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Chapter XLIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9


Loss of H.M.S. Captain off Cape Finisterre - Admiral Milne's Report - Account given by the Survivors - The Queen's Letter of Condolence - Finding of the Court-Martial. - Contested Elections in Ireland in 1871 - Judge Keogh's Report on the Galway Election - Its Sensational Character - Protest against it signed by Cardinal Cullen and his Clergy - It elicits marked Approval in other Quarters. - Assassination of Lord Mayo, Governor-General of India, while at the Andaman Islands - The Convict Settlement at, Port Blair - Visit of the Viceroy - The Party ascend Mount Harriet on Ross Island - A Khyberee stabs Lord Mayo in the back twice - Wounds Mortal - Discussion as to the Motives of the Murderer - The Opinion of Mr. Hunter - Fanaticism of the Wahabees. - Death of Mazzini - Sketch of his Career - His Disappointment at the Non-Establishment of an Italian Republic - He dies at Geneva in 1872.
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Towards the end of 1870 a terrible disaster, which we have not yet found an opportunity to describe, deprived the country of one of the finest and most formidable iron-clads in the British navy. H.M.S. Captain, a turret- ship of six guns, was built from the designs of Captain Cowper Coles, the inventor of the turret principle, by Messrs. Laird of Birkenhead. Her displacement was 4,272 tons; she had two screws, and engines of 900-horse- power; her armour was of varying thickness, from eight inches over the machinery down to three inches in the least exposed positions. In her two turrets she carried six guns of the heaviest calibre, an armament which made her the most formidable ship in the service; able, in the opinion of Sir Thomas Symonds, to " destroy all the broadside ships of the squadron in detail." But a fatal error lurked in her construction; the enormous weights which were implied in her armament and system of armour were disposed too high, so that her centre of gravity was not as low by several feet as it ought to have been.

The Captain was commanded by Captain Hugh Burgoyne, son of the veteran Sir John Burgoyne, commander of the Royal Engineers. She had made two previous voyages to Vigo, so that both her designer and her officers might well be excused for considering her a safe ship. She had a crew of 500 men and thirty- five officers, including the chaplain and surgeons, besides a staff of eleven engineers. Among her midshipmen was a son of Mr. Childers, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Captain Cowper Coles was on board as a visitor.

The squadron to which the Captain belonged consisted of eleven vessels, under the command of Admiral Milne, whose flag was hoisted on the Lord Warden. The report of the Admiral, dated off Cape Finisterre, gives a clear account of the circumstances attending the catastrophe* The squadron had reached the longitude of Cape Finisterre without accident. On the evening of the 6th September it was formed into three divisions, the Lord Warden, Minotaur, and Agincourt leading, and was standing off from the land. The wind was strong, and heavy clouds covered the western sky, but there were no indications of a heavy gale. The Admiral, who felt anxious about the Captain, went on board of her in the course of the evening. When he left her, about 7 p.m., the water was pouring over her decks in cataracts. On regaining the Lord Warden, the Admiral exclaimed, " Thank God, I am back again in my own ship!"

At eleven o'clock the wind freshened, and before 1 A.M. it was blowing a gale from the south-west. The Captain was in the division headed by the Lord Warden, and the next ship to her. Sail was reduced on board every ship in the squadron. Admiral Milne became more than ever anxious when the heavy weather set in, and watched the Cajptain attentively. From 1.15, he reports, "until about 1.30 a.m. I constantly watched the ship; her top- sail were either close-reefed or on the lap, her foresail was close up, the mainsail having been furled at 5.30 p.m., but I could not see any fore and aft sail set. She was heeling over a good deal to starboard, with the wind on her port side. Her red bow light was all this time clearly seen. Some minutes after I again looked for her light, but it was thick with rain, and the light was no longer visible."

In that brief interval of a few minutes the Captain went down with all her officers and crew. About 2.15 a.m. the gale moderated, the wind drew round to the northwest, and the stars came out brightly. No large ship was then visible where the Captain had last been seen. When daylight broke, search was made in every direction for the missing ship; but all engaged in it must have felt only too certain that search was vain. Portions of wreck belonging to her were, after a time, picked up, and the body of a sailor.

