Five Corkmen were among those butchered when the ship captain lost his mind, writes Richard T. Cooke


On May 9th, 1828, the Mary Russell, with Captain William Stewart in command, William Smith (first mate), William Swanson (second mate), John Cramer (ship’s carpenter), Timothy Connell, Francis Sullivan, John Howes and John Keating (adult crew), John Deaves, Denis Scully, Henry Rickards and Thomas Hammon (deck boys), Captain James Gould Raynes of the brig Hibernia and James Murley (passenger) set sail from the Barbados Islands, in the West Indies, bound for Cork with a cargo of sugar, animals hides and other produce.

The crew (mostly from Cork city and county) at this stage of the voyage had no reason to be distressed as Captain Stewart had the reputation of being not only a competent seaman, but a kind and humane person.

About one week after leaving Barbados, Captain Stewart began to show signs of the strangeness which was shortly afterwards to change into extreme insanity and was to determine the outcome and fate of all fourteen on board.

One night the captain told the first mate, Smith, that he’d had a dream in which he and Smith had been murdered. Smith tried to reassure him that such a dream could have no importance but Stewart continued to be troubled. On another occasion Captain Raynes was taking part in a perfectly innocent conversation in Irish with a crew member; Stewart, not understanding Irish became convinced that the crew were plotting against him and were planning a mutiny.

From then on it was obvious that his mind was becoming seriously deranged. He challenged Captain Raynes about this overheard conversation. Raynes did his utmost to convince Stewart that nobody was conspiring against him but Stewart believed only what his deranged mind wanted him to believe.

He ordered Smith not to write up the ship’s log any further, and threatened that he would throw the ship’s charts and glasses overboard if the conversation in Irish continued, and that he would navigate the ships by his books.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own