Cruelty on board the Liverpool ship Embleton, 1888

Sunderland Echo and shipping gazette, Jan 5th 1888

Alleged cruelty on the high seas

Suicide of a sailor

Captain and 2nd mate arraigned

At the Borough Police Court today, Paul James PAYNTER and James FISHER, captain and 2nd mate respectively of the barque Embleton of Liverpool, surrendered to their recognisances on a charge of unlawfully causing grievous bodily harm to a seaman named Robert WHITE which resulted in his death

The court was crowded on the bench were Mr John KIDSON, who presided, Ald McKENZIE and Mr Robert THOMPSON. The prosecution was conducted by Mr W. A. KIDSON, who had received his instructions from the public prosecutor, Mr SKIDMORE, barrister, retained by Messers W. BELL and sons, defended. On the case being called. Mr W. A. KIDSON, addressed the bench and said, he was instructed by the Public Prosecutor to prosecute the case. The offence the men were charged with was that between July 21st and July 26th, 1887, while on board a British ship called the Embleton, of Liverpool, then on the high seas, they caused grievous bodily harm to a certain man whose name is unknown, who was then a seaman, a sailmaker on board the said ship. Continuing Mr KIDSON gave the facts of the case.

The Embleton left San Francisco on 21st July last year with a crew of 21 hands all told. If this ship the defendant PAYNTER was the Captain, and the other defendant FISHER was the 2nd mate, or rather took the duties as 2nd mate but was shipped as boatswain. The sailmaker was Robert WHITE who hailed from Sheilds, a young 35 yr old, quiet with steady manners, and a steady workman. The ship proceeded on her voyage for a fortnight, there was nothing to complain about. But one day one of the sails was carried away and the sailmaker WHITE was ordered to repair it, and, perhaps not doing it as rapidly as the captain would desire, both the 2nd mate and the captain cursed at him, and threatened him. The 2nd mate was heard to say it was over board he should be not there. Every day for the next fortnight the captain and 2nd mate swore at him and threatened him, the sailmaker implored the captain to protect him from the 2nd mate.

On August 23rd while the sailmaker was on deck busy making the gaff topsail, the captain approached and was heard to say, “What the --------- -------- have you been doing all day?”

The poor man who by this time was thoroughly dispirited, dropped the work down, making no reply and commenced to cry.

The captain then said, “You son of a -----, I want this sail done by 6 tonight, and if its not I will string you up by the thumbs” After saying this whilst the man was still crying, he deliberately drew back his arm and hit the sailmaker in the right eye with his fist, knocking him over on to the bench… The captain then picking up a rope said, “Now, you son of a -----, work or I will rope end you, I have a good mind to do it now.” The sailmaker made no reply but continued his work.

On the following morning August 24th, about 12, the 2nd mate called WHITE,  and ordered him to go aloft on the royal yard and air himself, on WHITE getting about half way up he was called down again and ordered by the 2nd mate, pointing to some rubbish, to throw it overboard. WHITE went to the rubbish and threw it overboard as ordered. Thereupon the 2nd mate seizing by the neck exclaimed, “I’ve a damn good mind to throw you over too.” As WHITE went over to the forehold to get some more rubbish, he was pushed by the 2nd mate, who was observed to prick him about the thighs with something he had in his hand, causing him to jump every time he did so.

About 4pm the same afternoon when the 2nd mate was giving out fresh water, he was, he was seen to go to the sailmakers locker, drag WHITE out by the hair and pull him up to the pump to get his water, remarking, “Come on you puppy and get your water.”

On the following morning the 25th August about 8am the 2nd mate was again seen to go into the sailmakers room, drag him out by the throat and set him to work passing buckets of coal into the forehold. WHITE did not commence to work, but tried to get to the Captain’s cabin, the 2nd mate pulled him back and kicked him throwing him over a bucket of coals. WHITE repeatedly tried to get aft but was pulled back and kicked in every instance, the 2nd mate was heard to say “ ------- ------ your soul, I will make you do more work before you jump overboard.” Eventually WHITE did get away and went down into the Captain’s cabin, where he was heard to implore the captain to protect him from the 2nd mate. The result was that the captain said, “Go on deck you son of a -----, if you will not work I will make you.” WHITE ran upstairs on deck, followed by the captain, who lifted his fist and struck the sailmaker, then kicked him with such force that he lifted him off the deck. WHITE ran into his locker, and the captain went below, within the next few minutes a cry was heard, “Man overboard!” and the poor sailmaker was drowned.

