart
jumped overboard. On the first occasion he was rescued,
and on the second was picked up by a hooker. He convinced
the skipper of third craft that his life had been attempted
on board the Mary Russell, with the result that the hooker
cleared off with Captain Stewart on board and brought him
As soon as Captain Callender arrived he lodged an
information, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of
Stewart. On June 28, 1828, an inquest was held, and the
bodies of the murdered seamen were inspected by the jury
just as Captain Stewart had left them. The cabin was a
shambles,, with the bodies, some of them horribly
mutilated, lashed to the deck.
TRIED FOR MURDER.
Sent to an Asylum.
At the inquest Captain Callender told his part of the
story much as it is told here. Two of the boys, Henry
Richards, aged 12, and Dan Scully, aged 14, were the most
The jury found that the several sailors and passengers
were killed by Captain Stewart, he being then and for some
time previously in a state of mental derangement. He was
afterwards tried on the capital charge, but was acquitted
on the grounds of insanity and ordered to be confined in
a lunatic asylum for life.
No mention is made of Captain Stewart's age. After
being detained in the asylum for seven years he was
released in July, 1835. In February, 1834, the Mary
Russell went ashore near Yarmouth and became a total