A captain and First Mate who mistreated a crew member were found guilty of his manslaughter in their trial at St Georges Hall.
On 1st September 1892 the Watchman left New York bound for various ports in Brazil. It had a crew of ten and was on a voyage scheduled to last several months. Amongst the crew was George Orr, who became a target or the brutality of the First Mate Patrick Fitzgerland. Orr and another sailor named Judson were regularly beaten with rope ends and belaying pins for little or no reason. On one occasion the Captain, William Crawford, ordered Fitzgerald to stop but he refused to do so, saying he would 'swing for it' one day.
Crawford got directly involved in the cruel behaviour and on 10th December he handcuffed Orr to the mizzen mast with hands above his head for several hours. After being briefly released, he was tied up again overnight wearing light clothing, his pants being allowed to fall down. Judson heard Orr being beaten and on waking up at 7am, he saw the poor man in a bunk breathing heavily and covered in scratches and black and blue bruises. He died a few moments later.
When the vessel reached Rio Grande a special naval court was commissioned, which ordered Crawford and Fitzgerald to be sent to England for a manslaughter trial. They arrived in Liverpool on 10th May 1893 aboard the Dryden and were immediately remanded in custody.
A the assizes trial in August, evidence was first heard from a seaman named Judson. Under cross examination Judson he that he and Orr had left the ship for two days at Rio Grande, due to their being no grog on board. However he denied that Orr was in any way a loafer and said he was afraid to tell the captain about the extent of Fitzgerald's brutality. A German seaman called Karl Vogt said that Orr was beaten every day for two months, and that he never saw him refuse orders. He did accept though that Orr was weak and had not realised there was an underlying heart problem.
Another crew member, Harry Gamble, testified to seeing Orr tell Fitzgerald he was too weak to work after being released from irons, leading to a further beating. Under cross examination, Gamble admitted that Orr had told him back in New York that he had a weak heart. Gamble stated that he had been one of two seamen that had carried Orr to a bunk and washed him down. He also said that no other crew members apart from the captain and mate had beaten him.
The deposition that had been made in Rio by Crawford was then read out. This said that Orr was put in irons for stowing away and refusing orders, and that he believed the cause of death to be solely as a result of heat disease. Fitzgerald's deposition said that he had never hit Orr, only shaken him and that he disobeyed orders.
A surgeon believed the cause of death to be exposure, which would have been accelerated by heart problems. The ships log recorded cause of death as heart disease.
In their closing submissions, defence counsel said that Orr had refused orders, other crew members would not allow him to work with them due to his personal hygiene, and that nobody was liable for his death. In summing up, Judge Hopwood said that a captain has powers but must use them in moderation. He told the jury to determine if his powers were used in the reasonable cause of preventing a mutiny.
After deliberating for twenty minutes, the jury found both crew members guilty with a recommendation for mercy. Defence counsel pointed out they had already been in gaol on remand for six months. However in his sentencing remarks, Hopwood said that the matter was very serious as no mention of punishment was made at all in the log book. Both Crawford and Fitzgerald were sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour.