Friday, November 30, 2012

Jersey's last pirate? - George Fielding

More Jersey history that you don't learn at school.

George Fielding of Jersey (Channel Islands) was baptised at St. Mary’s Parish church on 22 November 1804.
He was the sixth of eight children to Jean (John) Fielding and Jeanne Payn baptised at St. Mary although their first born was apparently a Jean (John) baptised at St. Peter in May 1782.

During June 1829 at St. Helier, George married Sophie Le Sueur of the same place - the Island’s main town, parish and port.
Three children of George and Sophie’s marriage were baptised – George in August 1830, John in August 1832 and Anne Sophie in 1835 – all in St. Helier.

George’s father was reported in several sources as a former soldier named John who had served in the 30th Regiment and 41st Regiment of Foot, mostly in India. He had supposedly been pensioned-off in 1826, and then settled in the Gaspée (Canada) where he died in 1850.

A John Fielding was buried at St. Mary in 1820 and there was a related family of that name in the Parish. This branch seems to have originated with the marriage there of Charles Fielding of the Company of Invalids under a Captain Terrot, to Ann Heller of St. Helier, in 1772.
Captain Charles Terrot of the Invalids was Irish but of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and lived to be the oldest officer in the service. He died aged 82 in 1794 but his son, Captain Elias Terrot, was killed in India.

The “Company of Invalids” was the very same 41st Regiment founded by Col. Edmund Fielding (from Glastonbury, Somerset) in 1719. This was originally formed out of the more able residents of Chelsea Hospital and was made up of those soldiers who had already been retired wounded or by reason of infirmity or age, from active combat service.
The Company soon became a “garrison” unit but 300 men were sent to Jersey in 1735 to suppress the riots that followed devaluation of the local currency.

Edmund Fielding came too as a Major General and was described as the “Acting Governor” of the Island but whether any of the subsequently resident Fieldings were related to him is not obvious. His more famous sons were Henry the author and John the police reformer and they had both served as London Bow Street Magistrates during the eighteenth century.
Henry died in Lisbon 1756, John in 1780 London but only Henry had children.
There was a related line based at Northumberland which included Charles Fielding, an army captain whose son Charles John Johnson Fielding died in India in 1767.
In 1740, Admiral Anson’s voyage of circumnavigation and plunder set sail from England with 249 sickly men from the 41st on board but not one returned.

Edmund’s own fortune was diminished at the card table and gambling on the notorious “South Seas Stock” but he was posted all over the world during his very active military career.
Thereafter it was usual to have two companies of the 41st stationed in Jersey so it is likely that the John Fielding reported as George’s father could have served with them in the Island besides the other reported Indian duties. Except that from 1782 until 1808 he was busy fathering children in Jersey so would probably not have been overseas then.

An Amice Fielding of St. Mary married a Miss Magdeline Payne of St. Peter (at St. Mary) in 1810 and their son Amice was baptised at St. Peter the following year.
Thus there were some evident familial links across these two Parishes between the Fielding and Payn(e) lines.
The St. Helier Fieldings were also linked.

At St. Peter there were at least thirteen Fielding baptisms from 1782 to 1830 commencing with Jean (John) son of Jean and Jeanne Payne, the parents of George (later living in St. Helier).

Ann Heller, wife of Charles Fielding (of the 41st) died in St. Helier in 1788.
At St. Peter, William Fielding, a “soldat” had been buried on 8 March 1781. He was possibly injured at the “Battle of Jersey” on 6 January when a French mercenary force invaded.
Two named Jean (John) Fielding, respectively the sons of Francois and Amice were buried in 1816 and 1821. An Amice was buried there in 1841.

Evidently, there was an extensive network of Fieldings in Jersey.

George’s wife Sophie was buried in St. Helier on 23 February 1835 aged 32 years and 8 months.
Their 4 days old daughter Anne Sophie had been buried just 11 days earlier.
For George there was even more tragedy on 18 February because that was the day when son John was buried aged 3 years and 5 months.

