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Chapter Twenty.
A long night—An attempt to escape—Threats of my shipmates—Three admirals visit the ship—Interview with the mutineers—Refusal to give in—Holding out—Captain Pakenham addresses the men—Returning to duty—I am taken as a mutineer—Awaiting trial—Conduct of the ringleaders—The court-martial—My signature produced in evidence against me—A plot to destroy me frustrated—Captain Pakenham proves my friend—Examination of Dick Hagger on my behalf—I am acquitted—Execution of the mutineers.

I have spent many a trying night, waiting anxiously for day, but this was as trying as any. It was, if I recollect rightly, the 3rd or 4th of December. When at length the morning broke, the mutineers seemed as determined as ever. At last it was proposed to let the warrant and petty officers go on deck. On hearing this, Hagger and I with a few others crept along to the after-hatchway, pretending that our object was merely to ship the ladder to allow the officers to reach the upper deck. The officers hurried up as fast as they could, glad to get away out of the power of the mutineers. Several of the men followed them, and Hagger and I had got our feet on the ladder, when we were seized hold of and dragged back, and the ladder was again unshipped.

Ten or twelve of the men had made themselves most active, and were looked upon as the ringleaders of the conspiracy, Berkeley and Pratt being among the number; but Iffley, if he had really been at the bottom of the affair, pretended to be led by the others. Whenever he spoke, he counselled mild measures, though he managed, some way or other, that they should not be adopted.

Having command of the store-rooms, the mutineers served out among those below as many provisions as were required. Dividing themselves into two watches, one stood guard with fifty or sixty muskets, and the guns pointed aft, while the rest either slept or sat on deck and smoked.

There were hot discussions as to what should be done, and occasionally there were quarrels, for enough grog was served out to excite the men’s spirits; but the ringleaders took care that they should get no more, for if once drunkenness began, they were aware that they would very speedily be overpowered. In the course of the afternoon, the first lieutenant hailed down the after-hatchway, saying that three admirals whom we all knew had come on board to hear what grievances we had to complain of, and to endeavour to redress them.

On hearing this, the ringleaders went aft, each man armed with a musket, a tomahawk or cutlass by his side, looking as brazen-faced and impudent as could be, trusting to the numbers at their backs.

Among the officers who addressed us were Lord Bridport and Admiral Cornwallis. Lord Bridport inquired, in a kind way, what the mutineers had to complain of, and pointed out the folly and wickedness of their proceedings, “What would become of our country if other ships were to follow your bad example, my lads?” he asked. “The honour and glory of England, of which you are so justly proud, would be humbled in the dust, and we should have the Frenchmen coming over to England with their guillotine and their Republican notions, and the ruin of all we hold dear would be the consequence. But I am not afraid of that. I know English seamen too well to suppose for a moment that others would imitate you. They may have grievances to complain of, but would disdain to adopt the mode you have of showing your dissatisfaction.”

Admiral Cornwallis spoke in a more indignant strain. “I am ashamed of you, lads,” he exclaimed; “you call yourselves British seamen, and yet upset all discipline, and act the part of rascally buccaneers who turn against their officers the moment they have anything to complain of.”

He said a good deal more in the same strain, but the men would scarcely listen to him. Some of them shouted out together what they wanted, but even on those points they were not all agreed.

“Are you going to return to your duty, lads!” asked Admiral Bridport at last.

“No, we are not,” shouted several of the men. “We don’t return to our duty until we get our rights.”

On this the admirals walked away, and we saw them shortly afterwards, through the ports, leaving the ship for Portsmouth.

The second night went by much as the first had done. The mutineers, numbering about two hundred and fifty men, retained possession of the lower deck, and would allow no one to come down, and none of the better-disposed men whom they doubted to go up. Hagger and I, with others, were thus kept prisoners. They had opposed to them the commissioned, warrant, and petty officers, all the marines except six, who, silly fellows, had been persuaded to join them, and about thirty seamen who had managed to escape on deck. They might thus quickly have been subdued by force, but then the lives of many on both sides must have been sacrificed; and if once blood had been shed, the mutineers, knowing that they fought with ropes round their necks, would have struggled desperately to the last, and would very likely have blown the ship up when they found all hope had gone. At length the watch off duty lay down on deck to sleep, for they had used all the hammocks to form a barricade. Hagger and I followed their example, hoping that next morning they would come to a better state of mind; but we were mistaken, and all day they held out, just as they had done before, and so they did the next and the next.

