Mutineers brought ashore to face court in Portsmouth

jpns-25-04-14 rw Olympicescort''Exactly 102 years to the day April 26, 1912, seamen from the Olympic under police escort.
jpns-25-04-14 rw Olympicescort''Exactly 102 years to the day April 26, 1912, seamen from the Olympic under police escort.
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This postcard shows merchant seamen who had mutinied while on board the White Star Liner Olympic in 1912 in the Solent.

But what has that got to do with Portsmouth?

The Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic.

The Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic.

It is possible that if these men had not mutinied, thousands of other ocean travellers might have been put in danger because of a lack of lifeboats.

When the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic went down on the night of April 14, 1912, her sister ship Olympic was travelling in the opposite direction, 500 miles away.

On receiving a message for assistance, she altered course and when she was just 100 miles from the Titanic she received another message: ‘all rescued’.

Olympic altered course and made her way to Southampton.

By the time she arrived, the dreadful news had reached home. Titanic’s passengers and crew had not all been rescued. The majority were lost.

Olympic was supposed to be on a three-day turn around and because of the Titanic disaster extra lifeboats were being loaded.

Captain Clark, a Board of Trade surveyor, went on board Olympic at 7am to inspect the ship.

He had the lifeboats lowered which took twelve-and-a-half minutes. This was in dock, in a calm sea.

At 11.50am a message reached Clark, who was still on board, that stokers were rebelling and unless the collapsible lifeboats were replaced with conventional ones they were leaving the ship.

Many did leave and Captain Clark ordered the Olympic into the Solent to stop other men quitting and to wait for replacement stokers.

While waiting in the Solent Captain Clark again ordered the lifeboats to be lowered.

This time it took the best part of two hours to lower just a few boats.

A union delegation arrived the following morning, checked the boats and found them all seaworthy except one which was replaced.

To make up for the 36 lost hours, extra men were signed on for the trip and a total of 168 men were brought on board by tender at 10pm.

At midnight there was another problem when 53 men refused to work with the replacement stokers because many did not have the skills, seamanship or signing-on books.

The 53 left the ship on the tender that had brought out the replacements.

The commander of Olympic, Captain Hadock, signalled the commander of HMS Cochrane for help even though the Royal Navy captain had no say over merchant seamen.

Captain Goodenough boarded and tried to talk sense into the mutineers but to no avail.

At 11am the following day more replacement men arrived but the ship was now so far behind schedule it returned to Southampton and her voyage was cancelled.

For the loss the White Star Line decided to take the 53 mutineers to court and this is where the Portsmouth connection comes about.

They were all tried at Portsmouth Police Court charged with ‘wilful disobedience to the master of the steamship Olympic, Captain Hadock’.

The mutineers’ lawyer said the men were correct in what they did as taking incompetent men to sea on the Olympic made her unseaworthy. It was almost like going to sea with a hole in the hull, he said.

But the mutineers lost. However, they were released because the judge said many had been unnerved by Titanic’s sinking.

On May 14 prime minster Lord Asquith asked if any action was to be taken against the Seafarers’ Union for the deliberate delaying of His Majesty’s Mail. As a result of the Portsmouth court case, no further action was taken.

The Olympic sailed on for another 20 years before being sent to the breaker’s.