The non-return of the Native

At midnight on Saturday 12 October 1839, the watchman at the Limerick shipbuilding yard, on the North Strand, discovered a fire in the office. He gave the alarm, which was taken up by the bell of the Franciscan church across the river in Henry Street. He also burst in the door of the office to save the account books, but the watchdog promptly seized him and held him until help arrived.

Limerick dockyard (OSI 6″ ~1840)

The yard had many combustible materials — tar, resin, pitch, oakum, timber — and, had the flames spread,

… many thousand pounds’ worth of property would have been sacrificed, as there are not only new vessels on the stocks, but others on the slip for repairs.

However, the fire was checked and extinguished and the damage was limited to about £400, which was covered by insurance with the Caledonian Company.

Those who fought the fire, or otherwise assisted, included an alderman, policemen, an army officer and several ships’ captains, as well as the fire-engine of the West of England Fire and Life Insurance Office. Three captains were amongst the first to arrive at the yard: Captains Cotter, Vernon and White.[1]

Captain White of the Dover Castle

Captain John William White was skipper of the steamer Dover Castle, which was owned by the Limerick Shipping Company. The company’s main activity was the operation of sailing vessels, chiefly between Limerick and London: in November 1834 it had ten schooners on the route. [2] By 1839 it had a shipbuilding yard, equipped with a patent slip “proved for vessels of 400 tons”;[3] the yard, managed by a Mr Hunter, had three vessels on the stocks.[4] It was on land owned by the Marquis of Lansdowne and, in November 1839, launched a 150-ton schooner named after him.[5] By 1842 the company had thirteen schooners, of from 141 to 216 tons and, under the heading “Limerick and London Liners”, offered regular weekly sailings, carrying goods on passages averaging less than eight days and costing less than steam.[6]

Ads for the Dover Castle named John Russell [John Norris Russell], John Westropp and Richard Russell as the Managing Directors[7] or the Directors.[8] Most ads appeared under the steamer’s name, without mentioning the company, but one said it was the Limerick Steam Company.[9] Similarly, the shipbuilding yard was sometimes said to be owned by the Limerick Shipping Company, sometimes by John Norris Russell, who was a “principal shareholder” in the company, and sometimes by J N Russell & Sons.[10]

The company’s intended acquisition of an 80 hp steamer was reported in 1838. The steamer was to act as a tug to help “vessels engaged in the line of London Traders” — presumably the company’s own fleet — in and out of Limerick, to tow other vessels at moderate rates and to haul

[…] lighters and boats of grain and other produce from Tralee, and the different stations on the Shannon, of Kilrush, Tarbert, Foyns, Begh Castle and Grass Island.[11]

In helping vessels trading by “long sea” to export grain or flour — to London, Liverpool or Glasgow — the tug might provide indirect competition for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company’s [CoDSPCo’s] cross-Ireland inland route to Dublin and thence to Liverpool. But when the steamer, the Dover Castle, arrived it competed much more directly with the CoDSPCo’s Shannon Estuary steamers, by providing scheduled passenger services on the Limerick–Kilrush–Tarbert route. Such services dominated the company’s ads and press reports of the steamer’s activities; its arrival broke the CoDSPCo’s monopoly.

The Dover Castle was built of British oak in 1834 by Balley of Shoreham, with two 40 hp engines by Maudslay, Sons and Field of London. Bought secondhand, it cost only £4500[12] as against the £16000[13] the CoDSPCo paid for its flagship steamer, the iron Garryowen (with two 50 hp engines), built in 1834 by Lairds of Birkenhead.

On the Irish Sea, the CoDSPCo had overcome strong competition from the Liverpool and Dublin Steam Navigation Company, which it then took over — although it politely described the takeover as a “union”. After that the company managed competition on the Irish Sea, making agreements on routes and revenue allocation with the principal operators in Cork and Belfast.[14] No such agreements appear to have been concluded for the Shannon Estuary and, for two and a half years, the CoDSPCo and the Limerick Shipping Company competed fiercely. For the newspapers of the time, the competition provided advertising income and a source of good copy; Ignatius Murphy has provided an entertaining account of the rivalry.[15]


The two companies were essentially offering the same product: the carriage of goods and passengers between Limerick and Kilrush, with a stop at Tarbert and service by boat to other places. Newspaper accounts of the time focused on the competition for passengers and gave little attention to that for freight.

While the Limerick company’s steamer usually went down one day and back the next, the CoDSPCo, with three steamers on the estuary, could offer a daily sailing in each direction on the Limerick–Kilrush route as well as a service between Limerick and Clare [now Clarecastle].

