Saturday, 5 November 2016

77 Mutiny on the 'Caswell'

Mutiny led to 8 dead from copper barque

77 Mutiny on the Caswell - 26 November 2016 (photo: ‘The Caswell’)

To most people the name “Caswell” signifies a fine bay between Langland and Pwll Du, accessible by road from Newton or Bishopston, or on foot by the cliff path from Mumbles or Pennard.  But it is also the name of a ship, a painting of which used to hang in Swansea’s former Maritime and Industrial Museum. 

Built at Dumbarton in Scotland in 1875 for the Swansea merchant William Tucker, the “Caswell” was a 750-ton barque with an iron hull, which became notorious through a mutiny that resulted in the killing of six men and the hanging of another two. 

Captained by Londoner George Edward Best, who was married to a daughter of Swansea's Chief Constable Allison, she sailed on 1st July from Glasgow with a cargo of iron pipes for Buenos Aires in South America.  The 73-day voyage was none too convivial, for the captain had earned the nickname ‘Bully Best’.  Perhaps it was because of clashes with the fiery-tempered captain that at Buenos Aires the 16 Scottish crewmen were all discharged, which left just the first and second mates, carpenter, steward, and two apprentices.  Over the next six weeks the crew were replaced by a motley assortment of seamen, including two Maltese brothers named Pistoria, a Turkish Greek called Baumbos, along with two other disreputable looking Greeks.  There was nearly a mutiny as the British seamen were displeased at having to work alongside three Greeks and two Maltese, who were surly and conspiratorial.  The plan was to sail around Cape Horn to Valparaiso on the west coast to collect a cargo of nitrate.  Morale was not helped by the captain’s habit of waving a revolver about when shouting orders to seamen, and at Valparaiso an Irish seaman and a German cook took the opportunity to jump ship.  After the cargo was loaded, the captain arrogantly rejected advice to discharge potential troublemakers, and the “Caswell” set sail for Queenstown in southern Ireland. 

Matters came to a head when Captain Best found fault with how one of the Greeks was performing his duties on the rigging, for the man leaped down and stabbed the captain, who was then also shot by one of the Pistoria brothers.  In the ensuing fracas the mate, second mate and the Welsh steward were all killed, and the ship taken over by the Greeks and Maltese: four bodies were cast overboard.  Able Seaman James Carrick of Rothsay was able to navigate, and it seems the ship made for Greek waters in the Mediterranean.  However when the Pistoria brothers later departed in the lifeboat with various booty, the British seamen were able to stage a counter-mutiny, and gain control of the “Caswell”.  Two Greek mutineers were killed, and the third Baumbos was placed in irons as the ship made for Kinsale in southern Ireland.

At his trial in Cork, Baumbos was found guilty of murder by eleven members of the jury, who were nonetheless unable to persuade the twelfth person.  They were discharged and a second jury sworn in who had no such reservations, so 23-year-old Baumbos was hanged in the yard of Cork County Gaol.  Strangely, three years later when James Carrick was about to serve in a German barque, he noticed among the crew one of the Maltese Pistoria brothers - who fortunately did not recognise him.  Consular authorities were alerted, Pistoria was arrested and shipped back to Britain, where he was tried in Cork and hanged; nothing was heard of his brother. 

So the mutiny on the “Caswell” led to eight deaths - the murder of four crew members, the killing of two mutineers, and later the hanging of two more.  After this the “Caswell” served her Swansea owner for a number of years, and was last heard of in February 1899 sailing from New South Wales with a crew of twelve carrying a cargo of coal: her fate is still unlearned.                                       

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