As criminals go, the Lennie mutineers were neither organized nor gifted. Indeed, they likely did not fancy themselves mutineers when they perpetrated a triple-murder of the officer corps on board the vessel during high seas.
Matteo Cargalis, Pascalis Caludis, George Kaida, and Giovanni Carcaris were hanged on this date for that “atrocious conspiracy” in Newgate prison’s largest mass execution behind closed doors.
As they say, you get what you pay for, and Captain Stanley Hatfield apparently didn’t pay too well. His ragtag crew of multinationals — Turks, Greeks, Dutch, Belgians, and possibly others (Hatfield himself was a Canadian) — was in it for the money when the vessel left Antwerp bound for New Orleans on 24 October 1875.
The circumstances of the mutiny’s start are hazy, but what is clear is that the entire ship’s complement excluding first officer, cabin boy, and steward were on deck in heavy seas about 10 days out. What seems to have been a minor labor dispute resulted in Hatfield and Second Mate Richard Macdonald being summarily dispatched by stabbing; the first mate, Joseph Wortley, was sought out below and shot in his quarters.
Since the crew was all in now, the murderers and a small group of associates pressed the remainder of the deckhands into service. The two remaining persons belowdecks were now let out. The Belgian steward, Constant von Hoydonck (spelled in various ways, but Anglicized in what seems to be the most popular way), and the cabin boy, Henri Trousselot, were given the option to join the rest of the crew.
To the now-leaderless and ill-educated rebellious deck crew, Von Hoydonck’s literacy made him was the best hope of finding safe harbor, and Von Hoydonck hammed it up like Mark Hamill going on about Tosche Station.
Trousselot was worth little (though he was also literate), and he gamely followed Von Hoydonck’s lead and elected to join the mutineers.
The rest of the tale reads like a Hardy Boys story, with an implausible plot built around incompetent characters.
Apparently, one of the Greek crew members knew someone back home that he felt would be interested in the vessel, so the crew now had a “plan”. All they needed was a quick trip through the Strait of Gibraltar followed by a trip across the Mediterranean, and they were home free! Von Hoydonck volunteered to navigate the course to the Strait, but rather than head southeast, he led the ship straight back toward the French coast.
The details of the voyage, embellished and colorfully littered with age-appropriate judgments about Greeks, were handled by the newspaper “The Age” in 1958:
When France was sighted he brazenly told them it was Spain, and sailed along the coast.
When they asked why he hugged the shore, he told them it was to avoid the chief traffic routes and the consequent danger of being hailed by another ship…
By November 14 he had navigated the Lennie between the Isle of Rhe and the French mainland. In spite of rough seas he brought the ship almost within hailing distance of the short and then calmly ordered the anchor to be let go.
This was carried out promptly enough by the slow-thinking mutineers, but after some ten minutes what intelligence they had started to function, and they swarmed round remanding to know why they were at anchor.
[Von Hoydonck] surveyed them coldly and pointed out that that the coast of Spain (which, of course, was some 250 miles away) was rocky and dangerous, and as they could not risk standing out into the traffic lanes they must anchor here until the heavy sea subsided.
The mutineers were not satisfied with this explanation and angrily threatened to send him after the ship’s officers.
[Von Hoydonck], playing his part superbly, indignantly informed them that as they seemed to have so little faith in his handling of the ship they could sail her themselves. He then went below, slamming the companion door behind him as if in a temper.
Von Hoydonck then had Trousselot write up notices of the mutiny in French, English, and Dutch; these letters were placed in a dozen or more bottles and slipped out a port hole, hopefully to quickly reach shore. Meanwhile, the mutineers decided they really needed that navigationally competent steward and urgently repaired relations with him.
The storm subsided during the night and Von Hoydonck got some sleep. By morning, the mutineers had taken the initiative, and they rounded the Isle of Rhe and traced down the Isle of Oleron toward a lighthouse that — to the geographically confused crew — looked mighty like the Pillars of Hercules.
Unfortunately, it failed to meet the one critical test: the pinch of island and shore lacked the distinctive Rock of Gibraltar.
… and Gibraltar’s distinctive Barbary Apes.
Von Hoydonck offered the lame excuse that, instead of risking the Mediterranean, he had led them to a nearly uninhabited part of the French coast, where they could get off the boat without risk of being found out. Six of the more aggressive members of the mutineers took this bait, so they hopped a life boat and scuttled to shore.
Five mutineers now remained, and none of them was particularly big on the cause. So Von Hoydonck followed up his successful bluff by clambering up the rigging in the dead of night to raise the flag of distress. He then took to the deck with a pair of revolvers and waited for morning.
The bottles had done their job, and the French man-of-war Tirailleur was dispatched immediately when authorities heard of the trouble; her crew quickly spotted the Lennie.
The six who had gone ashore were almost as swiftly rounded up on the mainland.
In all, eight of the 11 on board were put on trial, and only the four implicated directly in the murders of the officers were found guilty* and sentenced to death.
At the time, the Lennie was quite well-known; the actions of Von Hoydonck were celebrated in the local press, and the crown awarded Von Hoydonck 50 pounds for his actions.**
Strangely, the ship’s story has slipped into obscurity,† perhaps because reality in this case sounds like a plot written for 8-year-olds.
* Though the vessel’s occupants had mutinied, the British had the crew extradited under charges of murder. Two of the defendants were released by the technicalities of the extradition treaty.
** Constant von Hoydonck went on to own a pub in Middlesex and was bankrupt by 1892. Henri Trousselot moved to New Zealand, where he and others are memorialized for attending to a double shipwreck in Timaru; he lived to 66.
† The Record of Yarmouth Shipping reports that the Lennie was refitted and carried on to New Orleans with a new crew.