Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: Extraordinary sentence of a court martial.
PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:39 pm 
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I stumbled upon, what I thought, a fascinating account of a court martial on a young midshipman serving on Edgar in 1811.
The anecdote 'extraordinary sentence of a court martial' questions the severity of the midshipman's punishment.
[url]http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=l3hsccSsOoMC&pg=PA28&dq=midshipman+edgar+1811&hl=en&sa=X&ei=e6YyT-i3FMWA8wON69SUBw&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=midshipman%20edgar%201811&f=false
[/url]
I wondered if anyone had read of any similar sentences, passed by court martial?
The identity of the person in question, and his subsequent fate intrigues me. It seems to me that his story would be worth looking into. From the information contained in the anecdote the relevant paperwork from the court martial could be traced at the NA. I'm assuming the charge would be neglect of duty or deserting his post?
Has anyone any further thoughts?

Richard.


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 Post subject: Re: Extraordinary sentence of a court martial.
PostPosted: Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:52 pm 
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oops!
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=l3hsccSsOoMC&pg=PA28&dq=midshipman+edgar+1811&hl=en&sa=X&ei=e6YyT-i3FMWA8wON69SUBw&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=midshipman%20edgar%201811&f=false


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 Post subject: Re: Extraordinary sentence of a court martial.
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 8:13 am 
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Many thanks for that interesting and sad post.

I had raised the matter of unjust or severe convictions at court martial in the following link:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1334

Tony suggests that unfairly convicted officers might be quietly re-instated. Can any of our sleuths find a happy ending in this case?

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 Post subject: Re: Extraordinary sentence of a court martial.
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 9:25 am 
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Actually it was Chas who suggested officers might be quietly reinstated, and I'm sure he is right. With the right connections, you could be reinstated whether your conviction was unjust or not.

I take a different view of this case! The midshipman was put in command of a boat of seamen keeping watch on the anchored British ships at night. Instead, he abandoned his post, putting the ships at risk, and went on a wild escapade and got one of his seamen killed for no purpose. I think the navy was well rid of the idiot!

As you say, Richard, the minutes of the court martial should be available at the NA, which would provide his name for further investigation.

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 Post subject: Re: Extraordinary sentence of a court martial.
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:08 am 
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I agree with Tony here.

It might seem harsh to us today but at this tense period in the Baltic the fleet, being under the overall command of Sir James Saumarez, faced serious opposition from Danish gunboats. These were found to be a particular menace, and there were occasions when many, acting in concert and hiding amongst the many islands, attacked smaller British ships and overwhelmed them. They were thus not a vessel to treat lightly, crewed as they were by determined Danish seamen and usually carrying two long guns mounted fore and aft. At this time the Danes would have had upwards of 150 of them.

This midshipman was certainly in the wrong and must have known about the gunboat threat and how vulnerable the smaller ships were. That he went off on his own volition, for whatever reason and leaving the ships unguarded, was 'sin' that could not be overlooked. I am not therefore surprised at the action taken.

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Last edited by Devenish on Fri Feb 10, 2012 6:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Extraordinary sentence of a court martial.
PostPosted: Thu Feb 09, 2012 10:36 pm 
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Put into context it would appear, in this case, the punishment fitted the crime. It does though remain an intriguing story, the question of reinstatement at a later stage occured to me from the outset.

Would I be right in thinking that they would convene the court martial on an independent ship?
Or in cases such as this would it take place on the prisoners own ship?

As part of the sentence the anecdote states 'on arrival of your ship in England, you are to be drummed ashore'. According to a snippet I have read regarding Edgar she returned to chatham in 1811. She was then placed in ordinary until 1813, when she was converted into a prison hulk. What condition would the individual have been kept in following the guilty verdict? Would he have been kept as a prisoner - his dismissal from the navy being brought into immediate effect.
Or would he have been expected to earn his keep below deck, until reaching England?

I'm hoping to visit the NA next week, after a little consideration, I believe the muster and Captain's log for Edgar may be more rewarding than the court martial documents. Would I be correct in assuming that following his original disrating, the midshipman in question would probably have assumed the rating of able seaman?

Richard.


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 Post subject: Re: Extraordinary sentence of a court martial.
PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 6:03 pm 
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Good questions, Richard, and I'm not too sure of the answers.

Were courts martial perhaps usually held on the flagship?

I guess the captain could have disrated him to AB or OS.

I don't know how he would have been treated pending return to England. I don't imagine he would have been kept prisoner, but if not being paid, would he have been given duties? And what about his victualling?

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 Post subject: Re: Extraordinary sentence of a court martial.
PostPosted: Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:36 pm 
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I sourced a few documents at the NA today, from them I found the following:
Midshipman Charles Morris, joined Edgar 28 October 1809, place of origin Salisbury. His disrating took place on 29 June 1810, reduced to a rating of Able seaman.
Events surrounding the incident while in charge of a guard boat are as outlined in the anecdote, and took place on 30th June 1810.
Morris was charged with quitting his post, and neglect of duty. The court martial was held on board Ruby, presided by Rear Admiral Manley Dixon. The sentence passed was as stated in the anecdote.
Morris was discharged from Edgar 13th September 1810. This leaves a question mark over his being 'drummed ashore from his own ship once back in England'?

Rather frustratingly the log for Edgar missed some key periods of time. Including the period surrounding the court martial.

Richard.


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