Below are reports of three cases of assault on ships in the 19th century. The first was transcribed from the Cork Examiner by Dennis Ahern, who has kindly permitted me to reproduce it here. Many more fascinating historical news stories can be found at

The second was transcribed from the Falmouth News Slip by my cousin, Gerry Stevenson.

The stories stand by themselves, but together they suggest the moral that if you were going to assault anyone at that time then it was desirable that the assaultee was of a lower rank than you!


From The Cork Examiner, 16 August 1861 -

(Before Captain MARTIN, R.M., and Mr. T. H. TARRANT.)

George Ovan Dam, mariner on board the British merchant brig Bermuda v. Ralph Hall, master of same ; Robert Barkwell, mate, do. ; William Stromberg and Thomas Maddons, mariners, do.

THE master was fined 2s. 6d., including costs, for having assaulted complainant on the high seas on the 12th July, '61. The mate was fined £1, including costs, for having assaulted complainant at same place on the 7th July. Stromberg and Maddons, were each fined 2s. 6d. for having assaulted complainant in the port of Cork on the 14th inst. The magistrates ordered the captain to discharge Ovan Dam, and informed him (the captain) that he would have been more heavily fined but that they took into account the irritable state of his temper caused by his suffering from a fever. Mr. Allen prosecuted and Mr. Barry defended the accused, who were arrested under a warrant. Mr. Loane, the ship's agent, attended on the part of the captain and men.


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Extract from The Falmouth News Slip Saturday, December 31st 1892


At Falmouth on Monday, before Mr. T. Webber (Mayor), Captain Reed RN, Mr. J. Hunt, and Dr E. Head Moor, borough magistrates, Lawrence Miles, seaman on board the Liverpool steamer Tropea, Captain J. R. Barber, was charged with wounding John Hoare, a negro cook, on Christmas day. Prosecutor said he was getting out the plum pudding, when the prisoner and another man asked him why he did not peel the potatoes. Before he could reply they pelted him with potatoes. Prisoner picked up a large knife off the table, and flung it at him. It struck the door first, and then the prosecutor on the left arm, causing a serious wound... Dr A. B. Harris, who put three stitches in the wound, said it might become dangerous.
PC Pratt, of the harbour police apprehended the prisoner, who declared that the cook threw the knife at him first. Prisoner was committed for trial. Joseph Barlow AB, for throwing potatoes at the cook on Christmas day and striking him in the mouth with his fist, was fined 2s 6d and 6s 6d costs, or seven days.
A dozen able seamen and firemen of the Tropea were brought up in custody for disobeying the commands of captain Barber that morning. Their names were Daniel O’Leary, George Lanfield, John Stephenson, Daniel Collins, Thomas Spiller, John Watson, John Doyle, James Bailey, James Henderson, Thomas Gaskin, William Mc Coy and John E. Baker.
Mr. W. Jenkins, who prosecuted characterised the case as an outrageous one. The men all signed articles at Liverpool on November 10th, the Tropea being bound for Galveston in ballast. Whilst on the voyage the main shaft broke and the steamer put back to Falmouth arriving on December 3rd. The repairs were executed and the ship was ready to go to sea on Thursday but the weather was unfavourable. That morning, at half past seven, the captain ordered the men to unmoor the ship and they refused. The captain understood that on Christmas day the men complained that the cook had not “peeled the spuds”. Each prisoner was asked why he refused duty, and in almost every case the answer was that they did not wish to go in the ship on account of the “grub” being badly cooked. The Steward said food in plenty was provided, but the cook was not a superior one. There might be some fault with the bread, but he had seen worse. Lanfield and Doyle were committed to Bodmin gaol for four weeks hard labour, and the others to three weeks each.
Note: Joseph Barlow opted for the 7 days rather than for the 2s 6d fine and 6s 6d costs


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Extracts from the Overland Times of Ceylon of 24th and 25th July 1896.

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