Friday, 8 April 2016

Captain Killed Over Vinegar

A seaman who complained of a lack of vinegar stabbed his captain to death after he felt he was given extra work as a punishment for his request.

On 8th June 1872 the Mora sailed from Demerara in British Guyana for Liverpool. On board was an able seaman named William Davies who was from Finland, then part of the Russian Empire. As was often the case with foreign sailors who registered with a British vessel in Victorian times, Davies had taken an Anglicised name. 

Early on in the voyage Davies complained to the Captain, William Draycott, that the crew did not have sufficient ration of vinegar. Draycott responded by saying that they had double rations of lime and refused to offer any financial compensation for the lack of vinegar.

When Davies was on the forecastle on 26th June he was ordered to go aloft and do some work on the rigging, which he did so. He was soon told however to do some more work, this time in the topgallant yard. Davies took exception to this, saying that Draycott was putting too much responsibility on him. He then told the captain that one of them would end up killing the other.

Draycott challenged Davies to a fight and called other crew members together to ensure that it was fair. After the captain struck the first blow, Davies took out a knife and stabbed him in the shoulder. Some crew members restrained him but he broke away and plunged the knife into Draycott's shoulder. 

Twelve hours after the incident Draycott died of his injuries and when the vessel arrives in Liverpool two weeks later Davies was arrested and charged with murder, appearing at the Liverpool assizes on 23rd August. Davies didn't deny what he did, claiming he was acting in self defence and some crew members told the court that the captain had a 'fighting attitude' and had threatened to kick his head off. 

In summing up, Mr Justice Willes said that this case was definitely one of manslaughter and could even be murder, as the use of a knife could not be justified if he was only being threatened by Draycott's fists. The jury erred on the side of caution but Davies was shown no mercy by the judge, who sentence him to twenty years imprisonment. 

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