Monday, January 30, 2017

Captain James Lowry, 1752

Captain James Lowry, R. Bennett, 1752, British Museum.

My favorite Scottish sea captain/murderous tyrant returns!

In case you missed the previous posts, Captain Lowry was master of the Molly merchantman and during a return voyage from Jamaica to London, he tied up an ill sailor named Kenneth Hossack and beat him to death. Claiming that Hossack was faking his illness ('shamming Abraham'), Lowry's brutality led to a lawful mutiny. Once he and the Molly's crew returned to England, Lowry was arrested, tried, convicted, and hanged.

R. Bennett depicts Lowry as a well dressed Scotch gentleman, standing over the ship's log, a compass, whip, chart of Jamaica, and cross-staff. These surmount a verse from Proverbs 2:22:
But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressours shall be rooted out of it.

The cross-staff is of particular interest because of its obsolescence. Cross-staffs were a useful tool in navigation, particularly for latitudinal navigation, but had long been eclipsed by the backstaff (Davis quadrant) and octant by 1752. They continued to be produced and used, as with this 1779 Dutch example in the National Maritime Museum, but were not a preferred means of navigation by the time Bennett etched this print.

To the left of Lowry is a boat full of sailors, some of whom cower behind the officer in the bow at the sight of the murderous captain.

Between the viewer and the boat is Lowry's cane, marked 'Royal oak Fore Mast.' This is the same stick Lowry carried about the ship. As John Hunt testified in Lowry's trial:
Wm. Waum's scull had a piece of wood stuck in it; and after the prisoner [Lowry] had given him a plaister, he beat him round the deck with the Royal Oak Foremast, (as he called it) which was a large cane as thick as my hand; he broke it all to pieces.
William Dwite, another of the Molly's crew, corroborated Hunt's testimony, saying that for nearly the entire crew, Lowry 'saw nothing farther than beating and abusing them with the Royal Oak Foremast.'

Lowry's nickname for his favorite instrument of torture might have been derived from the remarkably old ship of the line Royal Oak. Launched as a 74 gun ship in 1674, she was rebuilt as a 70 gun several successive times through the late seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries, before being converted to a prison ship in 1756.

Side note: direct links to OldBaileyOnline can be a bit dodgy. Use the reference number t17520218-1 to find Lowry's trial transcript.

The Scotch Triumvirate, artist unknown, 1752, British Museum.

The Royal Oak Foremast makes an appearance in another print from 1752, in which Scotsmen are roundly condemned as murderers, with 'The Scotch Triumvirate' as the artist's evidence. Lowry is front and center, with the noose tugged tightly around his neck.

From the earth rises Kenneth Hossack in his burial shroud, who cries 'You suffer'd justly for Wipping me to Death.' Behind the outstretched clasping hand of Hossack's corpse is the Royal Oak Fore Mast.

The sailors in the boat are either hatless or wear cocked hats. One of the oarsmen appears to be wearing his reversed. Looking terribly afraid, the sailor behind his officer wears a single breasted waistcoat (as do two of his mates), and striped petticoat trousers. The sailor on the far right wears a bob wig and carries a stick. All of the cuffs we can see are scalloped mariner's cuffs and closed.

Another boat pulls alongside the Molly, this one with kitted out bargemen. Her stern is crowded with sailors bearing sticks, wearing single breasted waistcoats, jackets, and wearing cocked hats. The bargemen are in shirt sleeves with jockey style barge caps. Two sailors near the bow wear bob wigs and trousers.

The Molly is depicted as a two decker Man of War with her guns run out, rather than a merchant ship returning from Jamaica at a time of peace. Lowry lashes Hassock with a cat o' nine tails while cursing, 'Dam him he shams Abram.'

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