From the narrative of one of the seventeen survivors, of whom Mr. James May, the gunner, was the highest in rank, it would appear that when the starboard watch came on deck, soon after midnight, the ship was careening over greatly to starboard. The captain was on the hurricane deck. As the wind increased, the pressure of sail became evidently too much for the stability of the vessel, and Captain Burgoyne gave the order, " Let go the foretopsail halyards," followed by, " Let go fore and main topsail sheets." The object, of course, was instantly to take the pressure of the topsails off the ship. But it was too late. For - in the nearly unanimous opinion of the rescued sailors - when the Captain got her starboard side well down in the water, with the consequent weight of water upon the starboard side of the turret deck, and the pressure of the wind blowing from the port hand on the under surface of the hurricane deck, and thus pushing the ship right over, she had no chance of righting herself again. She gradually turned over, trembling with every blow which the short jumping seas struck her, while the roar of the steam from her funnel screamed horribly above every other sound, and continued to do so when the ship was under water. The watch on deck were washed overboard or jumped into the sea; for a moment some of them found themselves on the ship's bottom, but she plunged from beneath them, and sank into the unknown depths of the ocean. The men who were saved got hold of one of the launches, and baled her out; they saw the captain to windward of them, clinging to the keel of the steam pinnace, and endeavoured to reach him, but were prevented by the wind and sea. They landed safely at Corcubion, on the Spanish coast.

The Queen wrote to Admiral Sir Sydney Dacres on the 17th September, desiring that measures might be taken "to signify to the widows and relatives of the whole of the crew, of all ranks, who perished in the Captain, the expression of Her Majesty's deep sympathy with them, and to assure them that the Queen feels most acutely the misfortune that has at once deprived Her Majesty of one of her finest ships-of-war and of so many gallant seamen, and which has inflicted upon their widows and other relatives losses which must for ever be deplored."

The court-martial which was held, pro forma, upon Mr. May, the gunner, thought it incumbent upon it to record its conviction that " the Captain was built in deference to public opinion," and in opposition to the views and opinions of the Comptroller of the Navy, and the officers of his department, by whom her construction was generally disapproved.

In continuation of the narrative of events of very recent date in the United Kingdom, the thread of which was interrupted after Chapter XLIII., we proceed to notice some of the more important occurrences which marked the year 1872. Very early in the year, before the meeting of Parliament, Irish political feeling was stirred to its depths by the elections of Galway and Kerry. The Home Rule agitation had been gaining ground steadily, and both its advocates and its opponents had long desired such an opportunity of measuring their strength against each other as seemed offered by these two famous and significant elections. Captain Nolan in Galway, and Mr. Blennerhasset in Kerry, came forward as Home Rule candidates, against Captain French and Mr. Dease, about whom the mob only cared to know that they were opposed to the notion of a Parliament in Stephen's Green. The two elections were marked by very different features; for, while in Galway the whole of the Roman Catholic clergy, headed by the Archbishop of Tuam, canvassed, preached, and threatened with one voice for Captain Nolan, in Kerry Dr. Moriarty, the venerable Roman Catholic bishop, addressed a solemn warning to his diocese against the Home Rule agitation, which he denounced as most mischievous under the present circumstances of the country, and strictly forbade his clergy to take any part whatever in the election. In Galway also the feeling of the landlords was universally in favour of the moderate candidate, while in Kerry it was much divided. The Galway election came off in the midst of a frenzy of fanaticism and excitement which took all the strength of a considerable military and police force to keep within decent bounds. From the country districts the parish priests came, flushed with the excitement of past war and confident of coming victory, marching at the head of their docile parishioners. One by one they led them up to the polling-booths, overawing all recalcitrants by a mixture of clerical argument and Irish sarcasm, which was extremely effective. They even attempted to harangue the mob within the very precincts of the polling-booths, feeling, doubtless, that an Irishman's enthusiasm must be taken at the flood, and not suffered to evaporate at a distance from the scene of action. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam recorded his vote early in the morning for Captain Nolan, amid the cheers of surrounding crowds, and afterwards went round and inspected the booths, to the great edification of the rustics, who were not often brought into such close contact with an archbishop. In Kerry, Dr. Moriarty's letter was so far effectual that very few parish priests ventured to follow the example of their Galway brethren, and espouse Mr. Blennerhasset's cause publicly; but whatever clerical influence could do for him was not spared, and the same triumphant results followed as in Galway. Captain Nolan was returned by a majority of 2,165, and Mr. Blennerhasset was also far ahead of his rival. In spite of the disorder and excitement which prevailed at both elections, the efforts of the military and police were effectual in preventing any very serious injuries to persons or property. Still there was abundant material for a petition in both cases; and no sooner were the official returns of the poll made, than petitions were lodged by the defeated party against both Captain Nolan and Mr. Blennerhasset.