In some respects the Limerick company was the more innovative. In August 1840, for example, it offered an excursion to Tralee — there on Saturday, back on Monday — from which passengers could visit Killarney.[16] That was the Dover Castle‘s second trip to Tralee: its first was in May 1840, when it carried a party of sappers and miners working on the Ordnance Survey, “the first occasion of a steam vessel having visited the port of Tralee”.[17]

In September 1840 the company gave Captain White the use of the Dover Castle for a pleasure trip, accompanied by the Limerick Musical Academy; he was to receive the profits from that trip,[18] but presumably the company retained those from other excursions. Such recreational trips were very popular on other United Kingdom estuaries, where Sunday excursions catered for the upper working classes,[19] but in general the CoDSPCo did not sail on Sundays on the Shannon, estuary or inland. The Limerick Shipping Company’s Sunday trips to the mouth of the estuary provided a few hours ashore at Kilrush in the afternoon, but drunkenness and rowdiness dissuaded the more sober customers and the initiative was not very successful.[20]

Attempts at product differentiation were based largely on speed. A formal race, from Kilrush (where a “large and fashionable concourse” watched the start) to Limerick, was held in June 1839; the Garryowen won by 36 minutes.[21] The two steamers raced even on ordinary trips: Mary Frances Dickson described one such race, when the Garryowen made more stops than the Dover Castle but still reached Limerick first.[22] The Limerick Shipping Company tried direct sailings, on alternate days, between Limerick and Kilrush, avoiding intermediate stops,[23] but the experiment did not last into 1840.[24]

The Limerick company also hoped to differentiate its offering by superior customer service. In August 1839, when the Limerick Reporter announced the withdrawal of the Dover Castle from combat, the directors said that they had provided reasonable fares and had insisted that their servants treat the customers with civility and courtesy: Captain White was described as “accommodating, polite, and steady”.[25] The withdrawal lasted only a few weeks; the resumed hostilities took a more physical form, with the Dover Castle accused of attempting to ram the Garryowen.[26]

As a competitive weapon, price was probably ineffective at attracting customers from one company to the other. The two rivals reduced their fares to the same levels: at lowest, one shilling (12d) for cabin passengers and three pence (3d) for deckers [outside passengers].[27] However, the low fares did increase total traffic.[28]

Both companies had barkers on shore at Kilrush to promote their steamers’ services. They also used local newspapers — ads and advertorial — but only the CoDSPCo used national newspapers. For four years, from April 1837 to March 1841, the CoDSPCo and the Grand Canal Company advertised jointly in Dublin (and occasionally in Cork and Clare) newspapers, promoting their combined route as providing cheap travelling between Dublin and Limerick — it was certainly cheaper than the Bournes’ mail-coach — and onward to Clare, Glin, Tarbert (for Killarney) and Kilrush. These ads promoted the estuary steamers as part of a cross-island long-distance route; the Limerick Shipping Company could not match that, any more than James Paterson had been able to.

In 1839 the Limerick Shipping Company used Messrs W Randall & Son as agent in Limerick and James M’Donnell in Kilrush, while maintaining their own office and stores at the Wellesley Bridge Pier in Limerick.[29] An 1840 ad listed only the Wellesley Bridge Pier office and another on the Revenue Quay, Kilrush; no agents were named.[30] In contrast, the CoDSPCo worked entirely through agents in the period of competition.

The end of the affair

The Dover Castle resumed operations after a brief withdrawal in 1839. It was offered for sale in April 1840 but remained on its owners’ hands and operated throughout that year.[31] However, in April 1841 it was bought by the CoDSPCo.[32]

With no data on revenues, costs, passenger numbers or quantities of freight, it is impossible to say why the Limerick company gave up the struggle, but it may be another example of the difficulty, identified by the CoDSPCo in 1826[33] and by Armstrong and Williams more recently,[34] of surviving with only one steamer or with too small a fleet. Two months before the sale, the Dover Castle was reported to “have put up at the Patent Slip for some time, for the purpose of being painted and having new machinery supplied”.[35] The Dover Castle had grounded in a gale in November 1840[36] and again at the end of December 1840 “where she lay some time in a precarious state, her back being, it was feared, injured”.[37] It was soon back in service,[38] but perhaps repairs eventually became unavoidable. The prospect of expensive repairs, and a period with no income, may have been the last straw.

