The most authoritative account of the Ferret mutiny is the official transcript of the Admiralty court martial, which also appears to be the source of Lieutenant White’s testimony as quoted by Pearman in The Cadogans at War. The court martial was presided over by Captain George Dundas and assembled aboard HMS Elephant Port Royal, Jamaica on the 8th October 1806.
The trial followed the accepted procedure for courts martial; an opening statement written by the prosecutor, in this case Captain George Cadogan, was presented; the prosecutor then questioned the prisoners and finally the prisoners presented their defense either through written testimony or by examining witnesses.
Cadogan’s opening statement reads as follows.
A great majority of the ship’s company belonging to His Majesty’s Sloop Ferret under my command, having on the night of the 26th September, when off Porto Cabello, at or about 12 o’clock, just as the Watch was relieved, Armed themselves, and in the highest state of Mutiny, rushed aft, and took possession of the Quarter deck, guarding the Hatches etc with the intent of carrying her into Porto Cabello or La Guaira, which event I was fortune enough to prevent, and secured the eleven ringleaders, named in the Margin, at the head of whom was Mr Thomas Simpson Boatswain of the said Sloop which had been some time under confinement for a Court martial (my letter for which effect is now before you).
I have to request you will be pleased to order a court martial to try the said Mr Thomas Simpson, and the Eleven Seamen named in the margin for Mutiny accordingly, as soon as my conduct has been investigated, for the motives said to be the cause of the Complaint which induced the Ships Company to commit so horrid an act.
And have the honour to be Sir
Your most Obedient humble Servant
The testimony of First Lieutenant White and Second Lieutenant Hannah broadly supported the captain’s account of events. And although neither witnessed any of the ships company carrying arms, other than seaman Edward Jones, they testified that they observed a great quantity of arms, cutlasses and pikes scattered around the deck. Lieutenant Hannah also stated that he did not actually see any act of violence committed against the captain and officers.
Unsurprisingly, the evidence presented by the prisoners is confusing and contradictory, as they attempted to exonerate themselves while shifting the blame onto their shipmates. However the evidence mounts up against a small group of ring leaders: the Boatswain Mr Thomas Simpson, and seamen Mark Stallard, and John Martin.
Several prisoners testified under oath that both Simpson and Martin urged the men to seize the ship and take her into a Spanish port, either Porto Cabello or La Guaira “where they would get prize money for taking her in”. One alleged that Simpson had said:
we were a parcel of chick-hearted fellows for not confining the Captain to his cabin, that he could Pilot the vessel into a Port where the Hermione was carried in before but he would not be seen in it, but it the people would take the Ship he would pilot her in.
Others stated that the boatswain had berated them for being “a damned set of cowardly raskalls for not taking the Vessel” and “a damned set of fools in this ship for standing all this nonsense”.
Edward Jones, the seaman confronted by the captain on the quarterdeck, denied that the mutineers planned to hand the ship over to the Spanish and stated their intent as follows:
The Captain came up and asked what’s the matter men, and told them to come forward and tell their grievance, as soon as they saw the Captain they all ran forward and laid down their arms again except myself. The Captain came forward too and asked me what this was all about, I told him the grievance of the Ships company was ill usage by flogging and starting and that they were all of one mind and were to confine him to his own Cabin and give charge of the Vessel to Mr White and Mr Hannah to take her into Port Royal; the Captain stepped over to me between two of the guns and said now your life is in my hands, I asked him to take my life at once, he said he was more of a gentleman than to do the like of that, since the rest of your cowardly partners have gone away and left you, he then ordered me aft and confined me.
Several of the seamen mentioned “confining the Captain to his cabin” however others testified that the mutineers intended to kill Cadogan. Mark Stallard was alleged to have sworn:
If I had the cruel rascal on the Spanish shore he would send him to Hell to beg his bread and shoot him like a mad dog.
These threats led to the following extraordinary exchange between Cadogan and Edward Jones during the trial.
Prosecutor (Cadogan): Did you hear Mark Stallard say any thing about shooting me like a mad dog in case I made resistance?
Witness (Jones): yes he said if the Captain made any resistance or hurt one of them, he would think no more of his life than he would of a mad dog.
Stallard is also alleged to have threatened to blow one of his shipmate’s brains out if he refused to join the mutineers.