During the months which intervened between the election of Captain Nolan and the arrival of Justice Keogh to try the petition, the prospect of the coming trial kept up popular excitement in Galway. Both sides brought up an army of witnesses, and the trial itself was by no means a model of calm judicial procedure. Mr. Justice Keogh gave sentence in a judgment which it took nine hours to deliver, and which unseated Captain Nolan on the ground that his election had been " procured by undue influence and clerical intimidation." The strong language of the judgment, the severe and eloquent condemnation of clerical intolerance by the judge, roused indescribable excitement in his audience. Never had revolutionary and fanatical Catholicism received such emphatic judicial denunciation. Forty-five pages of the printed judgment, that is to say nearly all of it, are taken up with an elaborate review of the conduct of individual priests, and of the character of their evidence. The several cases were strung together by a series of comments, the manner and matter of which might well exasperate the party at which they were levelled. He spoke, for instance, of the " vile tongue of that audacious and mendacious priest, Father Conway," and described another priest as "that obscene monster, Pat Barrett." Captain Nolan's 2,800 supporters found themselves branded, en masse, as " swindlers, cowards, instruments in the hands of ecclesiastical despots." The judgment concluded in these words: " I shall state to the House of Commons the result of all the evidence that I have now Investigated as regards the organised system of intimidation which has pervaded this county, in every quarter, in every direction, in every barony, in every town, in every place. I shall report to the House of Commons that the Archbishop of Tuam, the Bishop of Galway, the Bishop of Clonfert, all the clergymen whose cases I have gone through, and who have not appeared - with one exception - and all the clergy who have appeared, with, I think, a few exceptions, which I will look most carefully into, have been guilty of an organised attempt to defeat the free franchise and the free vote of the electors of this county; and that Captain Nolan by himself, and Mr. Sebastian Nolan, his brother, as his agent, in company with all those episcopal and clerical persons whom I shall set out by name, have been guilty of these practices; and I shall guard the franchises of the people of this county for seven years at least, for the statute will not allow any one of those persons to be again engaged in conducting or managing an election, or canvassing for a candidate aspiring to be the representative of Galway.

The judgment, as might have been expected, set Ireland in a blaze. That such an utterance should have been delivered by a Catholic judge in a matter in which Catholic feeling was supposed to be specially involved, astounded and enraged the whole of the extreme National and Catholic party. All sections of it joined in abusing and denouncing Justice Keogh; newspapers like the Irishman and the Nation exhausted the whole vocabulary of retaliation, and the obnoxious judge was burnt in effigy in many parts of the country. A great meeting of Roman Catholic clergy, conducted within closed doors, was held in Dublin under the presidency of Cardinal Cullen, the result of which was the issue of a lengthy protest addressed to the Catholics of the Archediocese of Dublin - a document which was little else than a long tu quoque, couched, of course, in dignified and imposing terms. "Which," it asked, " is the most unpardonable - the priest in the heat of an angry contested election, in which he believed that the independence of his flock was assailed, yielding to an impulse, unbecoming, if you will; or the ermined judge, in the delivery of a solemn judgment, surrendering himself to almost a paroxysm of vituperation? If the cassock is judged to be defiled, surely the ermine is not quite unstained. If the priest is to be relegated to obscurity and political silence for his indiscretion, is the judge to go unquestioned?"

The storm, however, spent itself in vain. The Judges of the Court of Common Pleas, to whom Justice Keogh carried up the case, not only confirmed the decision which unseated Captain Nolan, but also ratified that provisional part of the original judgment by which Captain French obtained the seat. With a spirit worthy of the proverbial town they represented, the Town Council of Kilkenny drew up a memorial calling for the removal of Justice Keogh from the bench; while the Dublin mob amused itself night after night by riotous attempts, generally defeated by the police, to burn the likeness of the renegade judge in various parts of the capital. When the time came for Justice Keogh to go on circuit, strong precautions were found necessary to ensure his personal safety, and many were the threatening letters which reached both the offender and his wife. By this time, however, the violence of the extreme party had roused the ire of the moderate Catholics, and it became evident that, in spite of all the clamour and tumult of popular excitement, the feeling of the steady-going middle classes was favourable to the judgment and grateful to the courage and spirit of Justice Keogh. Addresses from the grand juries poured in upon him as he went on circuit, couched for the most part in such language as the following. " We desire," said the grand jurors of the North Riding of Tipperary, "to express at this the earliest opportunity afforded us, and in language that cannot be mistaken, the indignation we feel at the accumulated insult that has been heaped upon one of Her Majesty's judges for the upright and fearless manner in which he has discharged a most arduous and difficult duty imposed upon him by Her Majesty's Government.... We desire at the same time to express in the strongest terms our approval of the conduct of a judge who has not hesitated to prefer the honest and uncompromising discharge of his duty to every other consideration that could be brought to bear upon him, and who has been compelled - in his own language - to perform his duty under the most terrible denunciations, public and private."

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