Captain White goes Native

Newspaper reports have provided no information about who captained the Dover Castle between its purchase by the CoDSPCo and August 1844, when Francis Kennedy was in command. If the company retained the services of John White, it did not do so for long, as in 1842 he was employed by Francis Spaight, merchant, shipowner and magistrate of Limerick. Spaight was principal shareholder and managing owner of the schooner Native, of which White was appointed captain.[39]

London to Limerick (map data (c) 2017 Google)

In November 1842 the Native was in London, taking on a mixed cargo of “sugar, tobacco, tea, pepper, coffee and hops” for Limerick merchants.[40] Sixty chests of tea had been bought by Messrs Johnson and Anderson of Limerick from Messrs Moffat and Co, tea agents of Fenchurch Street, London. John Emery of Moffats had a copy of the account; William Gill, warehouse clerk of the West India Dock Company, received the sixty chests of tea on the quay from a waggon on 12 November and handed them over to Mr Cooper, delivery foreman at the Docks. Cooper had Moffat’s order to receive the chests of tea; John Linge, a labourer at the Docks, put the sixty chests of tea on board the Native, and received a receipt from the vessel’s mate, Joseph Younghusband, who counted them and signed for them.[41]

Duty had not been paid on the tea, so it was consigned to the Collector of Customs at Limerick. Every chest had an individual identifying mark; it was also marked to show which vessel carried it.[42] The schooner’s crewman Peter Morgan said that the tea was stowed at the top of the rest of the cargo forward; the hold was about ten feet six inches deep. Two of the hatchways were then battened down.[43]

The mate, Joseph Younghusband, had previously commanded one of Spaight’s vessels, which “he had lost […] while in a state of intoxication”. Spaight had sacked him and had not known that Younghusband “had been again engaged” or that he was on the Native.[44]

Of the remaining crew, Pat O’Connor [sometimes referred to as Connors] seems to have been the most prominent:

The mate and captain took their meals in the cabin. O’Connor more frequently had his meals with them than in the forecastle.[45]

The others of the crew were Peter Morgan [also given as Magan, Megan, Migan and Mignon], who had joined in London, John Hugham [also given as Huhan], “a Scotchman, belonging to Salcoats”, Thomas Henright, who was lost overboard in a gale, Stephen Kormill, an apprentice, and Robert Taylor, who “was to work his passage to Limerick”.[46]

The schooner was insured for £1000 at Lloyd’s and the cargo was insured for £3500 by the Indemnity Mutual Assurance Company.[47]

Ticket to Ryde

London to Worthing showing Ramsgate (map data (c) 2017 Google)

The Native left London for Limerick and made Beachy Head in two days. The mainsail split in strong winds and the vessel ran for the Downs, where it lost an anchor and fifteen fathoms of chain. It then put into Ramsgate for repairs costing £450, including the acquisition of a new bower [main] anchor and chain. It left again after Christmas but met more adverse gales and, some time in January, anchored first off St Helen’s and then at the Motherbank, off Ryde on the Isle of Wight.[48] The Native spent three weeks there, in a period of heavy gales.[49]

Isle of Wight (map data (c) 2017 Google)

While the vessel was at St Helen’s, White began his short career as an unsuccessful criminal. Younghusband said

That the captain, while the vessel was lying in St Helen’s Road, asked the assistance of the pilot of No 7 boat, to get him a customer for some things in a small way, and that he would give him something for himself. The pilot refused, and said he wanted nothing but his pilotage. [50]

At Ryde, White met Matthew Wilkinson, master of the brig Elizabeth of Sunderland, in the Black Horse public house. White said that he had spent ten weeks getting there from London; the Native was short of provisions and an expected money letter had not arrived. He offered to sell a chain to Wilkinson and to at least two others, but could provide no documents. Peter Morgan said later that the chain was the remains of the old chain for the anchor lost in the Downs:[51] he saw it put into a boat and some ropes and hawsers put on a steamer bound for Portsmouth.[52]


White then got down to the more serious business of stealing some of the Native‘s cargo, in particular the chests of tea. He found two customers: William Henry [or H W] Wheeler, a grocer, and Wheeler’s brother-in-law Henry Thomas Helyer, a builder. Helyer seems to have made an unsuccessful attempt to get the tea ashore by bribing a customs man, Jesse Lydall, and a boatman, John Ford.[53] The conspirators had more success with Joseph Drayton and John Wearne [or Wearn or Warne], who operated a boat, carrying about three tons, plying between the Isle of Wight and vessels in the neighbourhood. Robert Taylor, of the Native‘s crew, said that two men often came out in a boat from Ryde, sometimes twice a day, and often without any apparent motive. Sometimes they took the captain to shore; at other times they came without bringing any person on board or taking any one to shore.[54]