At last two or three of the petty officers, who were the least obnoxious, came and asked them to allow water and provisions to be got up, saying “that if those below were badly off in one way, they themselves were worse off in another, as neither had come off from the shore, and they were pretty well starving.”

Though some of the ringleaders would have prevented this if they could, the greater part of the men were ready enough to let those on deck have the provisions, and accordingly they set to work and sent up whatever was wanted.

Though they did this, they seemed as resolved as ever to resist. The heavy guns and small arms were kept loaded, and some of the ringleaders talked as big as ever, but I saw that the greater number were getting heartily weary of their confinement and their state of uncertainty. The authorities must have well-known that this would be the case. At last, on the morning of the 11th, word was received that Captain Pakenham (with whom a good many of the men had served) wanted to speak to them.

Coming to the hatchway, he addressed the men in firm but gentle terms. I forget exactly what he said, but I know it at once had a good effect with many of them, notwithstanding that the ringleaders tried to persuade them to hold out longer.

I was trying to persuade some of my shipmates to listen to what Captain Pakenham was saying, and to return to their duty, when Berkeley and Pratt, seizing hold of me, swore that they would shoot me through the head if I uttered another word, and dragged me forward.

At the same moment Hagger, who had been nearer the hatchway, with some of the better-disposed men, getting hold of the ladders, suddenly shipped them, and sprang up on deck, followed by nearly the whole of the rest of the crew, who were glad of the opportunity of escaping, as they hoped, born the consequences they had brought upon themselves. Only nine besides myself remained below, including Trickett and the two men I have spoken of.

Captain Pakenham at once asked the men who had escaped, if they were prepared to return to their duty, and in one voice they declared that they were. He had before taken his measures, and the marines, who were drawn up ready to act, coming down the ladder, made a rush forward.

Three or four of the more desperate of the ringleaders sprang to the guns, with the intention of firing them; but before they had time to do so, the marines, forcing their way over the barricade, seized every man they could find, I being among the number.

As two of them got hold of me, I assured them that I had been prevented from the first by force from going on deck, and that I had not joined the mutineers. They laughed at my assertion, and I was dragged along the deck and brought before Captain Pakenham.

Though he had spoken mildly enough to the other men, he was stern when addressing us, and being speedily handcuffed, we were committed to the charge of the lieutenant-at-arms, and placed under a guard of marines.

I begged Captain Pakenham to listen to me, asserting as before that I had never joined the mutineers, and called upon Hagger and the others to bear witness to the truth of what I said, Hagger, stepping out from among the men drawn up on either side of the deck, declared that what I said was the truth; that we had both tried to escape from the first, but had been prevented; and that, as the officers knew, I was among the best-conducted men in the ship.

“All you have to say will be heard at the trial, which will, depend upon it, be held in a few days,” answered Captain Pakenham. “You were found among the ringleaders, who refused, when summoned at the last, to come up and return to their duty; you must therefore, meantime, abide by the consequences.”

No words can describe the grief and dismay I felt, not on my own account, but lest my wife and uncle and aunt should hear what, had happened. They would be confident that I was innocent, but at the same time they would know the risk I ran of being inculpated with the guilty. How could I prove that I had taken no part in the mutiny? I had been below all the time, and except on the evidence of Hagger, I could not prove that I had made any attempt to escape. His evidence, indeed, might not be of any value, as he had been with me, and had himself remained below. I had been found with the ringleaders, and very probably two such utter scoundrels as were Berkeley and Pratt would not, unless it could benefit themselves, be induced to confess that they had kept me back by force.

I entreated to be supplied with paper and pen and ink, that I might write to Uncle Kelson to tell him what had happened, and beg him to break the news to Margaret, as also to ask him if he could procure legal advice; but the boon was refused me, and I was told that before the trial I should not be allowed to hold communication with anybody.

