The brig Frederick was waiting off Wellington Head for the wind and tide to be right to cross the Bar out into the sea to take the remaining convicts from the penal settlement of Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour to the new prison station at Port Arthur. It was 13th January, 1834. Captain Charles Taw and Master Shipwright David Hoy were in the captain’s cabin; David was far from well and no doubt not looking forward to a long voyage to Port Arthur. Suddenly and totally unexpectedly, two convicts rushed in and declared a mutiny.

William Shires aimed a pistol at David while James Leslie attacked Captain Taw with a tomahawk. David did not wait to find out what the men intended but parried the pointed weapon and closed with Shires shouting out for the soldiers to come to their aid. Shires was diverted to help  his mate struggling with Taw who had managed to wrestle Leslie out of the cabin. However, Benjamin Russen had rushed down the stairs to help but Taw was getting the better of them. Shires left David and ran through to help subdue Taw.

Momentarily alone, David tried to pull out a plank from the bulkhead which separated the cabin from steerage where the soldiers bunked. He managed to be able to see into their berth but to his horror there were neither soldiers nor arms. Taw was shouting out to him, had he any weapons? Yes! In his sea chest! As the clamour continued above him, David opened his chest. There was a racket of voices yelling at them to give up and surrender and then one ominous voice was heard.

“Give me the musket, and I’ll shoot the blackguard!”

It was Leslie, and just as David recognized his voice a shot rang out and  a musket ball passed through the skylight above and passed through the lid of the chest, just above the key-hole. David leapt back as another shot was fired which passed eight inches above the first. Panicking now, David tore open the lid of the chest, and grabbed his pistols

Meanwhile Taw had been injured in the unequal struggle; Leslie had struck him on the head with the tomahawk several times, and Russen had hit him with the butt end of the musket and the muzzle across his left eye, which blinded him. Shires hit him across the back of the head with his pistol, stunning him for a couple of minutes.

Luckily for Taw, just as the situation was escalating to a dangerous pitch, Nichols, another convict who had been acting as steward below deck suddenly appeared and pulled him free of his assailants.

To his further alarm, David could now hear voices from above, calling him to give up as the convicts had both the soldiers and the weapons. David was struggling to load his pistol but he had no ramrod; he was feeling severely sick now, but had to overcome it to fight for his life.

Taw, streaming with blood and blind in one eye, staggered back into the cabin and pulled the cover managed to load his musket. He staggered out of the cabin again cocked and aimed his weapon, threatening to kill anyone who dared attack again.

A chorus of voices shouted down random threats and demands. David thought he could identify Russen, Charles Lyon, and John Barker, and one other voice

“Captain! Don’t you be thinking you can fox us by breaking the compass or quadrant! No good will come to you,Taw,  if you do injure anything we do be needing to navigate this craft! You will be damaged worse than the damage you do inflict, you will be killed, believe us!”

“Don’t be foolish, no good can come of this,” David shouted back, his Scottish accent coming through strongly. “Look men, I know ye, och, I’ve taught ye, I’ve seen ye work for me and seen what ye are, who ye are. Give up the weapons, release the crew and the soldiers, return to your duties and we shall say no more about the matter!”

“Master Hoy!” returned a rough voice. “We have the ship, we know what lies ahead if we give it up! We desire our freedom! We have our liberty and we shall keep it! Now sir, you have always been fair to us, you are a good and decent master but we will die to a man before we give up the ship!”

“Quick, man, take up your weapons, load them and let’s attend to this business! We will sell our lives dear before we give in to these scum!” Taw shouted. “I’m aiming at the sky-light and I’ll blast the first man I see to Kingdom come!”

Armed now, David took his stand beside Taw and they tried to bargain and cajole the men into surrendering.

“Let’s shoot the pair of ’em at once!” shouted an urgent voice above.

“No! We will not commit murder, if we can avoid it,” despite his desperate desire for freedom, William Shires was not ready to murder the Captain or the Shipwright.

The minutes ticked past as threats and pleas were exchanged, then a chilling suggestion from William Cheshire.

“Bring along the pitch pot, and let us empty it down on them!” Cheshire wanted to pour boiling pitch down onto them, and David was convinced the desperate man would do so. Time was running out. In a brief exchange of views, Taw and David conceded to each other that if they did not go aloft in within a few minutes they would be murdered; it was an unequal contest, there was never going to be a successful outcome for them.

“Men, do you hear me?” cried David. “We have seen enough death and dying in our lives, have we not? We do not wish to see more! Ye all worked well for me; whatever your pasts, I know ye for decent men, fair men and Captain Taw and I do not wish to see more useless waste of life. We will surrender e on condition that ye do us no harm.” He paused for his words to sink in. “Do ye agree?”

“Come up, sirs,” a voice called through the darkness. “Come up sirs, one at a time and no harm will be done.”

David went up first but as he got within two or three steps of the top he was told to halt. He stopped immediately and to his alarm saw two men standing pointing muskets at him.

“What’s this? Are ye going to murder me in cold blood?”

“No sir, have no fear; but when you come up you must make no resistance, turn round and your arms will be bound.”

With his heart in his mouth, David climbed the last few steps and hauled himself up into the night.

He was grabbed by a man he recognized as John Fare and his arms were tied behind him. He was passed to James Porter who gave him into the charge of John Jones. Captain Taw now emerged onto the deck; he too was grabbed and bound… what would become of them? Where were the soldiers? Could they really trust these desperate men?

I have used contemporary newspaper reports and notes from the trial of some of the men who were subsequently capture red. However I am sure I have made errors in this, after nearly 180 years it is difficult to read the past! Sometimes the mutineer Shires is spelled Shiers, for example  I also think that the reports muddled what happened and that it was David not Charles Taw who was so grievously injured.

The featured image I have used is of a convict from nearly fifty years later, and not one of the mutineers.

The boatyard at Sarah Island

One Comment

  1. David Young

    I am searching for a connection to the Hoy family of Reigate through my great aunt Emily Hoy Rance. I have this reference only on a death cert. for her daughter who died here in Victoria in 1978. Strangely her name is given as Mary Frances Hoy Drew. I wonder what happened to the surname “Rance?” Any ideas?


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