Taylor also said that the Native‘s fore and main hatchways were battened down, but the after hatchway had a moveable cover. The tea was stowed forward, on top of the other cargo but, given enough time, it would be possible to roll or carry the tea chests to the after hatchway. He thought that three men could have removed all the tea, and loaded it into a boat alongside, in four hours.[55]

As the crew kept an anchor watch, the tea could not be removed while they were on board; Peter Morgan noted “various occasions on which he and others of the crew were on shore by the desire of the captain”, including their being told to go to Portsmouth late one night and wait for the captain. O’Connor stayed on the Native.[56]

The stolen goods were taken ashore in three batches, the first two going to Wheeler and the third to Helyer. Younghusband said

That the captain had told him, while at the Motherbank, that he had a customer for the goods, to the amount of £300 in cash, and that he would remove the crew to Portsmouth, in order that he (the mate) might deliver to a boatman, named Jos Drayton, 26 packages of raisins, tea, and pepper. That on a subsequent occasion Mr Wheeler came with the same boat, and landed 18 chests of tea and two bags of coffee. The remainder was smuggled ashore by another boat. Younghusband thinks a man named John Stevens was in her. He received from Captain White £50 in cash, as part of his share in the property. Captain White also promised him half of the entire proceeds of the goods sold. [57]

For the first batch, Joseph Drayton had arranged a sufferance: permission from the Custom House at Ryde to land a cargo, which he claimed had come from Portsmouth. He signed a document listing the cargo as including four packages of sugar, twenty chests of tea and four bags of pepper, but he later denied knowing what was on board: he said that he would not recognise a chest of tea.[58] The boat arrived at Ryde late at night and Drayton showed the sufferance warrant to the Customs officer; he and Wearne were permitted to land the cargo. They conveyed it on a cart to Wheeler’s house, where it was received by Wheeler and Helyer.[59]


Two grocers were offered tea by James Helyer, builder, brother of Henry Thomas Helyer; they found the proposed transaction suspicious and refused to buy. However, others were less scrupulous.

Wheeler sold seven chests of tea to John Keet, indemnifying him against having to pay if the tea were seized. Five of those chests were sold on to Mr Richardson in Portsea; the other two were seized by the police.[60]

Wheeler sold another seventeen chests of tea to James Warne of Newport; the carrier Charles Williams delivered eleven of them on 9 February 1843, with an invoice, and six more on 11 February 1843.[61] Warne in turn sold two chests to Mr Spicknell of Newport but later told Spicknell’s shopman, James Granger, that the tea was stolen and asked for its return. Granger was reluctant to part with it without Spicknell’s agreement but he repacked the tea and burned the tea chests.

J Futcher, a Ryde grocer, sold a chest of tea to Maurice Dear [variants: Morris, Dore], a grocer at Cowes; it was carried on Mr Mundell’s waggon, driven by Charles Jolliffe. Futcher offered to sell twelve chests at 3s 6d per lb, and 2d per lb discount, but Dear refused to buy any more than the one chest “believing it to be a dirty business”.[62] Dear was not prosecuted because he often bought tea from the same supplier, paid the usual market price and, when told the facts, “gave every assistance […] to further the ends of justice”. The same applied to J Kent, grocer at Ryde.[63] Futcher was charged as an accessory after the fact but the charge was withdrawn as his “high respectability” made it impossible to believe that he knew the tea was stolen — even though he had destroyed the tea chests, despite having been asked to preserve the evidence.[64]

The sinking

After about three weeks off Ryde, the Native left the Motherbank on 6 February 1843 and, that night, anchored near Jack in the Basket, the outer marker at the west side of the channel to Lymington. It moved closer inshore next morning and anchored again about two miles from Lymington. The sails were furled and the crew were sent ashore to buy potatoes, although they already had enough.[65] According to James Younghusband

Captain White, before removing the crew, cleared the run of the vessel, and bored two of the holes half through himself [with an auger]. Three more were bored by Younghusband and Connors, while the captain was absent with the remainder of the crew at Lymington. They were all plugged up, and the plugs removed next day, when the vessel was at sea.[66]

Next morning the Native got under way again at 4.00am.[67] The captain pulled out the plugs,[68] then told the crew to stow the working chains in the chain locker; on lifting the hatch they saw water in the hold. The captain ordered them to work the pumps but, after a few minutes, told them to stop, clear away the boats and hoist the ensign upside down as a signal of distress. Younghusband, O’Connor and Morgan got into one of the boats; White, Taylor, Hugham and Kormill (the apprentice) got into the other.[69]

