Jane of Gibraltar

Parent Category: Timeline
Category: Pre-1900

Jane of Gibraltar 

Geodha an t-Soithich, Tolsta Head

On 19 th May 1821, the Scooner, ‘Jane', registered in Gibraltar and belonging to a Jewish merchant, set sail from Gibraltar with her captain Thomas Johnson and the mate Peter Heaman. The other members of the crew were Francois Gautiez the cook, Johanna Dhura an Italian, Andrew Cameliar a Maltese cabin boy and Peter Smith, Robert Strachan and James Paterson. Her destination was Babia in Brazil.

The cargo consisted of sweet oil, bales of paper, barrels of beeswax, jars of olives, boxes of raisins and 38,180 Spanish dollars in small canvas bags packed in large wooden cases. On the night of 7th June a mutiny broke out on board. Heaman, Gautiez and Paterson had taken over the captain's watch at midnight. Shortly afterwards the cabin boy was awakened by the sound of a shot fired at the captain's bunk and by the screams of Paterson, who was fatally attacked, by Heaman, with a clubbed musket.

When the captain appeared on deck, holding his bleeding head, the mutineers attacked and beat him to death. The shot and cries woke the rest of the crew, but Heaman prevented them from coming on deck by brandishing an axe. The two bodies were weighted and thrown overboard and all traces of blood removed. The forecastle hatch where Smith and Strachan, two Montrose men, were detained was bolted down and the mutineers smeared all the openings with flour paste to exlude air.

A fire with wet wood and tar was started in the cabin below them on a copper plate and holes were made to let the smoke into the forecastle. After thirty-six hours the hatch was opened and Smith and Strachan, dejected, but still alive were given bread and water and imprisoned for another three days, when they were made to swear on the Bible that they would never tell of the murder. The mutineers then altered the ship's course for the West Coast of Scotland.

The wooden boxes containing the dollars were broken open and the silver in the canvas bags was hidden in the sides of the ‘Jane', which had two skins. When they reached Barra, the mate, Heaman, went ashore and bought a sheep, six geese, five ducks, and butter from a Mr Macneil. He paid for these with a barrel of bread, four boxes of raisins, a jar of sweet oil, two jars of olives and a lump of beeswax. A very interesting transaction!

He also bought an open boat with sails for which he paid with dollars – the equivalent of twelve guineas for the boat and £5 for the sail. While at Barra the mate heard that there was a Revenue Cutter in the Minch. He had intended to sail the ‘Jane' to the east coast of Scotland, but decided to scuttle her instead and use the open boat to take them to the mainland and so avoid an encounter with the Navy boat at all costs.

When they were off Chicken Head, Point the bags of dollars, along with provisions, were placed in the open boat. Holes were then cut in the inner skin of the ‘Jane' and late that night holes were cut in the outer skin. The crew got into the open boat and the ‘Jane', rapidly filling with water, sailed into the darkness with spanker, top and jib sails set. They were now ready to sail the open boat to the mainland and then travel south. But a southeasterly gale blew up and after beating about all night in the Minch they came ashore at Swordale, Point on a shingle beach beneath high rugged cliffs.

Mr Maciver, Custom House, Stornoway, having been informed by the locals of the strangers on the Swordale beach, arrived on the scene and questioned the mate. The mate concocted a story that his ship, the ‘Betsy” owned by his father and sailing from New York laden with tobacco and cotton, had been lost off Barra Head. He said that the captain and five others had quarrelled with him and had set off on another boat for Liverpool. Maciver tried to write this down, but the heavy rain washed the ink away. The weather has not changed!

Things began to go wrong for the mutineers the ‘Jane' did not sink, but ran aground at Geodha an t-Soithich and was wrecked. The cabin boy escaped from the others and climbed the cliffs at Swordale, where he gave the true account. The remaining members of the crew were arrested and carts carried the silver to the Custom House on Cromwell Street. Somewhere along the line 7,000 dollars disappeared!

The Revenue Cutter, ‘The Prince of Wales', arrived in Stornoway and the prisoners and the dollars were taken to Leith, together with some witnesses. One of these was Kenneth Maciver, the tacksman in Tolsta at the time. After their trial, the mate and Gautiez, were hanged on the sands of Leith on 9th January 1822. The remaining crew members were spared, having turned King's Evidence against the mate. Siugaidh and Alex John Lusaidh remember seeing the keel of the ‘Jane' at Ealasgair Mhòir at a very low spring tide.