J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Drama of the Lady Shore

This week the Daily Mail reported on the auction of a diary by Thomas Millard, carpenter aboard the British ship Lady (Jane) Shore during a fateful voyage in 1797.

I find conflicting details of that trip on the web, but all sources agree on the basics. The main cargo was a shipload of women: one source says sixty-six and another implies there were close to a hundred. Those women had been convicted of crimes in Britain and sentenced to exile in the new penal colony of New South Wales. There were also some male captives, including prisoners from Britain’s ongoing war with France.

Soldiers and marines were guarding those prisoners. However, as the Annual Register told its readers in 1798:
The Lady Shore had on board, besides convicts, eighty soldiers of the New South Wales corps, amongst whom were German, French, and condemned criminals, reprieved on condition of serving, during life, at Botany-Bay.
In other words, the guards weren’t any more happy to be there than the convicts being transported.

On 1 August, the Lady Shore was “four days sail from Rio de Janeiro.” Millard wrote in his diary:
We ware Alarm’d by the firing of Musketts on the deck and to my Great Surpris the Capt falling down the steeridge ladder which woke me out of my Sleep.
Some of the guards and French prisoners had revolted in the name of the republic. In taking over the ship they had chopped off the head of the chief mate and shot Capt. James Willcocks, who soon died.

One detailed account of this mutiny came from young purser John Black’s version, published in 1798. Millard recorded another side of Black, writing that he had tried to commit suicide rather than surrender. Another version of events is in chapter 18 of J. G. Semple Lisle’s memoir; that book has a lot to say about how the author tried to warn his superiors that there would be a mutiny.

Two of the French prisoners had been pilot and helmsman on their own warship, so they quickly steered for the South American territories of France’s ally, Spain. To stave off a countermutiny, on 14 August the ship’s new commanders put the British officers and a handful of soldiers and convicts still loyal to the Crown, along with their wives and children, into a longboat. Those twenty-nine people received food and navigation equipment, and were close enough to shore to land the next afternoon. But Millard the carpenter was too useful to go free.

The Lady Shore sailed into Montevideo, Uruguay, by the end of the month. At first the Spanish authorities locked them all up as mutineers, but the French ambassador argued that his countrymen had captured the ship according to the rules of war. Most of the women went to work for the local gentry. As for the carpenter, the Daily Mail says:
Millard was allowed out to work for a shipwright during the day but returned to prison at night.

He was more fortunate than most; in the summer of 1799 he was allowed to sail in the Liberty to America, where he settled in New Jersey, took a wife and raised two children.

The 320-page journal was auctioned after being put up for sale by Millard’s American descendants.
Gavin Pascoe at South Sea Miscellany writes:
If there was any piratical event crying out for dramatisation in fiction or film it’s this one…
Seriously, this story has female convicts! In tropical locations! With violence! Why isn’t it already on cable?

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