The prisoners in vain tried to keep up their spirits. Most of them soon broke down altogether, and sat with their heads bent, resting on their manacled hands, except two desperate fellows who had long faced death in every form, and were not afraid of him now, though they well knew what the punishment of their crime must be. Men were hung for lesser crimes than theirs, and the maintenance of discipline being the great object of the authorities, they were not likely to be let off.

So great was the agony of my mind that I thought I should go mad. At last I dropped into a dreamy state, my great wish being that the day of the trial should come on. Had I been called to suffer alone I should not have complained, but it was the thought of the trouble, the distress and sorrow it would be to Margaret and my uncle and aunt, to hear that I had died an ignominious death at the yard-arm, assured though they might be of my innocence, which caused me the greatest grief.

At last, on the 15th of December, several admirals and captains assembled to hold a court-martial on board the Culloden, and we ten men, accused of mutiny, were brought up for trial. It was quickly proved that four of our number had been captured while attempting to fire the guns behind the barricade, and that the whole of us had been found below when the rest of the ship’s company had returned to their duty. We were asked singly what we could say for ourselves.

Trickett was the first who spoke. He pleaded that he had been led away by others, that he did not know their object, and had no idea that matters would have proceeded to extremities. “I wished to see my shipmates righted, but I should have advised them, had they allowed me, to employ only legal means. As a proof that I was not one of the ringleaders, permit me to present this paper which came into my possession, and which, as you will see, does not contain my name.”

As he spoke, he produced a paper, and presented it to the President, who, after glancing over it, read it aloud. It began, I remember, “We, the undersigned, bind ourselves to hold fast to each other, and to take all the means in our power to obtain our rights, and have our grievances redressed; we resolve that no consideration shall hinder us, and that if our petition is not listened to, we will take possession of the ship, and carry her over to the French.” The paper wound up with terrible oaths, calling God to witness that nothing should make them give up their object.

“I see by the names attached to this precious document,” said the President, “that they are all those of the prisoners on trial, with the exception of that of the man who handed it in, which doesn’t appear,” and he slowly read out the names. Among the last was that of Pratt, then came that of Reginald Berkeley, and lastly, to my horror and dismay, was my own.

“I never signed that paper!” I exclaimed; “nothing should have induced me to put my hand to it.”

“Can you swear that your name is not Willand Wetherholm, and that this is not your signature?” asked the President, and the paper was shown me, “That is my name, and that is my signature, but I didn’t put it to any document of that sort. I was writing a letter to my wife, just before the mutiny broke out, when the man whose name appears above mine, came and asked me to put my name as a witness to his signature, stating that it was required for legal purposes, in order to enable him to obtain a property to which he was entitled.”

“A likely story,” observed one of the members of the court. “Reginald Berkeley, as you call yourself, is this man’s story correct? Did you ask him to witness your signature for such a purpose as he states?”

I saw Iffley and Berkeley exchange glances.

“I don’t remember the circumstance, my lord,” he answered with the greatest effrontery. “I know that the paper was passed round for signature, and that I put my name to it; and I suppose Wetherholm put his, knowing what was written above it.”

When again allowed to speak, I once more acknowledged that the signature was mine, but that through carelessness, not having looked at the document, which was doubled back, I had simply acceded to Berkeley’s request to sign as a witness.

“The word ‘witness’ was written in pencil at the time, and I was about to write over it in ink when I was interrupted,” I said.

The President examined the paper through his spectacles, but declared that he could see no traces of any pencil marks. It was passed round to two or three other officers, who agreed with his lordship.

At last it was handed to Captain Pakenham, who, holding it up against the light, produced a magnifying glass from his pocket, through which he examined the paper.

“I see traces of pencil marks. Yes; and the letters ‘w-i-t,’ then there is a blank, and ‘e-s,’ though an attempt has been made to rub it out, and probably the person who tried to do so fancied that he had succeeded. Sergeant, examine that man’s pockets,” and he pointed to Iffley.

The sergeant, after fumbling about, produced a piece of india-rubber.

“I thought so,” observed the Captain. “There has been some knavery at work. This is greatly in the man’s favour.”

I breathed more freely at this than I had for many a day. He then turned to Dick Hagger, and told him to make his statement.