A 9 months old Anne Sophie, daughter of John Fielding and Emile [sic] Andrews had also been buried there on the last day of that same dreadful year.

Cholera raged in St. Helier during the 1830s and throughout much of Europe. The disease was a likely cause of these Fielding deaths so it would not be surprising if George had decided to move away from the unhealthy and personally unhappy Island at this time.

Amelie Marie, the wife of Philippe Fielding died in 1840 aged just 21 years.

 George Fielding had supposedly started his working life connected with fishing activities off the coast of France which possibly involved some smuggling.
There were several named “Payn” with shipping interests in Jersey but it is not obvious whether George Fielding commenced his sailing life on their vessels.

The Rose cutter for example, was registered at Jersey in 1823 as commanded by Philip Payne and her part-owner was John Le Sueur but there is nothing known to link them with similar Fielding marriage connections.
Philip might have been the same owner of the Queen Charlotte smack of Jersey seized for smuggling at Dartmouth in 1807. The Mary cutter seized at Plymouth in 1821 was owned by Le Sueur the merchant and Le Sueur the blacksmith…

George Fielding’s only known appearance in the Jersey Shipping Register was on 17 August 1832 when he was declared as master of the Samuel & Julia cutter of 39 tons.
This 48 feet long vessel having a running bowsprit (favoured by smugglers for flexibility and speed), was built at Plymouth (Devon) in 1815, subsequently increased and re-built being wholly owned by John Chevalier of Jersey.
Later that year Chevalier sold a half-share to mariner Edward Querée of Jersey before disposing of the remainder.
The cutter remained on the Jersey Register in 1835 but it is not obvious there where she was employed or if George retained command.

According to the Jersey Merchant Seamen’s Benefit Society records, George Fielding of St Mary (age 31) was only master of the Samuel & Julia for one month (7 March to 7 March) in 1836. He had not been engaged on any other vessels because this was his “first payment” into the funds of the Benefits Society which was only founded in 1835.
So George possibly had been absent on occasions from Jersey during these difficult years and had moved from St Helier to St Mary, no doubt following the death of his wife and children in 1835.
Philip Payn (age 51) also appeared in the Society’s ledger as master of the same cutter for one month only in the autumn of 1836 from which it can be deduced that she was employed in short trading voyages. Under Philip Bailhache’s command the same year she is described as a “coaster”.

It was a trip to Liverpool that supposedly introduced George to the Newfoundland trade in which he presumably learned his ocean going skills.

Although Jersey enjoyed an extensive Newfoundland and Canadian commerce and it was not unusual for such small craft as the Samuel & Julia to cross the Atlantic, a voyage of discovery or trade with her to Liverpool would seem more likely for George. His term of one month as master should have been long enough for such a voyage.

Larger vessels regularly sailed from Jersey to world-wide destinations and it may have been significant that Robin and Company of Jersey included partners John Robin in Liverpool, Thomas Pipon of Brighton (Sussex), Robin and Lempriere of Jersey with others.
They owned many vessels and extensive fishing interests in Newfoundland and other places but they also utilised smaller craft from time to time and many were built in Paspebiac. Their Calm (48 tons), Peace (59 tons) and Storm (45 tons) registered at Jersey in 1826 were all Canadian built and returned there during the 1830s and 40s.
George Fielding might well have sailed with this Jersey company or others who traded via Liverpool to other places.

About a dozen mariners named Fielding are recorded in the early years of the Benefit Society’s ledgers with both Thomas (aged 20) and Amice (28) sailing on the Gaspée built Grog brigantine in 1839. She was a Robin & Company vessel but on a voyage from Newfoundland to Oporto “a young seaman named Fielding” was elsewhere reported as having drowned in 1839.
In the ledgers’ index, Amice had “drowned” added alongside his entry.

It is certain that George sailed for several years from Liverpool where he became “well known” just as he was soon to become notorious across the world.

