While I was researching my family tree I was amazed to find a pirate in my family. It is a very sad story from both sides. In a time when men were either owners or owned piracy offered a rare taste of freedom that few in the world could experience. My ancestor William Trevaskis ran away to sea from the port of Liverpool at the age of 14 years. He was signed onto the American Naval ship Constellation when he arrived in America in November 1834.
In October 1835, the Constellation sailed for the Gulf of Mexico to assist in crushing the Seminole uprising. She landed shore parties to relieve the Army garrisons and sent her boats on amphibious expeditions. Mission accomplished, she then cruised with the West India Squadron until 1838 serving part of this period in the capacity of flagship for Commodore Alexander Dallas.
In 1840, Constellation completed a historic voyage around the world, which included being the first U.S. warship to enter the inland waters of China.
The decade of the 1840’s saw Constellation circumnavigate the globe. As flagship of Captain Kearny and the East India Squadron, her mission, as assigned in March 1841, was to safeguard American lives and property against loss in the Opium War, and further, to enable negotiation of commercial treaties. En route home in May 1843 she entered the Hawaiian Islands, helping to keep them from becoming a British protectorate, and thereafter she sailed homeward making calls at South American ports one of which was Valparaiso. It was at this port that my relation William, now aged 25, jumped ship. He changed his surname for fear of being arrested for desertion and took a job on board the Barque Saladin, a ship heading for his home port of Liverpool in the UK.
Piracy and Murder - On board the barque Saladin
It was the last major piracy trial in Nova Scotia, Canada. Naval sailors and privateers (sailing licensed private warships) who personally profited from capturing enemy ships in wartime received a share called “prize money” from each capture. Sometimes their aggressive captures gave them a “piratical” reputation. This crime was described as one of the most spine-chilling and blood drenched tales of the sea. When Captain Cunningham boarded the Saladin in May 1844, the crew claimed that their captain and first officer had died and that the second officer and several others had fallen from aloft and drowned. The Saladin sailed from Valparaiso, Peru on February 8th, 1844. The last entry in the log was dated 14 April, 1844. The man responsible for those deaths, Captain George Fielding, was never tried.
The British barque Saladin was typically employed on a long voyage from England to the coast of Peru, where she would take on a cargo of guano, a powerful and valuable fertilizer for the return trip to England. On February 8, 1844, she left Valparaiso with an even more valuable cargo. In addition to guano, she was also carrying over 7,000 silver dollars, a pile of 13 silver bars and 90 tons of copper. She had a crew of twelve, under the command of Captain Alexander MacKenzie, who was known as a hard drinking, hot tempered man.
Thomas F. Bryerly was his First Mate.
In 1843 Capt George Fielding lost his ship and his reputation when he circumvented Peruvian law by smuggling. Captain MacKenzie of the Saladin accepted Fielding and his fifteen-year-old son as non-paying passengers for the passage home to England from Peru. Unknown to Captain MacKenzie and his crew, George Fielding was a smuggler, who was on the run from the Peruvian authorities after trying to smuggle a load of guano out of the country. Fielding took one look at Saladin’s cargo manifest and began to form a dangerous plan.
He approached the men he thought he could trust and told to them that they could be rich if they took a chance. He also used threats, saying that if they didn’t join him, they would be killed. Sailing from Valparaiso on the barque Saladin, the two captains failed to get along, and Fielding persuaded George Jones, the ship’s sail maker, to help him kill the captain and commandeer the ship. Other crew members John Hazleton, William Trevaskis, Charles Anderson, William Carr, and John Galloway were also enlisted.
The first mate F. Bryerly woke to find three men standing over him. They struck him twice with an axe, and then threw him overboard. James Allen was struck from behind at the wheel. The carpenter, whose tools became murder weapons, was the next struck down, but he was still alive when he hit the water. He shouted “murder” many times as he floated towards the stern of the boat. This gave Fielding a reason to rouse MacKenzie from his cabin by shouting man overboard and as the Captain arrived on deck he also was killed. Moffat and Collins, the last two members of the crew to be killed, soon followed. Galloway, the ship’s cook and Carr the cabin boy knew none of this at the time. When they came on deck, the mutineers had had their fill of killing and refused to slay them. Fearing for their lives, the two men agreed to join the pirates.
They had successfully seized the vessel and murdered 6 shipmates. Under Fielding's command the Saladin, with a valuable cargo of guano, copper and silver, a chest of dollars and several money letters, set course for Newfoundland. So terrified of Fielding were his fellow conspirators, and very wary that he might double-cross them, the pirates killed him and his son by throwing them bound into the sea.
Saladin never reached England. On May 21, 1844, the ship was found stranded near Country Harbour, Nova Scotia. Its name plate and figurehead had been painted over to disguise its true identity. The first person to board the barque was Captain William Cunningham of the schooner Billow. On board, he found only six men. They were drunk and acting in a very suspicious manner. The last entry in the ship’s log was for April 14, 1844. Cunningham came to realize that something terrible must have happened to the eight missing people whose names appeared on the crew list for the voyage. Captain MacKenzie, Captain Fielding and George Fielding were unaccounted for.
Cunningham had to use his powers of observation and his own imagination to try to piece together what might have happened to the rest of the crew. He reported his suspicions to the authorities, who launched their own highly detailed investigation. This involved some pioneering forensic work and Canada’s last piracy trial.
When the Saladin ran aground in May 1844 at Country Harbour, on the Eastern Shore, it brought with it one of the bloodiest crimes ever recorded on the high seas. There were only six men on board, too few to handle the 550-ton square-rigger, and their explanation – that the captain and others had died at sea – was suspicious. The crew was arrested and taken to Halifax, where a dark tale of murder and piracy soon emerged.
Two men, William Carr and John Galloway, accused the other four of murdering Captain Alexander McKenzie and five other crewmen somewhere off the coast of South America. The mutineers were looking for a secluded cove in Newfoundland or the Gaspé where they could unload copper, silver and other valuables on board when they washed ashore in Nova Scotia. The plan was then to flee to the States steal a smaller vessel such as a schooner and return for the hidden treasure. However, fate stepped in once again as the Billow arrived on the scene almost immediately. Cunningham’s questions seemed to rattle the crew and his observations led him to contact the local authorities. The crew were rounded up, charged with piracy and murder and taken to trial in Halifax.
Galloway’s confession led the others to confess. Jones, Hazelton, Anderson, and Trevaskis were tried for piracy and murder. The jury deliberated for fifteen minutes before returning guilty verdicts and sentences of death by hanging. A separate trial for murder was held for Carr and Galloway. The jury felt that they had no alternative but to kill or be killed. They were found not guilty. The other 4 were hanged 30 July 1844 on a knoll where Victoria General Hospital now stands.