The Case of the Emigrant Ship "MILLA" at Belfast Manor Court

March 1852
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Passage of my Great Grand Aunt Nancy Ann Murnin Bradley from Moyad in Kilcoo County Down to America

THE CASE OF THE EMIGRANT SHIP "MILLA". BELFAST MANOR COURT - THURSDAY.

The painful details connected with the passengers who sailed in the emigrant ship mills, in January, from Belfast, were reproduced in the Belfast Manor Court, as Thursday, together with additional particulars, which shewed [showed?] that besides the presence of disease and death, there was also the grossest immorality prevailing on board - the captain and one of the mates having Scotch mistresses with them, and the crew indulging in every species of debauchery they could commit. To such an extent was this carried on, that the ship might, as in another well-known instance, be properly designated "a floating brothel". It will be recollected that, in the Mercury of the 17th February, we published a long report of the particulars, as they transpired, on the leaving an application before the Magistrates, at Petty Sessions, on the part of one of the passengers, for a return of his passage money from the charter - an application to which the Bench did not accede, owing, as was stated, to want of authority by law. The Milla was a foreign vessel, and was chartered by Mr. Quinn, to convey passengers from Belfast to New York. She had provisions, &c., for 139 adults; and sailed from Belfast on the 18th January. She was inspected by Mr. Joynt, of the Customs, in the absence of the Government inspector, Lieutenant Starke, who, at the time, was labouring under disposition; and Doctor Moore gave clean bills of health. She was detained some ten days in the lough, owing to stress of weather; and, in the meantime, disease broke out, resulting in three deaths - two of them children - from small-pox, whose bodies were thrown overboard, though the vessel was at anchor; and the captain, who could not speak a word of English, or understand it, was besought, by signals, to allow a person to proceed to shore to bury them. He was an Austrian, and all the crew laboured under the same ignorance of the English language, except the second mate, who could jabble a little, which was but imperfectly understood, and he, it appeared, scarcely comprehended what was said to him by the passengers. The ship, thus commanded and manned, proceeded to sea, with disease on board, though the attention of the clerk of the charter was, as was given in evidnece at the Petty Sessions, called to it; and got as far as Waterford, when the captain turned back to Belfast, from what cause is not exactly known - some alleging that he was incompetent to navigate the ship, and other stating that it was from want of water and provisions. When the ship arrived here, her condition was of a frightful character, from the spread of disease and filth. About forty of the passengers then left her, afraid to remain in the midst of disease and pollution of every sort. It also appeared that, during the short period when the vessel was out, the passengers were supplied with only about half of the water prescribed by the Act of Parliament and had only a half supply of rice served to them. The passengers who left demanded a return of their passage from the charterer, which was refused. The diseased passengers were removed from the ship, by directions of Dr. Moore, who again examined the remainder; and these went to sea with the vessel again, the captain being changed, and a fresh supply of provisions put on board by the charterer. The application before the magistrates for an order in the charterer to refund the passage money to one of the sufferers, named Adamson, being unsuccessful, Mr. Rea, at his own motion, determined to try the question before another tribunal, and he selected the local Manor Court, before its seneschal, S. M'Dowell Elliot, and a jury of twelve men. He now appeared on the part of Patrick and James Duffy, against Mr. Thomas Quinn, charterer of the Milla, to recover from him compensation for the loss and damage sustained, in consequence of a non-fulfilment of his agreement to convey them to America in a proper passenger ship. Mr. Rea, in stating the case, described it as one of the grossest on record. He referred to the hardships the poor people suffered, and inveighed against the charterer for not having placed a proper