The Actaeon was one of his commands for Liverpool owners Lockett & Co. after 1836.
She was an 1834 Canadian built ship (later rigged as a barque) of 510 tons, variously declared as sailing from Liverpool for Cape Horn and Sydney.

W & J Lockett were originally wine importers but their business expanded during the 1830s when they exported textiles to Asia and South America, returning with cargoes of timber, tea and sugar.
Chile and Peru (Lockett had shares in sugar plantations in Peru later) were important centres for their expanding commercial activities which soon included the importation of nitrates (guano).

It was said that George treated his crews badly, was quarrelsome, bullying, and provided inadequate food. On arrival at destinations some crew members invariably deserted “and it was a rare circumstance for him to bring back the same crew which sailed.”

His character was described as “a bold and sanguiry ruffian” but he was abusive both at home and on board his ships. Physically he was “a stout well-built man with prominent and rather strongly marked but by no means unpleasant features.”

George spoke French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch which must have made him an ideal employee to negotiate deals overseas for his merchant employers.

He “married” at least twice after leaving Jersey so must have been reasonably attractive to women.
 The rules against bigamy in differing jurisdictions were still lax at this time and George might have entered into several relationships. With Sophie dead in Jersey he was free to marry again and it is likely that his surviving son George junior moved with him to Liverpool during 1835 or 1836. Here they formed a new family unit with somebody, whose identity is not known.

His new wife in Liverpool (if they were married) received much physical abuse at his hands and they lived apart for “several” years “but he allowed her nine shillings per week which she received at the Parish office.”

George was also reported to have established a Gaspée home too, possibly with another wife.

Shortly before sailing from Liverpool on the Vitula in October 1842 he had proposed marriage to the “respectable young lady attached to a popular hotel” but her friends managed to prevent it. Their intervention was to prove fortuitous.

During  July 1838, Myers & Co, another important Liverpool based merchant/shipping business had received a trial consignment of just thirty sample bags of guano (sea bird excrement used mostly as an agricultural fertilizer) from Valparaiso on the Heroine (probably the snow owned by William Tapley).
William Myers, who was also a farmer, tried it on his land and distributed the remainder “to interested parties for trial.”
Following this experiment, Myers speculated on the first full cargo of 327 tons of guano which arrived at Liverpool in June 1841 on the Charles Eyes, master Moss for owner Chapman. She was a Liverpool built barque (1829) and was declared sailing to Cape Horn from Liverpool in Lloyds Register for 1839.

William Myers must have had every confidence in the new product because his firm was soon sending out other vessels in search of more guano. The trade very quickly emerged as a substantial and lucrative business.

The Vitula was a handsome Quebec built (1840) barque of 295 tons (460 tons burthen) re-registered at Liverpool in February 1841. Her owners included William and Joseph Myers & Co who would soon be negotiating a contract with the Peruvian Government which secured to them all the guano from within that country.
She sailed under George Fielding’s command (owners curiously declared as Rintoul & Co. – a Glasgow firm – in Lloyds Register) for Buenos Ayres (Argentina) with twelve years old son George on board making his first long voyage, alongside a crew of sixteen men.

A fine portrait of the vessel leaving Liverpool hangs in the Guernsey Museum paintings/the-barque-vitula-in-liverpool-bay-136445

 At Buenos Ayres no cargo could be obtained so the Vitula was sailed around the dreaded “Cape Horn” for Valparaiso (Chile) where there was no better news.
George next proceeded to the Peruvian Island of Chincha with the aim of obtaining and smuggling a cargo of guano and it seems (according to contemporary reports) that illicit-trading was already in the blood of this Channel Islander.
Quite why it was necessary to resort to subterfuge whereas the principal Liverpool owners of the Vitula were seeking a monopoly deal with the Peruvian government is not at all clear.
Perhaps George was undertaking a speculation of his own?

