CAPTAIN JAMES LOWRY
Executed at Execution Dock, March 25, 1762, for murdering one of his Crew
THIS cruel man was born in Scotland, and after receiving a good school education, was, at his own earnest request, bound apprentice to a master of a vessel, to whom he served the time faithfully; and from his good conduct, soon himself became master of a ship.
He had just returned from Jamaica, with the charge of a West-Indian trader, when about the middle of the month of June, 1751, appeared in the daily papers, a remarkable advertisement, with ten signatures thereto, offering a reward of ten guineas for apprehending James Lowry, late master of the Molly, a merchant- ship, lately arrived from Jamaica, who was charged by ten of his crew, with the cruel murder of Kenith Hossack, foremast-man, in his passage home, on the 24th of December last, by ordering his two wrists to be tied to the main-shrouds, and then whipping him till he expired.
To this captain Lowry replied, by charging his crew with depriving him of his command of the said ship, on the 29th of the said month, and carrying her into Lisbon, where the British consul re-instated him in his command, and he sent the ten subscribing men home prisoners; and that he was ready to surrender when a court should be appointed for his trial, which nothing prevented him from doing immediately, but the thoughts of lying in gaol under the detestable name of an inhuman man.
The crew rejoined in another advertisement, that Lowry did not only murder the said Hossack, as appears by the affidavits of the ten subscribers, and sworn before John Russel, Esq., the British consul, at Lisbon, to be by him transmitted to the lords of the Admiralty, but in the said passage, did use Peter Bright and John Grace so cruelly that they died; and still continuing his barbarity, to every man in the ship, broke the jaw-bone and one of the fingers of William Dwight, and fractured the scull of William Wham.
They admitted that they (the subscribers) had been sent from Lisbon to England, by the said British consul; but this was done in consequence of a pretended charge of piracy sworn against them by Lowry, as the only means he had to screen himself from justice; for the sake of which, and to deter other masters of ships from exercising the like barbarities at sea, they repeated their reward, which they deposited in proper hands for apprehending the murderer.
These advertisements naturally excited public curiosity, and Lowry was apprehended and brought to trial at the Admiralty sessions at the Old Bailey, on the 18th of February, 1752, for the wilful murder of Kenith Hossack.
James Gatherah, mate of the vessel, deposed, that they left Jamaica on the 28th of October, 1750, having on board fourteen hands; that, on the 24th of December, he came on deck between four and five in the afternoon, and saw the deceased tied up, one arm to the haulyards, and the other to the main shrouds, when the prisoner was beating him with a rope, about an inch and a half in thickness. This deponent returning again in half an hour, the deceased begged to be let down on a call of nature; the captain being now below, Gatherah obtained his permission to release him for the present, but was to tie him up again; but when let down, he was unable to stand; which being made known to Lowry, he said, 'D--n the rascal, he shams Abraham;' and ordered him again to be tied up. This was done; but he was not made so fast as before, which the captain observing, ordered his arms to be extended to the full stretch, and taking the rope, beat him on the back, breast, head, shoulders, face, and temples, for about half an hour, occasionally walking about to take breath.
About six o'clock he hung back his head, and appeared motionless; on which Lowry ordered him to be cut down, and said to Gatherah, 'I am afraid Kenny is dead.' Gatherah replied, 'I am sorry for it, but hope not.' Gatherah then felt his pulse; but finding no motion there, or at his heart, said, 'I am afraid he is dead, indeed;' on which the captain gave the deceased a slap on the face, and exclaimed, 'D-n him, he is only shamming Abraham now.'
On this the deceased was wrapped up in a sail, and carried to the steerage, where Lowry whetted a penknife, and Gatherah attempted to bleed him, but without effect.
Gatherah deposed further, that the deceased had been ill of a fever, but was then recovering, and though not well enough to go aloft, was able to do many parts of his duty.
Gatherah likewise deposed to the tyranny and cruelty of the captain to the whole ship's company, except one James Stuart; and gave several instances of his inhumanity, particularly that of his beating them with a stick which he called 'the royal oak's foremast.'