Despite the fact that the boatswain played no part in the actual insurrection, the defendants’ testimony suggests he was instrumental in inciting the mutiny. Simpson had already been removed from duty for an unspecified offence prior to the mutiny and there appears to have been some threat to disrate him as he is alleged to have said that “if he is made to serve as a private by the Captain, that he would take the Ship from the Captain and all the Crew”. Simpson summoned the mutineers to his cabin to write a letter “against the captain to be sent to the Admiral” but was canny enough to actually leave the cabin while it was being written. However the mutineers “could not agree to send it so the letter was dropt.”
Following the examination of the prisoners by their prosecuting captain they were then invited to present their defense. As they had no written statement, they were allowed to examine witnesses on their behalf. Most of the questions put to the witnesses related to the whereabouts of the individual prisoners when the mutiny broke out, whether they were armed, and if they were among the men that rushed aft. However the evidence presented for the defense is inconclusive and contradictory and does little to counterbalance the weight of evidence that had already been presented against the defendants. The prisoners’ final request was to ask the Captain to testify to the good character of five of the seamen, which he did, signaling George Anderton out for particular merit.
However, former good character was not enough to save the majority of the prisoners from the gallows and all, with the exception of George Anderton, were sentenced to death as the court returned the following verdict:
The court is of the opinion that the charges are fully proved against the said Mr Thomas Simpson, Richard Penphrase, John Armstrong, Mark Stalland, John Martin, Samuel Johnston, John Powell, John Lee, William Whitfield, John Sybelle and William Keith, but the charges are not proved against John Anderton. Do therefore adjudge the aforementioned to be hanged by the Necks until they are dead at the yard arms of such of His Majesty’s Ships and at such time as the Commander in Chief shall think proper to direct and that the bodies of the said Mr Thomas Simpson, Mark Stallard, John Martin and Samuel Johnston, to be afterwards hung in chains in the most conspicuous place the Commander in Chief shall think proper to direct and they are here by severally sentenced to suffer accordingly.
In addition to the above verdict, Joseph Little, marine and John Harrigan, seaman, were sentenced to three months imprisonment as they did “prevaricate and keep back their evidence.”
Interestingly, Edward Jones, the seaman who actually confronted the Captain Cadogan on the quarterdeck, and the only man seen bearing arms by both the first and second lieutenants is not among the condemned. Furthermore, although Jones was examined by Cadogan, and freely admitted his part in the insurrection before the court martial, he did not stand accused alongside the other mutineers. The most obvious explanation for this curious turn of events is that Jones “turned Kings evidence” and agreed to act as a witness for the prosecution in return for a pardon.
An examination of the muster books and Admiralty correspondence at the National Archive has revealed that this was not the first time that Edward Jones had escaped punishment. The Ferret muster records that Edward Jones, a 29 year old from Londonderry, joined the ship from the Repulse, 74, however the muster also describes Jones as “late a prisoner”. The correspondence of
Vice Admiral William Young, indicates that Jones had been held prisoner aboard the Plymouth receiving ship Salvador del Mundo, after he had run from the Repulse. In a letter to Secretary of the Admiralty William Marsden dated 1st March 1806 Young explains that Jones and several others “ran away with the gig from alongside the Repulse and persisted in making for the shore though repeatedly called to by the officers and fired at by the centinels.” Following a petition from Jones that the remainder of his punishment should be remitted, the captain of the receiving ship reported to Young that Jones’ “conduct has been very proper since he has been confined on board and he appears to be sensible of and sorry for his offence.” As a result, Young suspended further punishment of the prisoners “till I receive their Lordships directions respecting him.” A note added to the letter by an Admiralty clerk duly records that the rest of the sentence should be commuted.
Returning to Charles Whibley’s account of the mutiny, which appeared in Blackwoods Magazine in 1886, it is hard not to identify Edward Jones as one of the “bad spirits” among the Ferret’s crew. However Jones duplicity may also account for Whibley’s overly romantic tale of Captain Cadogan acknowledging the bravery of the man who stood his ground to confront him and offering to save his life if he could.
Following the court martial Jones did not remain long on the Ferret. On the 21st of October 1806 he was discharged to the Thetis, “in lieu of pressed men.”