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An Old Colonial Mutiny by Louis Becke

 

The following notice one day appeared among the official records of the earlier days (1800) of the colony of New South Wales:—

     'Whereas the persons undermentioned and described did, in
     the month of November, by force of arms, violently take away
     from His Majesty's settlement at Dalrymple a colonial brig
     or vessel called the Venus, the property of Mr Robert
     Campbell, a merchant of this territory, and the said vessel
     then containing stores, the property of His Majesty, and a
     quantity of necessary stores, the property of the officers
     of that settlement, and sundry other property, belonging to
     private individuals.'

Then follows the description of the crew, from which it will be seen that there was every factor towards some criminal deed on board the Venus. First of all the chief mate is mentioned:—

     'Benjamin Burnet Kelly, chief mate; says he is an American.
     He arrived in this colony as chief mate of the Albion, a
     South Sea whaler (Captain Bunker); Richard Edwards, second
     mate; Joseph Redmonds, seaman, a mulatto or mestizo of South
     America 299 (came out from England in the Venus); Darra,
     cook, a Malay man, both ears missing; Thomas Ford and
     William Porter Evans, boys of 14 and 16 (Evans is a native
     of Rose Hill in this colony); Richard Thompson, a soldier;
     Thomas Richard Evans, a convict, formerly a gunner's mate on
     H.M.S. Calcutta (sentenced to fourteen years for desertion
     and striking an officer); John Lancaster or Lancashire, a
     convict, a very dangerous person; Charlotte Badger, convict,
     a very corpulent person (has an infant in arms); Kitty
     Hegarty, convict, very handsome woman, with white teeth and
     fresh complexion, much inclined to smile, a great talker.'

Then comes an official proclamation, signed 'G. Blaxcell, Secretary, Government House, Sydney,' cautioning 'all governors and officers in command at any of His Majesty's ports, and the Honourable East India Company's magistrates or officers in command, at home or abroad, at whatever port the said brig may be taken into, or met with at sea, against any frauds or deceptions that may be practised by the offending parties,' and asking that they might be seized and brought to condign punishment.

The Venus, under the command of Mr S. Rodman Chace, sailed out of Sydney Cove (as Port Jackson was then called) for Twofold Bay at the time before mentioned. Here she remained at anchor for about five weeks, and here it was that the first trouble began.

Captain Chace had been ashore, and about dusk was returning in his boat to the ship, when he heard sounds of great hilarity proceeding from those on board. On coming alongside and gaining the deck, he found that the two convict ladies were entertaining Mr Benjamin Burnet Kelly, the mate, with a dancing exhibition, the musical accompaniment to which was given by Darra, the earless Malayan cook, who was seated on a tub on the main-hatch playing a battered violin. Lying around the deck, in various stages of drunkenness, were the male convicts and some of the crew, and the genial Mr Kelly presided over a bucket of rum, pannikins of which were offered to the ladies at frequent intervals by the two faithful cup-bearers,—Ford and Evans.

Chace at once put an end to the harmony by seizing the bucket of rum and throwing it overboard, and the drunken people about him being incapable of offering much resistance, he put them in irons and tumbled them below. Kelly, who was a big, truculent-looking man, then produced a bowie knife of alarming dimensions and challenged Chace to combat, but was quickly awed by a pistol being placed at his breast by his superior officer. He then promised to return to his duty, provided—here he began to weep, that—the captain did not harm Kitty Hegarty, for whom he professed an ardent attachment.

As the Venus carried despatches for the Governor of Van Diemen's Land, Captain Chace was eager to reach his destination, Port Dalrymple, with all speed, and therefore was in a very anxious state of mind after the disturbance mentioned, particularly as the mate Kelly, and the convicts on board, seemed to have some sort of secret understanding. However, the Venus arrived there safely, and Captain Chace duly delivered his despatches to Lieutenant House, the Marine officer in charge. Feeling sure that there was now no further danger to be apprehended, he spent the night with an old shipmate, the captain of the schooner Governor Hunter. After breakfast, accompanied by Mr House, he got into his boat and set out for his ship. He had left instructions with the mate to get up anchor at six o'clock and come up the river, and about seven o'clock, as he and Mr House were being pulled towards her in the boat, they saw that she was under weigh, and coming up.

'There's not much use in us going down, as your ship is coming up, Chace,' said Mr House. 'Let us go ashore here in this cove and wait for her.'

The master agreed to this, and the boat turned into a little sandy-beached cove, where they lost sight of the ship, which, with the light breeze then blowing, would not pass abreast of the cove for another hour.

About an hour passed, and then they heard the sound of oars, and the Venus boat was seen sweeping round the headland of the cove. The crew seemed thoroughly exhausted, and many of them were cut and bleeding. In a few moments they told their story, which was, that just after the ship got under weigh, Kelly and the convicts sprang upon the second mate, stunned him and pitched him below. Then, before those of the crew who were not in league with the mutineers could offer any resistance, they were set upon by the pilot, Thompson, the soldier, Darra, the earless cook and the two women, all of whom were armed with pistols and swords.

'Into the boat, all of you fellows,' said Kelly, pointing a pistol at the five seamen; 'into the boat; quick! or you are all dead men!'

The boat was towing astern, and the five seamen, seeing that the Venus was now in the absolute possession of the mutineers, and that Kelly would not hesitate to shoot them if they disobeyed him, went into the boat quietly.