They spent three quarters of an hour, within sight of land, rowing around the vessel, then turned towards shore but turned again back to the Native. The pilot boat Jane, of Poole, picked up the two boats and took their crews on board, then sailed to the Native to try to save it. Despite White’s evident unwillingness and O’Connor’s brandishing a knife, they boarded the Native. Thomas Harvey of the Jane found that the Native answered the helm and he tried to steer towards the land, but White pushed him away and said he did not want to save either the vessel or the cargo: all he wanted was the sails.[70]

Harvey, like Peter Morgan of the Native, believed that the vessel could have been saved “if we had been permitted to exert ourselves”, but White refused to allow the pumps to be used. There would even have been time to unload the cargo, but White refused to allow the pilot crew to unbatten the hatches. O’Connor seemed to be willing to use his knife and the pilot crew did not want a dangerous struggle.[71]

Eventually they took off the mainsail and the foresail and put them in one of the boats with some small pieces of rope.

Soon afterwards they saw from the boats the vessel fall on her broad-side, and then right again, and go down stern foremost.[72]

The pilots observed that it was clear the vessel was swamped, and one of those who were accused of that offence waved his hat when she disappeared, while the others expressed their gratification at the catastrophe in other ways. Such an event naturally led to conversation on shore, and to an inquiry […].[73]

White and Younghusband had stolen the cargo entrusted to them, and had done so unknown to anyone except several boatmen and all the grocers on the Isle of Wight — and their own crew, who must have known that something was up. Then they had sunk their schooner, in full view of the crews of two pilot boats. After that they returned to Limerick.

Charge, hearing and trial

On 7 February 1843 Francis Spaight received a letter from Captain White, telling him that the Native had sunk at sea. When White and Younghusband returned to Limerick, Spaight questioned them separately about the loss of the cargo. He later learned that the cargo had been stolen and the vessel sunk; he had White and Younghusband arrested and asked the Board of Customs and the Collectors of Portsmouth and Cowes to make enquiries. He was able to tell them how the tea chests were marked.[74]

White and Younghusband admitted their guilt and, after being cautioned that anything they said might be used against them, made and signed confessions. White gave an account of his income and expenditure on the theft and gave lodgment receipts to Spaight.[75]

However, the confessions were not the end of the legal process. White and Younghusband were brought before the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House. The Central Criminal Court, set up in 1834, sat as a Commission of Oyer and Terminer [to hear and determine], with the Lord Mayor as chief commissioner, in cases of treason, murder, felony and misdemeanour committed in London and parts of neighbouring counties.

It was also empowered to try offences committed on the high seas or elsewhere abroad previously tried at the Admiralty Sessions.[76]

Accordingly, White and Younghusband were

… brought before the Lord Mayor in the custody of John Forester, the officer, charged with having feloniously, unlawfully, and maliciously sunk and destroyed a vessel, called the Native, within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty, with intent thereby to prejudice the Indemnity Mutual Marine Assurance Company, that company having underwritten a policy of insurance on certain goods on board that vessel.[77]

They and witnesses were examined on several days between late March and late April 1843; White and Younghusband were remanded in custody between their appearances. Neither of them was represented by counsel [barrister] or solicitor and neither of them denied the charges, although White did challenge witness testimony on some minor details. At the end of one session

Both prisoners, particularly White, appeared to be extremely dejected. [78]

At the end of the process, they were committed for trial at the next session of the Central Criminal Court, although White said

I shall not make any defence, and it is quite unnecessary for the insurance offices to put themselves to the expense and trouble of calling the witnesses upon the trial.[79]

Mr Justice Coltman presided at the Central Criminal Court on 10 May 1843. White and Younghusband pleaded guilty and asked only that Francis Spaight give evidence about their “former course of life”. Spaight said that he had known White for several years

… and never heard anything prejudicial to him until the present occasion. He had formerly commanded a steamer upon the river Shannon, and always was understood to have conducted himself respectably.

Two others corroborated that evidence. Mr Justice Coltman said that he would take time to consider the sentence.[80]

The sentence

On Monday 15 May 1843 Mr Justice Coltman

[…] told the prisoners they had been convicted, upon their own confession, of one of the most serious charges, short of taking away life, known to the law, viz that of destroying at sea a ship for the purpose of defrauding the owners.