Mr KIDSON drew attention to the fact that the seamen on board were on different watches therefore not able to see everything that goes on. The men who will speak to most of the facts happened to be in the 2nd mates watch and can therefore speak to the facts of the case. Again on the question of the cruelty to which WHITE was subjected, an able-bodied and spirited man may suffer kicks and curses while another could not bear it. This man WHITE was perfectly broken down in spirit, and such treatment would be more than he could stand. I do not wish to go into the case for the other side, except that I am instructed by the Public Prosecutor to admit one thing. I presume the defence will chiefly be raised on the question of lunacy. I have no desire to refute that, I am perfectly willing to admit that WHITE was confined in a lunatic asylum in San Francisco for some time. I am not willing to admit he was a lunatic at this time, witnesses will tell you not only did he work diligently and honestly, but that they saw no signs of lunacy in him. The only thing that was observed about him was that he was perfectly quiet and made no remonstrance against his treatment to his shipmates. If that defence be set up and the captain is shown to have been aware that WHITE was insane, there was all the greater cruelty on his part in kicking and striking him.

Mr SKIDMORE said he did not intent to set it up as a defence that he was insane, a lunatic, He said that Mr KIDSON was instructed by the Board of Trade to state that the man had been in an asylum. He was prepared to have proved that. It may have been that WHITE was of weak mind, and what was done to him may have caused him to go overboard, whereas it would not have that effect upon a man of strong mind. This is the only question about the mental condition of the man.

Mr W. A. KIDSON said he would only draw attention in that case to the entry in the official log, which was made on the 25th describing that one of the men jumped overboard from the main rail, while in an unsound state of mind.

It ran ;- “Robert WHITE sailmaker, came up from the sail locker, jumped overboard from the main rail, while in a state of unsound mind. Immediately threw him a lifebuoy, put the helm hard down, brought the ship back, put a boat out and sent the 2nd mate after him. Had two hands aft to keep lookout, but they lost sight of him and the lifebuoy.

Mr SKIDMORE, That is true is it not ?

Mr KIDSON, I am perfectly willing to agree to that, but I draw particular attention to what follows :- Ship was going at the time 7 and a half knots. He had been acting rather strange for two days but not sufficient for anyone to apprehend any danger to himself or others.” Now remembering that the assaults which will be spoken to most positively, happened two days before. I think you have here evidence on which you will have no hesitation in committing both of the accused to take their trial.

Oscar LANE, residing at 3rd Ave Kingston, New York, said he shipped on board the Embleton at San Francisco as ordinary seaman on 21st July last. There was a crew of 21 all told. The vessel set sail for Queenstown on the 23rd July, and when about a fortnight out the 1st mate was put off duty. Four or five days later the main royal staysail was carried away at 4am, and the 2nd mate gave strict orders to have the sail finished and up aloft by 8am. Between 2 and 8am the captain came on deck and went straight to the sailmaker and cursed and swore at him for not having the sail finished.

Oscar LANE, continued saying whilst getting breakfast that morning, the 2nd mate went to the sailmakers room and swore at him telling him he ought to have been overboard instead of on board ship. On the 23rd August, it was his watch on the poop, and at 3pm while the sailmaker was busy making a gaff topsail the captain came on deck, and asked the sailmaker what the ------- and -------- he had been doing all afternoon. At this the man dropped his work and started to cry, and the captain struck him in the eye. The sailmaker after being struck carried on working again, and the captain picking up a rope threatened to ropesend him..