However, whilst the loaded barque lay at anchor a party of fifty Peruvian soldiers managed to board (using the Vitula’s own boat).
Captain George was found with a large knife in hand trying to cut the tethering hawser alongside a supply of fire-arms but his crew - except for the mate - had fled below deck. Following a short engagement, the barque was seized and George sustained s serious gunshot wound in the shoulder. His clothes and shoes were soon soaked with blood and he looked dangerously pale but survived long enough to be carried the fourteen miles to Pisco harbour in a Peruvian government schooner.
The Vitula followed under a crew of soldiers and was soon tied up under a strong guard with a Peruvian flag flying at the mizzen and an upside-down English ensign beneath.

George was taken to hospital and his wounds dressed but he remained very poorly for a couple of days.
Still very weak, he was then transferred on a donkey with two men giving support back to the Vitula when “all the city came to see him.” His crew was also loaded on board and with the schooner as escort, they set out for Lima.
Every night the crew was shut in below deck but Captain George was detained in his cabin, under guard.
On arrival at Callao (Lima harbour) the crew were put in prison for nine days whilst George was initially allowed to walk around Callao on parole. But he soon abused the privilege and his freedom was restricted when news of his plan to seize the Vitula was leaked to the authorities.

Under detention again he communicated with his son George, who was not imprisoned because he looked even younger than his thirteen years, persuading him to smuggle a “puncha” into the prison. Wearing this anonymous cloak George escaped.
For the next two days he hid under wood shavings and debris at the dockyard premises of the South Pacific Steam Co. emerging only to seek a British vessel to convey him and his son to Valparaiso or further afield.

The fate of the Vitula’s crew is not certain but they would at best have had to find berths and employment on homeward bound vessels. At worst they could have faced further imprisonment or forced labour shovelling guano or breaking the rocks in silver mines.
To discourage any thoughts of re-possession, the Vitula was unrigged at her moorings under cover of the castle guns.
Then, following condemnation, she was sold by the Peruvian government for 15,000 dollars.
Myers & Co. the owners back in England would not have been happy. Losing an almost new barque together with a cargo would prove a very expensive venture especially if the “smuggling” element nullified any insurance policies.
George must have been very apprehensive about his return to Liverpool.

Eventually, George and his son secured a passage on the Essex for England but the relationship between the Captains soon tired and the Fieldings were put ashore at Valparaiso.

(The Essex was probably the London registered barque of 329 tons under Captain Oakley for owner Sands on a passage to and from New Zealand and Sydney.)

Once again George had some difficulty in finding a British vessel prepared to take him and his son aboard at Valparaiso. Both the Captains of the Jeremiah Garnett and Belfast declined to help them. The former vessel, a 447 tons ship under the command of Captain Davies, had loaded 4,000 bushels of wheat and 700 bags of flour for delivery at Sydney from Valparaiso.
But, eventually the two distressed Jersey mariners engaged the interest of Mr. Thomas Byerly, the mate off the Saladin barque of Newcastle, London bound, for owners Joshua Johnson & Cargill.
Some of her crew, including an apprentice, had deserted at Valparaiso.  So the boy with his badly wounded and impoverished father might have offered to perform some duties during the long voyage, although a “free passage” was the negotiated deal.

George Jones, a one legged sail-maker from County Clare had also joined at the Chilean port to work his passage home but he was to double-up as cabin steward until they had rounded the Horn.

Originally Newcastle built in 1835 as a snow rigged vessel by Hopper & Co. and registered at 243 tons Saladin was always commanded by Captain Alexander “Sandy” MacKenzie.
Initially intended for the Mediterranean trade she suffered badly in one storm, barely limping into Plymouth.
After this she was altered and re-rigged as a 550 tons barque to sail the South American routes.

