Sir F. Bruce to Mr. Seward

Sir: Her Majesty’s consul for the State of Maryland has forwarded to me copies of a correspondence between himself and the United States district attorney at Baltimore, on the jurisdiction which can be exercised by the authorities of the United States in cases of mutinies occurring on board British chant ships in American waters.

The circumstances, which unfortunately are of frequent occurrence, which led to Mr. Bernal’s application, are the following:

The British bark Campsie cleared from Baltimore on November 16, 1865, and dropping down Chesapeake bay, came to an anchor about ninety miles [Page 229] below. The following morning the men refused to weigh the anchors, and declared they would not go to sea in the vessel. They had no specific complaint to make, or reason to give for their refusal, but they had shipped for the run across at forty dollars a month, and had received fifty dollars advance.

The captain hailed a passing steamer and came up to Baltimore to apply to Mr. Bernal for assistance to enable him to overpower and iron the men, and get his anchors weighed, as then, with the assistance of the mates, he could set his sails and get out to sea, when the sailors would have to turn to their work. Mr. Bernal’s first application was to the custom-house, but their revenue cutter was absent. He then sent to the United States marshal, who consulted the district attorney, and the latter sent him word that he should have assistance if he could show him “any treaty.” The municipal police could give no aid, since it was entirely out of their jurisdiction, even if they were disposed to interfere. Mr. Bernal therefore counselled the captain to go down to Fortress Monroe and see if the naval authorities would help him. He, however, returned to his vessel, and a revenue cutter coming in sight he signalled for assistance, and an armed boat’s crew was sent on board. Mr. Bernal subsequently met the lieutenant who was sent, and who told him he never saw such a set of ruffians. They broke seventeen pairs of irons before he could secure them, and they tried to seize his boat. He took the vessel into Norfolk, and the nine mutineers were put in jail. The vessel lay there some days, but finding there was no chance of the men being put on trial, the master sailed for Ireland. Four of the men becoming penitent, and sailors being extremely scarce, he took them on board, shipping fresh men in place of the five he left behind, for whom he left sufficient money to pay their jail fees for ten more days. At the expiration of that time, the judge of the circuit being absent, the men were set at liberty. The United States district attorney at Norfolk has since informed Mr. Vice-Consul Myers that Judge Underhill has given his opinion that he would have had no power to try these men.

On the 26th ultimo the bark Kathleen cleared from Baltimore, and after proceeding about fifteen miles the very same thing occurred. The ringleader in this instance was also the ringleader of the mutiny on the Campsie, and one of the five men left in jail at Norfolk.

It appears that there is an organized gang of men who practice their old game of “bounty-jumping” by shipping as sailors, receiving their advance, and then deserting or refusing to work.

The application for redress was made fruitlessly as before, and finally the master shipped a new crew and procured some strong police irons in order to carry the worst of the mutineers over to England.

Mr. Jones, in his letter to the consul, dated January 18, 1866, seems inelined to hold that the United States authorities in such cases might interfere at the request of the consul, but he suggests that the point should be referred to Washington, and accordingly I have the honor to call your attention to the question stated in Mr. Bernal’s letter of the 4th January, as to the remedy or protection existing in the event of a mutiny occurring on board a British merchant vessel in American waters.

From the reports of various consular officers it appears that the evil is one of considerable magnitude and injurious to commerce, and that it is most desirable that seamen should not be allowed to commit these mutinous acts with impunity.

I have the honor to be, with the highest consideration, sir, your most obedient, humble servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, &c., &c., &c.

[Page 230]

Mr. Bernal to Mr. Jones

Sir: Repeated cases are occurring of mutiny on board British merchant vessels clearing from this port. A set of men are making a business of shipping themselves, receiving their advance, and then obstinately refusing to do their duty as sailors.

They count on the inability of captains to remain here to prosecute them, and on the chance of their consequently escaping unpunished. I need not point out to you that not only is a serious loss and injury inflicted on these particular vessels, but the whole shipping community are likely to become sufferers by an evil which is sure to increase in proportion to the impunity which may attend its progress. Some weeks ago a mutiny occurred in Chesapeake bay on board the British bark Campsie, and was only quelled by the most determined measures taken by the captain of a United States revenue cutter which fortunately happened to come up. On my applying, in the early stage of the affair, to the United States marshal for assistance to enable the captain to overpower the mutineers, I received word, as I understood, from you that it should be given if I could show that it was provided for in the treaty. I believe that international comity requires no treaty in cases of this kind. Be this as it may, my present object is to ask you to be good enough to inform me if I can look to the United States officials for assistance should I unfortunately require it at any future time for a similar purpose, and also, when the captain of the vessel cannot remain to prosecute, whether there would be any means of getting such mutineers punished.

I have, &c.,


W. J. Jones, Esq., United States District Attorney, Baltimore.

Mr. Jones to Mr. Bernal

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 29th ultimo in reference to mutineers upon British ships clearing from this port.

I shall take very great pleasure in rendering every assistance in my power, and which I am authorized to render by the acts of Congress.

I refer you to the act of Congress approved June 11, 1864, chapter cxvi, page 121, 13Statutes at Large, for the law regulating the subject.

I am, &c.,

W. J. JONES, United States District Attorney for Maryland.

Frederick Bernal, Esq.

Mr. Bernal to Mr. Jones

Sir: I beg to thank you for your communication and for the expression of your willingness to do all the law empowers you in regard to mutinies occurring on board British merchant vessels. I have examined the act of Congress of June, 1864, referred to by you, and find that it is almost a repetition of the act of March 2, 1829. There is no special consular convention between Great Britain and the United States, but the enclosed paragraph taken from Wilmer & Smith’s European Times relative to the proceedings with regard to sailors on board American vessels in the port of Liverpool will show you that the absence of a convention does not prevent American shipping interests from receiving due protection in England. The point on which I want you to be good enough to inform me in your position as a legal official of the United States is this: In the absence of an express consular convention between our two countries, and in view of the act of Congress of June, 1864, what remedy or protection exists in the event of a mutiny occurring on board a British merchant vessel while in American waters.

I have, &c,


W. J. Jones, Esq., United States District Attorney, Baltimore.

P. S.—I would particularly draw your attention to the second of the two enclosed cases.

[Page 231]

Mr. Jones to Mr. Bemal

Sir: I regret that your communication of the 4th instant has remained so long unanswered, owing to my professional engagements and severe illness in my family.

But now in reply thereto I say that I should hesitate seriously before I would direct the officers of the court to enter upon a British vessel. I admit that the request of the representative of the British government would seem to justify such action, and to estop that government from making any complaint, but as a measure of prudence I suggest that you refer the matter to your minister at Washington, so that he may bring it to the attention of the Department of State.

I am, &c,

W. J. JONES, United States District Attorney for Maryland.

Frederick Bernal, Esq.