Saturday, 1 February 2014

Shooting on the High Seas

An American seaman who shot his superior on the high seas was hanged in 1875 after the jury's recommendation for mercy was not upheld.

Edward Cooper was born in New Orleans but went away to sea in his teens, usually working on ships out of Liverpool owned by Messrs Ferguson of South Castle Street. In January 1875 he set sail on he Coldeck set for Valpairaiso in Chile.

On  24th April in the early evening the Coldeck was near Cape Horn when Edward Jones, the boatswain, went to the forecastle and ordered 33 year old Cooper to help put up one of the sails. Cooper refused, saying he was drinking tea and when Jones told him again, he produced a revolver. Jones told him to put it down and fight like a man on the deck, but Cooper responded by shooting him in the chest in front of another seaman and went to his bunk.

Other sailors raced to the forecastle, where Jones was bleeding heavily and saying'Lord have mercy on my soul, I am done for.' He was carried to his cabin but soon died and Cooper was placed in chains by the captain, responding by saying the shooting was inevitable once Jones was put in charge.

The Coldeck continued its voyage to Valpairaiso where the revolver was placed in a sealed package by the British consul. Cooper was then brought back to Liverpool aboard the Iberian, which arrived in Liverpool on 23rd July. He was handed over to the river police by Captain Brown and appeared in the police court that afternoon, where he was remanded for a week. The following Friday he reappeared at the police court where he was committed to trial at the Assizes.

Cooper stood trial on 14th August, with the Liverpool Mercury describing him as 'of intelligent appearance.' The jury heard how he was of good character and had never caused any of his captains any trouble before. Fellow seamen told of the orders that were given to him and that they had not been given in an unreasonable manner. As such Cooper's claim that he acted in self defence was not upheld and he was found guilty of murder, but with a recommendation of mercy. He showed no emotion as he was sentenced to death and was then taken to Kirkdale gaol to await his fate.

Whilst in gaol, Cooper received very few visitors, being a single man with no family or friends in Liverpool. One of his visitors was a passenger who was on the Iberian that brought him back to England. Unable to read or write, he had never heard of the Lord's Prayer but turned to Catholicism whilst in the condemned cell, regularly being attended to by Father Bonte.

The Sailor's Home petitioned the Home Secretary for his reprieve, but Cooper didn't hold out much hope and his only wish was that he could be shot instead of hanged. On 4th September confirmation was received from the Home Secretary that his sentence would not be commuted and he was hanged two days later by Marwood (left) alongside William Baker.  Cooper maintained his coolness throughout the process, wishing goodbye to all as the noose was placed around his neck. The following morning Mercury reported that his dead body even had a slight smile on his face. As was normal practice, his corpse was then covered with quicklime and placed in a black coffin then buried in the precints of the prison.

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