Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Cowardice and court martial

As a naval dockyard, Deptford saw a huge range of activity. Among the grimmer moments must have been executions, such as this one recorded in a newspaper of 26 September 1670:
On Monday last Captain Pierce, late Captain of His Majesties ship the Saphire, together with the Lieutenant, were according to the Sentence of the Court Marshal, executed on board the Dragon near Deptford.
Isaac Schomberg's Naval Chronology of 1802 and a contemporary account quoted in the Naval Chronicle for 1809 give some more detail. The Sapphire (or Saphire) was near Sicily when four ships were sighted. Thinking that they were Turkish men of war, Captain John Pierce and Lieutenant Andrew Logan panicked and ordered the ship to run away from them. The crew - including the master and the purser - were unhappy at this: both they and the ship were ready for a fight. However, Pierce and Logan wouldn't let go the anchor and the ship continued on until it ran aground on the Sicilian coast.

The ship was lost and Pierce and Logan were court-martialled on board the King's yacht, the Bezan, near Tower Wharf. The court unanimously condemned the men to be shot on board one of the navy's ships, and the Dragon at Deptford was used for the purpose.

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