On the 24th at 4pm, while they were getting fresh water, the 2nd mate went to the room of the sailmaker and taking him by the ear, said, “Come on you puppy and get your water,” and at the same time jerking him along by the ear, a distance of about 25ft. The same night the sailmaker spent in his room reading his bible, Next morning about 7.50, he heard the sailmaker speaking gently in the forehold, and shortly afterwards heard the cry of “A man overboard” A boat was lowered and the ship put about, but the sailmaker was drowned. Witness never noticed anything suspicious about him he always spoke sensibly enough. The captain never found fault with him [witness] beyond once or twice swearing at him.

By Mr SKIDMORE, The sailmaker never read the bible before that night to his knowledge, he never heard him muttering to himself. This was [witness’s] 2nd voyage. There was as a rule more swearing than praying on board ship. He never heard WHITE ask the captain to interfere. The weather was not rough during the voyage, but the sails got damaged several times.

The sailmaker was seated on his sail bench when he was struck by the captain. Witness was not present when assault took place on the 25th August. The 2nd mate must have hurt the sailmaker when he dragged him by the ear, but witness never examined the ear, nor did the sailmaker complain.

By Mr KIDSON from the bench, Witness was never asked to sign the entries in the logbook.

Karl HOFFMAN said, he was a native of Hamburg, and was at present staying at Wilson’s dining rooms, High St, East. He joined the Embleton at San Francisco on the 21st July as an able seaman and was in the same watch as the last witness. He remembered the royal staysail being carried away, and the captain came on deck whilst the sailmaker was repairing it, and struck him, and also threatened him with a rope. The captain said to the sailmaker, “Now mark my word have this sail finished by 6 o clock.”

By Mr KIDSON, He had never heard the deceased use bad language, to either captain, officers or crew. On 25th August witness was in the fore pit passing coals and the 2nd mate called the sailmaker to assist. The latter on coming forward looked at the sail whereupon the mate shoved him over. When the sailmaker got up the mate said to him, “Now do something before you go overboard.” The sailmaker was about to go aft when the 2nd mate pilled him back. Witness had been to sea for the past 10years.

Bay Mr SKIDMORE, Witness did not know that the 2nd mate assisted to repair the staysail, but was present when the mate told the sailmaker to finish it. When the sailmaker was told to carry the coal he never spoke. The mate told him to carry the coal three times, the sailmaker was trying to get aft to see the captain. The second mate was in charge of the watch. The mate said to the sailmaker that he was “No good for nothing and ought to be overboard.”

LANE recalled by Mr SKIDMORE, stated he wished to leave the ship at Queenstown but the captain did not wish him to go as he was the best steersman on board.

Court adjourned

Master’s certificate suspended

At the local Marine Board inquiry, Paul James PAYNTER late captain of the ship Embleton of Liverpool, was found guilty of misconduct on his ship while on a voyage from San Francisco in ill-treating a sailmaker named Robert WHITE, who afterwards committed suicide by throwing himself overboard. The chief mate of the vessel said when WHITE jumped overboard he had no wish to bring him back to hell. The captain’s certificate was suspended for six months.



WHITE was the son of a Colonel in the British Army, and by the death of an uncle, about the time he jumped overboard, he became entitled to some property and land, the interest of which is above £5,000 a year. The land is situated on the route for the proposed Manchester Ship Canal. By his unhappy death the property reverts to another family.

Shields Daily Gazette and Shipping Telegraph, Dec 12th 1887

Suicide of a Shields man

On Saturday we reported the arrival of the Embleton from San Francisco at Queenstown, with the loss of two of the crew. The sailmaker Robert WHITE who belongs to Shields and on the 30th August committed suicide by jumping overboard and on the 5th of October an able seaman names SEAGRAVE fell from aloft into the sea and was drowned. Another seaman named JENKIN belonging to the        Isle of Wight fell from aloft to the deck and broke a leg and arm. He was conveyed to the Hospital at Queenstown.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph 31st Dec 1887


Lost at sea from the ship Embleton on the voyage from San Francisco to Sunderland, James Carlyle WATT, the son of Colonel WATT of Wavertree, Liverpool and grandson of the late Fitz James WATT of Morrisbrook, Warrington, aged 19.


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