As soon as the mutineers cast off the boat's painter, Kelly came aft with Kitty Hegarty, and placing his arms around her waist, jocularly called out to the men in the boat to 'look at the pirate's bride, and give his compliments and "Mrs Kelly's" compliments to Captain Chace, Lieutenant House, and the Lieutenant-Governor.' He also charged them to tell Lieutenant House that he was much obliged to him for lending Chace (on a former occasion) the Narrative of Lieutenant Bligh and the Mutiny of the Bounty, which had so much interested him (Kelly) and 'Kitty' that they had 'decided to do Fletcher Christian's trick, and take a cruise among the South Seas.' He then, with much accompanying laughter from merry Miss Hegarty, put a wooden bucket on her head, and called out to the people in the boat to look at 'Her Majesty, Queen Kitty Hegarty of the Cannibal Islands.' Immediately after this badinage he ordered Thompson, who was at the helm, to put it hard up; and then wore ship and sailed out seawards.


News of the mutiny was at once sent to Lieutenant-Governor Paterson. But the mutineers were not heard of for a long time. Then it was learnt that Kelly had sailed the Venus to the coast of New Zealand and, by means of selling a number of casks of rum to the Maoris, had acquired a quantity of small arms, and two brass cannons, each throwing a 6-lb. shot. At one of the places they touched at, Thompson, with the aid of Kelly, abducted a handsome young Maori girl. She was a niece of Te Morenga, a chief in the Bay of Islands district. The unfortunate girl, however, so fretted, and lost so much of her attractiveness, that her scoundrelly abductor sold her to a chief named Hukori, of Mercury Bay, or, if he did not sell her, she eventually came into Hukori's possession. On their voyage up the Hauraki Gulf, they raided one or two small Maori hapus and carried off another girl, the daughter of the chief Te Haupa, or, as he was better known, Te Totara.


Early in the following year Captain Bierney, of the London brig Commerce, reported to the Governor of New South Wales that the Venus had anchored at Te Puna, in New Zealand, and that Kelly had invited a number of Maoris on board to an orgie. For some time a great state of drunkenness had prevailed on board; for the Venus, among other stores, carried a large quantity of wines and spirits, intended for the use of the military at Van Diemen's Land. Her sails and running gear were in a very bad state, and not the slightest discipline was maintained.

In answer to the mutineers' invitation, a number of Maoris came on board, and Kelly, addressing the leading chiefs, told them that he was perfectly well aware of the fact that he and those with him were incapable of offering resistance if his visitors attempted to cut off the ship. But, he said, he had determined to abandon the ship, and therefore he had invited them on board so that they might take what they wanted from her; and if they had no objection, he and his wife wished to live ashore with them for the future. He then broached a cask of rum and invited them to drink it.

The Maoris appeared to have fallen in with his suggestion with alacrity, and the chief gave the leading mutineer and his wife a large whare to live in, and also two slaves as servants.

The rest of the tale is incomplete in its details. Of the fate of the Venus nothing is known. Probably she was burnt by the Maoris. Kelly, Kitty Hegarty, Charlotte Badger and her child, Thompson, and two others, lived among the natives for some time. Then the woman Kitty Hegarty died suddenly while Kelly was away on a warlike excursion with his Maori friends, and was hastily buried. It was alleged that she was killed by some women, one of whom was anxious to possess Kelly for her husband. Kelly himself was captured by a king's ship in 1808, and sent to England, where he was hanged for piracy. Lancaster was also captured by the master of an American whale-ship, The Brothers of Nantucket, and taken to Sydney and hanged. The rest of the mutineers either met with violent deaths at the hands of the Maoris, or succeeded in living their lives out as pakeha-Maoris.

Of the other woman—Charlotte Badger—and her child nothing further was known, save that in 1808 she and the child were offered a passage to Port Jackson by Captain Bunker; but she declined, saying she would rather live with the Maoris than return to New South Wales to be hanged. This was not unnatural.

But, long afterwards, in the year 1826, an American whale-ship, the Lafayette of Salem, reported an incident of her cruise that showed some light on the end of Charlotte Badger.

In May 1826, the Lafayette was off 'an unknown island in the South Seas. It was covered with trees, was about three miles long, and was inhabited by a small number of natives. The position of this island was in 22 deg. 30 min. south, 176 deg. 19. min. west.' The weather being calm at the time and the natives, by the signs and gestures they made to the ship, evidently friendly, the captain and second mate's boats were lowered, and, with well-armed crews, pulled ashore. Only some forty or fifty natives of a light brown colour were on the island, and these, meeting the white men as they landed, conducted them to their houses with every demonstration of friendliness. Among the number was a native of Oahu (Hawaii), named Hula, who had formed one of the crew of the London privateer Port-au-prince, a vessel that had been cut off by the natives of the Haabai Group, in the Friendly Islands, twenty years previously. He spoke English well, and informed Captain Barthing of the Lafayette that the island formed one of the Tonga Group (it is now known as Pylstaart Island), and that his was the second ship that had ever visited the place. Another ship, he said, had called at the island about ten years before (this would be about 1816); that he had gone off on board, and had seen a very big, stout woman, with a little girl about eight years of age with her. At first he thought, from her dark skin, that she was a native, but the crew of the ship (which was a Nantucket whaler) told him that she was an Englishwoman, who had escaped from captivity with the Maoris.

No doubt this was the woman Badger, described in the official account of the mutiny of the Venus as 'a very corpulent person.'