captain in the command of the ship. There was an Austrian savage and a crew of fifteen, not one of whom, except one, knew a word of English, placed over a numbered of people who could speak nothing else. The captain could not read the charts. He had actually to get one of the passengers to read them for him, and the person not being able to communicate information to him except by signals, he held up three fingers to denote that there were three lights off Waterford. Mr Rea criticised the manner in which Dr. Moore had performed the medical examination, and said that it was perfectly impossible that he could have gone through the duty of examing such a number of people in the admitted space of two hours. He also said that the clerk of the charterer was on board before the ship sailed, and he had been spoken to to remove a boy sick with the small-pox, but he not only refused to do so, but did not report the matter to the customs as he was bound to. There were not brooms supplied to clean 'twixt decks - there was only half the supply of water given. The captain knew neither English nor how to navigate the vessel; and after rambling about till he got as far as Waterford, he turned back to Belfast again. Mr. Rea vehemently censured the captain for his having refused permission for the burial of the bodies of two children who died when the ship was at anchor, and within a short distance of the land. He also referred to the gross immoralities which were practised on board; and said that there was just one female who had escaped contamination at the hands of the captain and the crew. It was fairly a floating brothel and plague ship. Mr. Rea proceeded, at some length, to comment, in the strongest terms of animadversion, on the general features of the case, and then said, the question he would submit to the jury was this - he would demand their verdict on behalf of his clients for compensation of 10 pounds against the charterer, in consequence of a breach of agreement on his part to convey them to America, and they having been obliged to desert the ship, in consequence of the incapacity of the captain, the presence of disease in it, and the outrageous immorality of the crew - all which were sufficent causes to deter them from trusting their lives or their persons to such custody. [We may here state that, during the entire progress of the case, which lasted upwards of six hours, there were continual "scenes" between Mr. Rea and the court, as to the mode of conducting it; the latter calling on the solicitor to restrain himself in the choice of his language, and otherwise taking exception to questions proposed; while Mr. Rea persisted in his course, one time observing that the judge appeared rather as the attormey for the defendant than as the judge of the court.] Mr. Seeds appeared on behalf of the defendant. The evidence given was mainly a repetition of that given on the former court day; and as we have published that, we need not now repeat more then the leading features on this trial. Patrick Duffy, one of the complainants, swore that the vessel lay in the lough 15 days before proceeding to sea; and she was surveyed by Mr. Joynt. Dr. Moore was engaged about an hour and a half or two hours in the medical examinations of the passengers. The witness deposed to the fact that two children, who had died of small-pox, had been thrown overboard, while the ship lay in the Lough; one was tied up in a bag; the other was put into a box. Mr. Seeds was proceeding to cross-examine the witness as to the length of time Dr. Moore was on board, when His Worship said that Mr. Seeds might leave that matter altogether out of consideration; as Dr. Moore's character was an answer to the imputation sought to be put on him. Mr. Rea told his Worship that such an observation, coupled with others that had already fallen from him, was incompatible with the impartiality which, as a judge, he was bound to evince in the progress of a case. It was his business to hear evidence, not to anticipate it, or form opinions not fortified by evidence. His Worship said he knew his own course, and would take it. and if the solicitor did not conduct himself respectfully to the Court, he would use his authority in committing him. Mr. Rea. in reply, said if he did, he would do it at his peril; and he (Mr. Rea) would take his remedy afterwards, as he had successfully done in another case when he was unjustly committed. Mr. Seeds (ironically) - And you got large damages. (A laugh.) Another of the passengers, Margaret Duffy, was then examined. She deposed to having paid 5 pounds for passages; had to leave the ship from the state of filth, disease, and pollution in which it was; demanded her money from Mr. Quinn, who refused it. Joseph Adamson, another of the passengers, and one who made the application, unsuccessfully, to the magistrates, was next examined - In speaking of the medical examination, he said he was the seventeenth on the list; and he was "put through" by Dr. Moore, and a sailor shoved him in, putting him down below. The sixteen persons on the list had been passed in the like manner. Not a single one of them were pronounced unhealthy. The remainder of his evidence was - that in four days after, a young man took ill of small-pox - that a number of passengers who wished to land were refused permission - that Mr. Quinn"s clerk was on board, and after his attention had been called to the sick person, he refused to have him removed - that he (Adamson) was, on Sabbath evening, taken down to the cabin, by the captain, who signalled to him to read the chart for him - that he did so, but the captain not knowing what he said, he put up the three fingers, to signify that here were three lights off Waterford - that the captain stopped the vessel there, though he saw five of the regular liners passing in the full sail - that the day the captain turned was the best day of any they had been out - that they complained of the matter every day- that "the ship was not fit for a Christian to live in" - that "the smell was awful, suffocating"- that the ship was very dirty - that brooms could not be got to sweep her - that half of the passengers were women - that here was gross immorality on the part of the crew - that after the ship came back, he went to Mr. Quinn's office, demanded his passage-money, and got as an answer, that the charterer had no more to do with him. Mr. Seeds cross-examined the witness, who, however, did not vary the testimony given. He added, that some of the male passengers conducted themselves improperly. To a Juror - The crew were worse than the passengers. Was not told before he shipped that the captain and crew could not speak English. Mr. Seeds - Didn't you know well they could not speak English? The witness [A answered the question by saying he had nothing to do with the crew.] Rose Anne Kennedy, another of the passengers, took passages for herslf and three children, and had to leave the ship. She described it as "the next best thing" to one of the former streets of Belfast, which was inhabited solely by females of bad character; - it was a floating brothel. A man with fever was in the next berth to her. He died. Her child took a bowel complaint. The charterer refused her the money she paid him. Mr. Seeds cross-examined the witness, and it appeared that, in order to secure for herself and her children a passage, she had entered into collusion with a man who was to answer as her husband. This, she said, was done under the arrangements of the clerk of the charterer. Wm. [William?] Knox, who had been hired as passengers' cook, at 1 pound for the voyage, with the passage and the rations, said that, in the medical examination, "the people were shoved about like hogs, not Christians." For humanity"s sake, he gave a young man in spotted fever share of his berth. He afterwards died abreast of Carrick, and he "buried him in his berth." (Sensation) There were no ventilators up - they were in his store all the time. He was refused permission to take him ashore before he died. He called Smith's attention to a boy who was sick, and he said he had no authority to remove him. Smith was all that night on board, and he gave him a tin of whiskey. He frequently complained to the captain, and mate, and crew, of the short supplies to the passengers, without redress. They said the water would soon be out, and could give no more, though they were then at anchor, and near land. The witness gave a similar account as the other witnesses of the morality of the ship. He also said that, while lying in the Lough, he went to Carrickfergus, by the directions of the captain, for some provisions, and to bring whatever the crew would want. He brought them whiskey and other things. In cross-examination by Mr. Seeds, he denied that he participated in any immorality; played cards or so, but that was all.