Because ships’ officers had “so many opportunities of inflicting very severe injury upon the public” with little chance of detection, a very severe punishment was warranted. He therefore sentenced White and Younghusband to be “severally transported beyond the seas for the terms of their natural lives”.[81]

On 26 August 1843 Joseph Younghusband was transported on the Maitland to New South Wales and Norfolk Island, arriving on 7 February 1844. Within six months he had died at Norfolk Island.[82]

John William White left on the Anson on 23 September 1843, reaching Van Diemen’s Land on 4 February 1844;[83] his wife and family followed him in 1846.[84] He was released on a ticket of leave in March 1852 and given a conditional pardon in December 1854.[85] He died, of phthisis pulmonalis and bronchitis, in Brisbane Street, Hobart, Tasmania, on 15 November 1867, at the age of 59. His rank or profession was that of Clerk.[86]

The other conspirators

Apart from White and Younghusband, Pat O’Connor was the only crewman suspected of involvement in the crimes. He was said, in late March, to be in custody at Poole, and was expected to be taken to London in a few days.[87] However, it later appeared that he was not, or was no longer, in custody, and that a reward would be “immediately offered for his apprehension” so that he might be brought to justice.[88]

Joseph Drayton, one of the two boatmen who landed the stolen cargo, was examined by the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House. He agreed that he had sometimes carried Captain White to shore and back, for which he was paid with 28½ fathoms of rusty chain, which he claimed to have sold for a very small amount; he had actually received eight guineas (£8 8s) for it from a Captain Shaw.

He said he had carried no goods to shore for Captain White and had received no money from him; he had actually received £50. Nor, he said, did he get money from any of the several people called Wheeler whom he knew. He had carried water, coals and perhaps potatoes to the Native, but carried no chests of tea to shore.[89]

Drayton was committed for trial but absconded: a reward of £5 was offered for his apprehension but he was thought to have gone to America. The same was true of Helyer, one of the purchasers of the stolen tea.[90]

The other boatman, John Wearne, likewise denied everything when questioned at the Mansion House.[91] He was indicted for stealing 1600 lbs of tea, on 17 January 1843, at Binstead [near Ryde], and was tried along with William Henry Wheeler, who was charged with receiving the tea while knowing it to have been stolen. Some of the Native‘s chests were found on Wheeler’s premises; he said he had bought them from “a person who travelled about the country” and that they held only sawdust. When they were opened, they were found to contain tea. He undertook on his honour not to dispose of the tea chests but they mysteriously disappeared.

The prosecution called 35 witnesses, who traced the chests of tea from St Katherine’s Docks to Wheeler’s shop; it was also proved that White and Younghusband had been tried at the Old Bailey for destroying the vessel, and had been convicted and transported.[92]

Mr Missing, acting for Wearne and Wheeler, accepted that Wheeler had bought and paid for the tea. However, he said, Wheeler had believed that the tea was smuggled, not stolen, and had paid for it on that basis “for he could not have supposed that the captain intended doing that which he afterwards did”. The jury found Wearne and Wheeler not guilty.[93]

Thus, of those most immediately involved in the crime, only White and Younghusband were punished.

Cui bono?

The total sale price of the tea seems to have been £643. From that Drayton and Wearne were given £100 (as well as the Native‘s old chain, valued at £5 but sold for £8 8s). Joseph Younghusband had been promised £50 plus half of the proceeds; the £50 probably came from £100 that White kept in cash, after depositing £120 in cash at the Hampshire Bank, Ryde.[94] White also deposited bills of exchange, in Wheeler’s handwriting, totalling £247 and another in Helyer’s handwriting worth £76.[95]

Francis Spaight recovered the £247 and £76, and may have taken the £120 cash which White asked the Hampshire Bank to send to Limerick.[96] The cargo had been insured for £3500 and £3000 was paid out.[97] As for the vessel itself

Mr Charles Butler (examined by Mr Clarkson), a partner in the house of Akron and Co, of Bush-lane, Cannon-street, merchants, stated that he effected a policy at Lloyd’s for William Spaight, of Limerick, upon the Native, for £1000. A demand had been made of a settlement of some of the underwriters.[98]

The profits made by the Isle of Wight’s receivers of stolen goods have not been recorded.


Francis Spaight, the shipowner, has already prompted the creation of one work of literature, the short story “The Francis Spaight by Jack London, based on the true — and even more gruesome — story of the vessel of that name.

But a greater author, Joseph Conrad, might have made something of the story of John William White. What possessed him to commit such a crackbrained crime, for such a small amount of money, with so few precautions against discovery — and then to confess everything and make no attempt either to escape or to excuse his actions?