This 1844 voyage was also planned to be Captain MacKenzie’s last because he and his dog Toby would be retiring from a life at sea on their return to England.
The Saladin, commanded by MacKenzie and his dog with a crew of eleven men plus the two Fieldings as passengers, was carrying 90 tons of copper, silver bars, bags of gold, a chest of 20,000 dollars (7,000 in some reports) and a hold full of guano. It was the sort of valuable cargo that induced mariners to behave strangely…

Unfortunately, Captain MacKenzie was a Scot with a taste for drink and his behaviour
was at best already unpredictable and often cruel.
Within a few days of putting to sea on 8 February 1844 he and Captain George had fallen out so that they would not even eat at the same table. Jones acting as steward said that he scarcely had a civil word from MacKenzie.
George, obviously more accustomed to issuing the orders afloat than receiving them, soon had some very dark thoughts evolving in his mind.

At first he began suggesting to several members of the crew that the ship might be attractive to pirates and he wondered what they would do if an attack should happen? Of course, he was really just sounding them out and he soon discovered that several men would be quite keen to be rid of their autocratic and often drunken Captain MacKenzie.

Even when the mate warned MacKenzie about possible trouble, his words were ignored. A similar warning from Jones the sail-maker/steward provoked the response “You damned Irishman, I want to hear nothing!”
Once the Saladin was safely past Cape Horn, George revealed his scheme - to those with a grudge - to help him assume his next command.

Armed with axes, an adze and hammers from the carpenter’s chest, George selected the kindly mate Thomas Byerly as the first victim. At about midnight on 15 April, Byerly was at the wheel, in charge of the back watch but not feeling well was resting on a hen-coop. George Jones, in company with several others, namely Tregaskis aka Johnston, Hazelton and Anderson (“the Suede”), set about his head with an axe and then threw his corpse overboard
The Captain was the next intended but Toby’s growling woke the carpenter Allen and he came to see what was happening.
He was soon mortally wounded but managed to cry out before or soon after he hit the water. The conspirators used this as a pretext to shout “man overboard!” which drew Captain MacKenzie out from his cabin to meet his assassins. He put up some resistance but Fielding joined in with the others wielding an axe and they were soon heaving the body over the side.

Seamen Samuel Collins and Thomas Moffat were similarly butchered and disposed off after they emerged from their bunks to go on watch.

No further mention was made of the dog in contemporary accounts but there were to be no happy endings on the Saladin on this dark night, so his fate was predictable if not certain.

Having assumed some sort of command, Captain George Fielding now required the surviving six members of the crew to swear an oath of loyalty on the late Captain MacKenzie’s bible and he set a course for Newfoundland.  There they proposed to scuttle the vessel and run away with fortunes in their pockets or some other absurd plan.
George announced to his son that “I am Captain now” but the response from the youngster - “It was a pity that I had not a blow at Sandy” - was probably more a display of bravado amongst the men than of serious intent.

Captain George also made a show of throwing overboard the collection of axes and fire-arms that would be dangerous in the wrong hands. But it was soon revealed that he had secreted a brace of pistols and some other harmful hand-tools in his own cabin and the mutineers suspected a plot to kill them.

Taking the initiative, the six crewmen seized George and his son.
George initially offered to jump over the side but restrained with his son they were both tied-up hand and foot and left to stew in the cabin overnight. Captain George pleaded that they might kill him quickly but in the morning, no doubt after a heavy night’s drinking, the mutineers dragged them on deck threatening to throw both into the sea alive.
George junior had been untied for some reason but when he realised what was to happen he resisted and shouted for help in a state of terror. Whilst clinging to his former allies he tore some of young Galloway’s clothes but it made no difference.
Screaming, he followed his father into the water.

So far as George Fielding and history are concerned, that was the end of his brief career as a pirate. It had lasted just a few days.

With nobody competent to sail the barque she still (somewhat surprisingly), reached the coast of Nova Scotia under the command of cabin-boy John Galloway “as the only man who could take the sun and work out the reckoning.”

In true piratical tradition, the Saladin name at the stern was concealed with a tarpaulin and the slightly sinister-looking figure-head, that had guided the barque through most of the world’s oceans, was disguised with black paint.

