Monday, 21 July 2014

High Seas Killer Swims For It

A seaman who killed his officer tried to swim his way to freedom but was captured and brought to Liverpool to face trial, where he was shown some leniency by the judge.

43 year old William Brown joined the Regina as a boatswain in the autumn of 1867 for a voyage to Sierra Leone. It was there on 4th January that Joseph Dunlop, an Antwerpian who had adopted a British surname, joined the vessel as an able seaman.

The Regina with its nine man crew set sail from the Sherbo River on 7th February and the sailing was without incident until the early morning of 3rd March when Brown, Dunlop and a Dane named Nordholm were together on deck. Dunlop was refusing to carry out Brown's instruction to pump the ship, instead challenging him to a fight, leading to the Captain going on deck to calm both men down.

As Dunlop was heading to his bunk, Brown got hold of an iron bar and struck him five times with it in full view of Chief Officer John Thomas. Half an hour later, Dunlop was found dead by Thomas in the forecastle and an examination of the body revealed a gash above the eye and fractures to the skull. He was buried at sea and Brown was then locked in a cabin, but not put in irons.

When the vessel came within 10 miles of the North Wales coast, Brown made a dash for it by making a rope out of his bed linen and clambering out of his window and down the side of the ship. The man at the wheel saw this and raised the alarm, leading to a boat being launched and Brown being captured as he made his desperate bid for freedom.

On 17th April 1868 the Regina arrived in Liverpool, where Brown was taken into custody by the river police. Violently shaking, he asked if transportation was still ongoing and said that he did it in self defence but was sure to be hanged or transported. He appeared before Mr Raffles the stipendiary magistrate and was committed for trial at the Summer Assizes.

At this trial, Brown claimed self defence although the only provocation was that Dunlop had refused to carry out a duty. In summing up though Baron Kelly directed the jury to find him guilty of manslaughter and due to Brown's previous good character, he received a fairly lenient term of twelve years penal servitude.

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