Perhaps it was despair at his changed circumstances, combined with the pressures of a very unpleasant voyage, that broke him. He had been the popular and well-regarded captain of a steamer:

Captain White, who is a gentlemanlike man, formerly commanded the Dover Castle steam-packet between Limerick and Kilrush, and was much regarded for his courteous and obliging deportment.[99]

His personality was one of the vessel’s main advantages. He had daily contact with the public. And his was a relatively pleasant station: a four or five hour trip, in relatively sheltered waters, down the estuary one day and back the next. He could probably expect to sleep in his own bed, in Limerick, at least every second night. And in a steamer he was, if not quite master of the elements, at least not entirely at their mercy.

Contrast that with his position on the Native, a small schooner with a small crew. He was probably standing every second watch, four hours on and four off, with Younghusband, day after day in dreadful weather, on the long voyage from London to Limerick. It took ten weeks to reach the Isle of Wight, rather than the average of eight days for the full journey claimed by the Limerick Shipping Company. The work was considerably more arduous than on the Dover Castle and the rewards were fewer: less comfort, less public approbation, less human company. Perhaps, by the time he reached the Isle of Wight, it had all got too much for him.

Notes and sources

[1] Dublin Morning Register [Friday] 18 October 1839 quoting Limerick Chronicle

[2] The Pilot 19 November 1834 quoting the Limerick Chronicle

[3] Sailing Directions for the Lower Shannon, and for Lough Derg; with some Hydrographic Notices of Lough Ree and Lough Erne. By Commander James Wolfe RN; being the result of Surveys made by Order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty

[4] Saunders’s News-Letter 20 September 1839 quoting the Limerick Chronicle

[5] Clare Journal, and Ennis Advertiser 7 November 1839

[6] Limerick Reporter 7 and 11 January 1842

[7] Limerick Reporter 19 July 1839

[8] Limerick Reporter 20 August 1839

[9] Limerick Reporter 20 August 1839

[10] Dublin Morning Register 18 October 1839 quoting the Limerick Chronicle

[11] Clare Journal, and Ennis Advertiser 13 August 1838

[12] Clare Journal, and Ennis Advertiser 27 September 1838, Waterford Mail 29 September 1838, London Courier and Evening Gazette 1 October 1838

[13] Clare Journal, and Ennis Advertiser 1 January 1835

[14] Freda Harcourt “Charles Wye Williams and Irish steam shipping, 1820–50” The Journal of Transport History Third Series, Volume 13, Number 2, September 1992 Manchester University Press. The CoDSPCo had also overcome competition from sailing packets on the Shannon Estuary: it bought the vessels

[15] Ignatius Murphy “Pre-Famine Passenger Services on the Lower Shannon” in North Munster Antiquarian Journal Vol 16 1973–4 pp70–83; Ignatius Murphy Before the Famine Struck: life in West Clare 1834–1845 Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1996

[16] Limerick Reporter 28 August 1840

[17] Freeman’s Journal 9 May 1840

[18] Limerick Reporter 11 September 1840

[19] John Armstrong and David M Williams “Technological Advance and Innovation: the diffusion of the early steamship in the United Kingdom 1812–1834” chapter 7 of The Impact of Technological Change: the early steamship in Britain Research in Maritime History No 47 International Maritime Economic History Association, St John’s, Newfoundland 2011; originally published in Mariner’s Mirror XLVI No 1 2010 41–61 Society for Nautical Research

[20] Ignatius Murphy “Pre-Famine Passenger Services on the Lower Shannon” in North Munster Antiquarian Journal Vol 16 1973–4 pp70–83; Ignatius Murphy Before the Famine Struck: life in West Clare 1834–1845 Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1996

[21] Dublin Monitor 11 June 1839 quoting the Limerick Chronicle

[22] Margaret Frances Dickson Scenes of the Shores of the Atlantic Vol II T C Newby, London 1845; account published in the Dublin University Magazine in 1841

[23] Limerick Reporter 23 July 1839

[24] Limerick Reporter 4 August 1840

[25] Limerick Reporter 11 September 1840

[26] Waterford Mail 18 September 1839

[27] Tuam Herald 20 June 1840 on

[28] Ignatius Murphy Before the Famine Struck: life in West Clare 1834–1845 Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1996