Inevitably, once the Gulf of St Lawrence was approached, the limitations of young Galloway’s skills were revealed and the Saladin’s sailing days ended when she was run aground off Country Harbour on 21 May.
From this situation, the fate of the six drunken mutineers was almost assured and they were soon rounded up and sent for trial at Halifax. 
 It had been obvious to those who boarded the doomed anonymous barque, with her decks littered with empty bottles, papers destroyed, cargo looted and no entry in the log since 15 April that the survivors’ claims of men falling from the tops or dying from disease, were not true.

The Saladin soon became a wreck, broke up and sank to the bottom although some cargo had been salvaged and sold off. The guano, according to the Lloyds agent, was a total loss.

The Chronique de Jersey newspaper for Saturday 6 July published a pre-trial account (from a Lloyd’ source) of the “Horrible Mutinerie at Assassinants en Mer.”
This was based upon a standard, syndicated version of events that appeared around the world and was not tailored in any way to satisfy any Jersey based interest in the local boy turned bad. Although Anderson was labelled as “a Suede” there was no indication that Fielding and his son were Jersey-born

Following a Vice-Admiralty court trial on 22 July 1844 four of the crew - George Jones, William Tregaskis aka Johnson, John Hazelton and Charles Anderson - were found guilty of piracy and publicly executed eight days later.
William Carr and John Galloway were only tried for the murders of Captain Fielding and his son but were judged not-guilty and were released. There was some suggestion that by being cooperative and making full statements initially they had received leniency before (or beyond) the court.

It was to be the last piracy trial in Nova Scotia and the bodies of the executed pirates were buried rather than being gibbeted for public display on Mauger’s Beach according to past tradition and practice.
Ironically, that Beach was named after Jersey-man Joshua Mauger who had built up a huge business empire in Nova Scotia before 1760 founded on smuggling, ship-owning, general trading, gin-distillation, slavery and privateering. He was lucky not to face charges himself in 1756 when his Musteka privateer turned pirate…

At the time of the Saladin piracy trial a woman claiming to be George Fielding’s Gaspée widow was reported to be in attendance complaining of her future poverty.

News of the mutiny, wrecking and trial was carried to Liverpool on the Caledonia Cunard Company Steamer from Boston and Halifax and it was soon published all around the world.

In Liverpool another George Fielding widow expressed no surprise after learning of his fate but lamented the loss of “her son.”
A notice appeared in several English newspapers on 28 December 1844 advising that no Peruvian or Bolivian guano could be imported by any other than the only agents in this country viz Anthony Gibbs & Sons of London or William Joseph Myers & Co of Liverpool…

By way of a footnote, Albert W. Hicks alias Johnson was the last man to be executed for piracy in the United States on 13 July 1860.
He had barbarously murdered the master and two crew members on an oyster smack and threw the bodies overboard in New York harbour. But whilst awaiting his hanging on Liberty Island he supposedly dictated a very long confession of his extensive piratical career. Some of this was reported in the New York Times following the execution.
Mostly it was the rambling of a fantasist – or perhaps a creative journalist – but it did include the unlikely claim that Hicks had participated in the Saladin mutiny in 1844. It also offered these lines, supposedly composed by the condemned pirate;

“ I shipped on board the Saladin
As you may well understand,
Bound to South America
Capt. KINZIE in command,
We arrived in that country
Without undue delay
When FIELDING came on board,
Ah! Cursed be that day!
He first persuaded us
To do that horrid crime;
We could then have prevented it
If we begun in time,
I stained my hands in human blood
Which I do not deny
I shed the blood of innocence,
For which I have to die”.

Sources for this article include wikipedia ; Howell, Douglas E (October 1995) “The Saladin Trial: A Last Hurrah for Admiralty Sessions” – The Northern Mirror.
Lloyds Lists and Registers; Illustrated London News;
The Jersey Shipping Registers and Indexes to Baptisms, Marriages and Burials at the Jersey Archives ; Le Chronique De Jersey at the Jersey Reference Library; Jersey Merchants Seamen’s Benefit Society Ledgers at Le Societé Jersiaise Library.
Google Images “Saladin” figurehead  1844 to see an illustration.


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