DEFENCE Mr. Seeds then applied to the court to nonsuits the complainants, under the 58th section of the Passengers' Act, which required that no action should lie against any party unless he had been served with ten days' notice of it in writing; and this had not been served, in the present instance. Mr. Rea contended this applied only to the protection of officers acting for the government. His Worship ruled with Mr.Rea. Mr. Seeds then addressed the jury for the defendant. He vindicated Dr. Moore from the charge of a nasty examination of the passengers, and said his duty was merely to see that they had no infectious disease, such as small-pox, fever, &c. Each person called by Mr. Joynt was examined by Dr. Moore faithfully, and strictly according to his duty. A case had been attempted to be made that Mr. Quinn would be a gainer by the passengers not getting their full rations; but, whether they got them or no, he would not be one whit better; and Mr. Joynt would depose that the full complement had been put on board. In fact, it would be proved that there was more water on board than was required. He called on the jury to take the opinion of Mr. Joynt as to the seaworthiness of the vessel - the proper supply of provisions - the competency of the captain - the adequacy of the space allotted to the passengers; and, if they were satisfied on all these points, they would not mulct? the defendant in damages, for the misconduct of the people themselves in not having kept the place clean, or for the unfortunate state of the weather, which had been the cause of most of what had happened. Dr. Moore was then about being sworn in the High Constable's box, when Mr .Rea insisted that there should be no distinction made as between him and any other witness, and that he be sworn on the witness table. Dr. Moore repaired to the witness table, and being sworn, he said that on the day of the examination the passengers were all examined carefully, and according to the usual method. He was so occupied at least, or more than, ten hours. All were then particularly healthy, and he gave a clean bill of health accordingly. On the vessel coming back, she was filthy, that was the passengers' fault; it was their business to keep the place clean 'twixt decks. He frequently heard Lieutenant Starke exhort the passengers to cleanly habits, and he usually induced them to form a committee for that purpose. The vessel seemed to him to be well ventilated, but that subject did not come within the sphere of his duty. In the cross-examination by Mr. Rea, Dr. Moore said he had made medical examinations in about fifty ships. The passengers were not taken down to the cabin to be examined, because there was neither room, nor for other reasons was it desirable to do so. They were all kept on the open deck. Some of the women had children. The day was severe. There was snow and sleet. The exposure to such weather might have acted prejudicially to children's lives. Did not tell the mothers to take their children to the cabin. All the passengers were examined in the usual manner.- For humanity's sake it would not be right to keep them long exposed on the deck. He had inspected them only with reference to contagious disease. The ship had the regular medicine chest. It was in the cabin. Did not know in whose charge it was when the ship came back he examined the sick, and ordered off six. Mr. Joynt was next examined; and he showed that the ship, in going to sea, was in every respect according to the Government regulations. With reference to the medical examination, he said that Dr. Moore had performed it in the most careful manner; there appeared to him to be nothing wanting. When the ship returned, he said that the proper supplies of water, &c., were provided; and he also said that Mr. Quinn did everything in his power to make it comfortable. He likewise said the ship was perfectly seaworthy - that a wise man would not have gone to sea during the time the captain lay in Garmoyle Pool - that he (the captain) was, in his opinion, quite capable of navigating the ship - that he himself saw the ventilators up - that he was quite surprised at the evidence of Knox on this and other matters. He was cross-examined by Mr. Rea at considerable length. He then stated, that he himself would not think of sending a vessel with British emigrants to sea with a foreign captain and crew who could not speak in English; that in the second examination 89 were tallied, and that it lasted four or five hours - that he believed Dr. Moore acted as honourably and as faithfully as any man could have done. He knew of passenger ships returning with a quantity of unconsumed provisions, which become the property of that charterer. Mr. Joynt's evidence, throughout, was given with evident anxiety that everything bearing on the transaction, one way or other, of which he was cognisant, should be fully and fairly stated. -Smyth, clerk of Mr. Quinn, was next examined. He impeached the evidence of Knox in some points - we denied that Knox warned him of the presence of a sick person on board, or that he had taken too much whiskey on board, but he was sick, and had to go to bed - that the sick boy to whom his father called his attention had apparently sore eyes - that the ship was in every way properly supplied with provisions. He was cross-examined by Mr. Rea, and said he saw no man ill in a berth, only a child with sore eyes. His face had a few marks on it. They were not, in his opinion, small pox marks; they were like as of measles. He was then in a state of convalescence, and he accordingly "passed" him. To a Juror - None of the passengers went. There was a new captain put into command. This closed the case for the defence. Mr. Rea then replied in a speech of more than an hour's duration, after which His Worship charged the jury. The jury retired, and after remaining an hour closeted, returned to court, not having agreed. They were then discharged. It was understood that ten were disposed to find for the complainants, the remaining two against. Mr. Rea intimated his intention to have the case again submitted to a jury, as he was determined that there should be a reform in the treatment of emigrants. The case was only thus brought to a close at nearly eight o'clock, and throughout the greatest interest seemed to be felt in it.

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