[29] Limerick Reporter 19 July 1839

[30] Limerick Reporter 8 August 1840

[31] Limerick Reporter 21 April 1840

[32] Ignatius Murphy “Pre-Famine Passenger Services on the Lower Shannon” in North Munster Antiquarian Journal Vol 16 1973–4 pp70–83

[33] Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, and Weekly Price Current 13 and 20 February 1826

[34] John Armstrong and David M Williams “Promotion, speculation and their outcome: the ‘steamship mania’ of 1824–1825” chapter 10 of The Impact of Technological Change: the early steamship in Britain Research in Maritime History No 47 International Maritime Economic History Association, St John’s, Newfoundland 2011; originally published in the Aslib Proceedings LX No 6 2008 642–660 Emerald Publishing Group

[35] Limerick Reporter 23 February 1841

[36] Dublin Morning Register 23 November 1840 quoting the Limerick Chronicle. The Garryowen tried to tow the Dover Castle off, but had to give up when the tow lines broke

[37] Dublin Monitor 2 January 1841 quoting the Limerick Chronicle

[38] Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 19 January 1841 quoting the Limerick Standard

[39] Saunders’s News-Letter 3 March 1843 quoting the Limerick Chronicle; Freeman’s Journal 28 March 1843

[40] Evidence of Peter Morgan in Morning Post 3 April 1843. An account in Saunders’s News-Letter 3 March 1843, quoting the Limerick Chronicle (probably of 1 March 1843), describes the cargo as “teas, sugars, tobacco and spices”

[41] Morning Post 17 April 1843

[42] Salisbury and Winchester Journal 22 July 1843

[43] Evidence of Peter Morgan in Morning Post 3 April 1843

[44] Morning Post 11 May 1843

[45] Morning Post 3 April 1843

[46] Morning Post 3 April 1843

[47] Freeman’s Journal 28 March 1843; Morning Post 17 April 1843

[48] Saunders’s News-Letter 3 March 1843 quoting the Limerick Chronicle (probably of 1 March 1843); Morning Post 3 April 1843; information about the anchor and chain Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle 12 June 1843; Standard 26 April 1843

[49] Standard 17 April 1843

[50] Standard 26 April 1843

[51] Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle 12 June 1843

[52] Hampshire Advertiser 3 June 1843

[53] Hampshire Advertiser 3 June 1843

[54] Morning Post 3 April 1843

[55] Morning Post 3 April 1843

[56] Morning Post 3 April 1843

[57] Standard 26 April 1843

[58] Standard 17 April 1843; Morning Post 22 April 1843

[59] Salisbury and Winchester Journal 22 July 1843

[60] Hampshire Advertiser 3 June 1843

[61] Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle 12 June 1843

[62] Hampshire Advertiser 10 June 1843, Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle 12 June 1843

[63] Hampshire Advertiser 17 June 1843

[64] Hampshire Advertiser 17 June 1843

[65] Standard 26 April 1843, Morning Post 3 April 1843

[66] Standard 26 April 1843

[67] Morning Post 3 April 1843

[68] Standard 26 April 1843

[69] Morning Post 3 April 1843

[70] Freeman’s Journal 28 March 1843

[71] Freeman’s Journal 28 March 1843

[72] Morning Post 3 April 1843

[73] Freeman’s Journal 28 March 1843

[74] Saunders’s News-Letter 3 March 1843 quoting the Limerick Chronicle (probably of 1 March 1843)

[75] Standard 26 April 1843

[76] “Administrative/biographical background” to Records of the Central Criminal Court on UK National Archives website

[77] Freeman’s Journal 28 March 1843

[78] Standard 17 April 1843

[79] Standard 26 April 1843

[80] Morning Post 11 May 1843

[81] Hampshire Advertiser 20 May 1843




[85] Tasmanian Government linc Names Index leading to,246,201,L,36

[86] Tasmanian Government linc Names Index leading to

[87] Freeman’s Journal 28 March 1843

[88] Standard 17 April 1843

[89] Standard 17 April 1843; Morning Post 22 April 1843

[90] Hampshire Advertiser 17 June 1843

[91] Globe 22 April 1843

[92] Salisbury and Winchester Journal 22 July 1843

[93] Salisbury and Winchester Journal 22 July 1843

[94] Standard 26 April 1843

[95] Hampshire Advertiser 3 June 1843

[96] Saunders’s News-Letter 3 March 1843 quoting the Limerick Chronicle (probably of 1 March 1843)

[97] Freeman’s Journal 28 March 1843

[98] Morning Post 17 April 1843

[99] Saunders’s News-Letter 3 March 1843 quoting the Limerick Chronicle (probably of 1 March 1843)

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