Monday, 2 November 2009

St Helena 1811 - not a good year

I have been working through the Judicial Records for 1811 and also doing some background reading. It turned out to be a demanding year for the Governor, Alexander Beatson (1759-1830).

On taking up his post in 1808 Governor Beatson had found a population of 3600
living almost wholly upon the public stores; and obtaining most of the necessaries of life in profusion, at prices not exceeding one third of the prime cost.

The result was neglect of cultivation, a decline of industry, and a great increase in the costs of running the island, which had doubled between 1800 and 1808. He also claimed that he found
a garrison, as well as many of the inhabitants, immersed in the grossest intemperance .. from their excessive use of spirituous liquors.

From a perusal of the Judicial Records, 1811 seemed an uneventful year :
- a dispute over the property at Rock Rose Hill brought by Captain John Barnes against Major William Seale; the former appears to have been married at this time to the latter's widowed mother;

-one case of assault in which John Kay was awarded 5/- damages against John Knipe, rather less than the £500 he had asked for;

-William Balcombe and two others fined the sum of 40/- for not turning up for jury service;

- the usual reports by the wormers of cattle;

- a few coroners' verdicts, including one on "Peter a Slave. Verdict. Died by the Visitation of God".

Initial impressions were misleading. These were difficult times on the island.

Food, Spirits and a Not Very Happy Christmas

At one of the sessions of the court in 1811 the Governor tried to deal with profiteering from the sale of poultry. A Grand Jury was duly called and recommended to the court that the highest prices should be

Fowls 8s/- Geese 21s/- Ducks 10/- Turkeys 30/-

There were also shortages of flour and rice, and on December 11th a Proclamation was issued forbidding the sale of potatoes to ships, and restricting the price to 8/- a bushel.

These shortages triggered a major mutiny among the garrison on December 23rd. The Governor concluded that this was just a pretext:
the sole object of the late violent measures, was to compel this government to give spirits to the garrison; an object in which every drunkard on the island felt a deep and warm interest. (1)

The mutineers' harebrained plan was to seize the Governor and expel him from the island on a ship that was in port. Presumably this would have allowed them to drink themselves silly over Christmas before the inevitable retribution in the New Year. The Governor's reaction on hearing this was not to flee, but rather to order the ship to leave and to barricade himself and his family in Plantation House!

Prior to the mutiny a note was slipped under Mr Doveton's door presumably his house in Jamestown not Sandy Bay:
His it still your intension to percevere in your oppression and tyranney to wards the troops in this garrison, has hitherto you have done; if so you can expect nothing but an open rebellion.
I am autherized, by the troops of this island, to inform this Councel, if they do not immediately soply this garrison with liquor and provisions, in the same manner has Governor Brooks did (whose regulations you have voilated) you shall be made answerable for what will follow, except you make your escape good from this settlement.

It is in your power to prevent the impending vengeance which now hangs over your head's and save the lives of many poor souls, which will inevitably fall a sacrifice.

The mutiny, initially comprising some 250 soldiers, was soon put down, but not before the Lieutenant Governor, Colonel Broughton, had been seized by the mutineers at Longwood.

Among those commended by the Governor for their action against the mutineers was Major Hodson, later to be nicknamed "Hercules" by Napoleon. (2)

Nine of the ring leaders were court martialled and sentenced to death on Christmas Day. Six of them, Henry Sisell, Thomas Berwick, Archibald Nimmo, Robert Anderson, Arthur Smith, and Thomas Edgeworth were executed the same day at sunset on High Knoll; in what the Governor hoped would be seen as a manifestation of his mercy the remaining three, Peter Wilsey, John Seager and Richard Kitchen had their sentences remitted.

The court martial reconvened on 26th December, and convicted three more, of whom one only, named Hewitt, was executed before the whole garrison.

The Governor also detained a number of others, whom he determined to send off the island as soon as possible. (3) The remainder were granted amnesty. By the 31st December the Governor was satisfied that the mutiny was over.

Two Schools Created

On a more positive note was the creation of two separate schools " to improve the Religious and Moral Character of all Classes of the rising generation". The schools were apparently to be called "The Company's Upper School" and "The Company's Second School". The upper school which was to be open to " the Children of the Civil & Military Servants & of the most reputable inhabitants", was under the direction of our old friend, the Rev. Boys. The fees for the upper school were to be 3 guineas a quarter. An additional five shillings a quarter was to be charged for "Pens, Ink, Paper, Slate and Pencils – for those, only who learn writing and Arithmatick."

The lower school was under the direction of the Reverend Samuel Jones. The superintendent, Mr McDaniel, was to be paid £30 a year -enough to purchase 60 ducks or 20 turkeys at the prices previously quoted!

The children of the "lower classes of the inhabitants" were admissable to this school. The fees were to be 13s..6d, with 3 shillings for pens ink etc.
1. A very full account of the mutiny is given in Tracts relative to the Island of St Helena, Alexander Beatson, London 1816
2. Major Charles Robert George Hodson (1779-1858) of St Helena Regiment, and Judge Advocate. The son in law of William Doveton, he was Town Major in 1811. Napoleon called on him in 1815, and he and his wife dined at Longwood in 1816. He was at Napoleon's burial and again at his exhumation. He attained the rank of Lt Colonel, retired to England and died in Bath.
3. Those detained pending being sent off the island were R.Kitchen, S. Cahill and T. Williams ofCaptain Cole's Company of Artillery; Jacob Desney, John Finnerty, John Grant, James Clark, Andrew Clarke, James Small,E. Richardson and E. Randalls of the Grenadier Company; D. Frazer, T. Sullivan, J. Kennelly, M. Maroney, John Hall, Nich. Coote, P. McGuire of the Light Company and J. Mackle, J. Ward and D. Finn.


Melanied'Anjou said...

Thank you very much for this post. Provides very interesting information and facts. Hope you're fine.

John Tyrrell said...

I'm fine. Find it hard to believe that you found this topic interesting! cheers