Dick, pulling his hair, at once stepped forward, and in a clear voice began: “My lords, and cap’ens, and gentlemen, I’ll speak the truth and nothing but the truth. I hated the notion of this here mutiny directly I got an inkling of it, and so did my messmate Will Weatherhelm, and we had made up our minds, if it was likely to come to anything, to get away aft and tell the commander or first lieutenant; but when we was agoing, quite unbeknown to us, before we had time to get on deck, the mutiny broke out, the ladders were unshipped, an’ we was kept prisoners. We were both of us marked men, and when we again tried to join the officers we was held back. Every one who has ever served with Weatherhelm knows him to be a good seaman, and an orderly, well-conducted chap, who wouldn’t, for to get a pocketful of gold, have become a rascally mutineer.” The warrant and petty officers who were called, gave both Hagger and me good characters, and his evidence appeared to weigh greatly in my favour; still I could see that most of the members of the court-martial considered it necessary to make an example of the whole of those who had been captured, and one after the other the ringleaders were condemned to death. Berkeley and Pratt fell on their knees on hearing their sentence, and implored for mercy.

“It was through the treachery of that man that Wetherholm’s signature was obtained,” said Captain Pakenham, pointing to the former; “I am not inclined to grant him it.”

The other members of the court were of his opinion.

Charles Iffley, though he had been the chief instigator of the mutiny, was pardoned, in consequence of his having produced the paper with the signature of the ringleaders. My fate still hung in the balance, for Captain Pakenham alone seemed to consider me innocent. I saw my judges conferring together. How my heart bounded with joy when the President at length acquitted me!

Iffley cast a glance of disappointed spite towards me as he heard this, and walked away. I was again a free man. My first act, after returning thanks to Heaven from the bottom of my heart for my merciful deliverance, was to obtain a sheet of paper, and write an account of what had happened and my happy acquittal to Uncle Kelson, and beg him to break the matter to my wife, for I was afraid that she would be overmuch agitated should I address her directly.

Several boats were returning to the shore, and I, without difficulty, got a man I knew to take it. The first to come up and congratulate me was Dick Hagger.

“I was sure, Will, that they couldn’t bring you in guilty. It would have been against all right and reason; and if they had, why, I would have gone up and axed to be hung too, and told them you was no more a mutineer than I was!”

Many other shipmates came up, and expressed themselves much in the same way. No one, however, spoke to Iffley, for they well knew that he was at the bottom of the whole affair, and deserved hanging more than any of the rest. He was from that day forward shunned by all in the ship, for even the men who had mutinied would not trust him.

This made him more morose and ill-tempered than ever, and I could not help suspecting that if he had an opportunity, he would still try to do me an injury. Discipline was now perfectly restored, but the ship was still not a happy one. No liberty was allowed, and we were kept hard at work exercising the guns and reefing sails. When I asked for leave to go on shore, I was refused.

“If we grant it to one, we must to another,” was the answer.

So I had to stop on board, and as Dick observed, “grin and bear it.”

Thus nearly a month went by. The condemned men had been sent on board various ships for safe keeping, there to remain until the day they were doomed to die. On the 13th of January, early in the morning, they were brought on board the Culloden, heavily handcuffed, and looking the picture of misery and despair. At the same time boats from every ship in the fleet came alongside to witness the execution.

The wretched men, still with their irons on, were now conducted to the upper deck. Ropes were rove through the main, fore, and mizzen-yard-arms. The whole eight were thus standing, with the chaplains by their sides, giving them the last consolations of religion, when our captain appeared with a paper in his hand. It was a pardon for the three youngest. The other five looked up with imploring glances, and an expression of hope lighted up their countenances, but there was no pardon for them. The three having been led on one side by the marines who had them in charge, the preparations for the execution of the other five were continued. They were shortly finished. The gun, the signal for their execution, was fired, and in another instant they were all run up in sight of the whole fleet, and of the crews of the boats who were compelled to witness their punishment. It was an awful sight. I felt that but for God’s great mercy I might have been among the hapless men who were struggling now in mid air. I sickened as I gazed at them, and hid my eyes with my hands, as did many another stout-hearted fellow.

After a time they were lowered down. The doctor pronounced them dead, and they were placed in shells and taken on shore to be buried. The ropes were unrove, the hands were piped down, and the boats returned to their respective ships. The fearful drama was over.


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