It was asked of Gatherah, why Lowry was not confined till the 29th of December, as the murder took place on the 24th? to which he answered, that the ship's crew had been uneasy, and proposed to confine the captain; but that he (Gatherah) represented the leaky condition of the ship, which made it necessary that two pumps should be kept going, night and day; and the ship's crew were so sickly, that not a hand could be conveniently spared; that he believed the captain would be warned by what he had done, and treat the rest of the crew better, during the remainder of the voyage; that Lowry could not escape while on the voyage, and that, on their arrival in England, he might be charged with the murder before any magistrate.
The seamen were satisfied by these arguments; but Lowry continuing his severities, it was determined to deprive him of his command, and confine him to the cabin. At length the ship became so leaky, that they did not expect to live from night till morning; and the men quitted the pumps, and took a solemn farewell of each other: but Gatherah advised them to renew their endeavours to save the vessel, and to steer for the port of Lisbon.
This advice was followed; and having arrived off the rock of Lisbon, they hoisted a signal for a pilot, and one coming off in a fishing-boat, found that they had no product, on which he declined conducting them into port; but by this pilot the captain sent a letter to the British consul, informing him that the crew had mutinied: on which the consul came on board, put ten of the seamen under arrest, and sent them to England.
The account given by Gatherah to the consul corresponded with that he had given in evidence at the Old Bailey. During the voyage, the crew of Lowry's ship worked their passage; and, on their arrival in England, though they were committed to the keeper of the Marshalsea prison, yet they had liberty to go out when they pleased; and considered themselves only as evidences against Lowry.
The rest of the crew, who were examined on the trial, gave testimony corresponding with that of Gatherah; and declared that the deceased was sober and honest. Some questions were asked, if they thought Lowry's ill treatment was the occasion of Hossack's death. They replied there was no doubt of it; 'that it would have killed him had he been in good health and strength, or the stoutest man living; and that be generally beat them with a thick oak stick, which he exultingly called, his royal oak's foremast.'
It may be proper to mention that Lowry, having taken men on board to work his ship to England, arrived soon after his accusers; but they having given previous information to the Lords of the Admiralty, a reward was offered for apprehending him: he remained some time concealed; but at length he was discovered by a thief-taker, who took him into custody, and received ten guineas from the marshal of the Admiralty.
The prisoner in his defence said, that his crew were a drunken set of fellows, that they altered the ship's course and were mutinous, that the deceased had stolen a bottle of rum and drank it, whereby he became intoxicated, that he tied him up to the rails to sober him, and that he flourished a rope three times round, and gave him a few strokes which could not hurt him, that he fell through drunkenness, and he did all he could to recover him.
After the evidence was recapitulated by the judge, the jury retired for about half an hour, and then delivered their verdict, that the prisoner was guilty; on which he received sentence of death, and orders were given for his being hung in chains.
After conviction, Lowry bchaved with great apparent courage and resolution, till a smith came to take measure of him for his chains; when he fainted away, and fell on his bed, and was measured while insensible. On his recovery, he said that it was the disgrace of a public exposure that had affected him, and not the fear of death.
On the 25th of March, at half past nine in the morning, the unfortunate convict was brought out of Newgate, to undergo the sentence of the law; on seeing the cart which was to convey him to the gallows, be became pale but soon recovered a degree of serenity of countenance. He had on a scarlet cloak over a morning gown, and a brown wig, of the colour of his eyebrows. His eyes were very bright and piercing, his features regular and agreeable, and by no means evinced the cruelty of his disposition. He was, in stature, about five feet seven inches, very well proportioned, and about forty years of age. His behaviour was quite composed and undaunted. Before the cart was carried a silver oar of a very antique form.
The dreadful procession had not moved many yards, before the populace began to express their indignation at the culprit. Some sailors cried out, Where is your royal oak's foremast?' others vociferated, 'He is shamming Abraham;' and with such tauntings and revilings was he drawn to Execution Dock; near which a number of sailors being collected, they poured execrations on his devoted head.
He was then taken out of the cart, and placed upon a scaffold under the gallows, where he put on a white cap. He prayed very devoutly with the ordinary of Newgate, about a quarter of an hour; then giving the executioner his money and watch, the platform fell. After hanging twenty minutes, the body was cut down, put into a boat, and carried to Blackwall, and there hung in chains, on the bank of the Thames.