SMH MONDAY 10th May 1858
COMMENT ON THE BOARD’S REPORT AND REPLY TO DR. ROWLAND’S LETTER IN VINDICATION OF HIS BEHAVIOUR
THE EMIGRANT SHIP STEBONHEATH.
The official report of the Immigration Board with reference to the Stebonheath has been at length printed. Some few additional facts are brought to
light, but nothing to alter the judgment on the case which we have previously expressed in this journal.
It appears from this report that it was not entirely in consequence of the death of Ann Cox that enquiry was made into the circumstances of the voyage, though the statements made on the occasion of the inquest were the means of directing general attention to the ship, and giving rise to a publicity as to the facts of the case, which would not otherwise have been obtained. On the first official visit to the ship, two com- plaints were made, one by a man who had been roughly handled by the surgeon, and another by a constable who had been turned off on insufficient grounds. The surgeon also volunteered the statement that he had imprisoned and handcuffed two girls, and made grave charges against the master and officers, and of insubordination' against some of the single women. A written charge was also preferred against himself for cruelty to the two girls who were locked up. These charges alone would have led to some inquiry, but the grosser irregularities might have remained un- known but for the unexpected death of Ann Cox. The statements made at the inquest, especially those made by the matron, startled the public, yet, if true, they ought all to have been reported to the Board on the ship's arrival in port, and not to have been left to be drawn forth by an accidental occurrence. This silence on the part of those whose duty it was to have spoken out is strongly reprehended in the report, and is a fact that must have a very undesirable effect on the public mind, as it raises the suspicion that perhaps in many other cases irregularities have occurred respecting which an unfaithful silence has been preserved.
The majority of the immigrants by the Stebonheath were brought out under the Remittance Regulations, and came to join their friends. No complaint is made of their character, and, so far as the Board's knowledge goes, they are all respectable. But amongst the single women there were a hundred put on board by the Emigration Commissioners. Of these the larger portion were well-conducted, and it has been their misfortune that by being mixed up with others of a different character, their fair fame has been unjustly tarnished. It appears, however, that all the immigrants by this ship have either joined their friends or obtained situations, and the respectable portion will, therefore, be able by their conduct on shore to destroy the effect of any unfavourable association of their names with the Stebonheath. The report affirms that some few of the girls selected by the commissioners were so ill-disposed that but for the vigorous rule of the surgeon and the matron very disastrous results might have accrued ; and credit is given to those officials for keeping order as well as they did.
No charge of impropriety is brought against the captain, but he is proved to have shown a want of firmness. A good-tempered easy man, he wanted the vigour and determination to keep in order an unruly and mutinous crew - a fatal defect in men placed in authority in unquiet times. He pays for it by the forfeit of his gratuity. The second mate parted with his authority over the crew by stooping from his proper position to mix with needless familiarity with them, and had no power, even if he had the will, to check insults offered to the matron. The third mate is proved to have been guilty of the grossest impropriety, and it is to be regretted that no severer punishment than the mere loss of his trifling gratuity can be inflicted on him. The first mate alone of the ship's officers did his duty, and his doing it made him so ob- noxious to the crew that for self-preservation he was forced to carry a pistol on his person. It is a pity that the rules of the service will not admit of his receiving some extra acknowledgment. But, beyond a paragraph of praise, he obtains no further reward than if, not having been subjected to special temptation, he had exhibited no special virtue in resisting it.
The general conduct of the surgeon is not stated to have been unobjectionable ; he had, however, previously made six voyages without any fault being found with his management. But it is clear that on, at least, three occasions, he exhibited himself before the emigrants in a state of intoxication ; that in the cases of Mrs. Macdonnell and Ann Cox, he was deficient in professional attention, and that his severity to the girls hand- cuffed was entirely unwarranted, and a gross abuse of power. It is due to the two girls whose names have been so prominently brought before the public to say that they are not included amongst those charged with gross improprieties. The "head and front of their offending" was disobedience to orders and contumacy. The surgeon is not only adjudged to lose his gratuity and return allowance, but he is reported to the Com- missioners as unfit to be employed again in the service. He has avoided any direct penalty for the crime of assault by absconding.
The Board do not find the matron guilty of using improper expressions to the girls, and they commend her conduct as in many respects exemplary under very trying circumstances. But they rightly hold her to be utterly inexcusable in not protesting against the cruelty to the handcuffed girls, and though they re- commend the payment of her gratuity and an allowance for a return passage to England, they advise that she should not be placed in charge of emigrants again.
The married immigrants are cleared from the charge of directly aiding the communications between the sailors and the single women, but it is shown that they failed to report and prevent it. The sailors, it appears, frequently came to their compartment to talk to the girls through the louvre. This could not have been done without the knowledge of many of the married people. The board partly excuse their want of remonstrance on the ground that it would have been unpleasant for them to have been brought into collision with a violent crew, but they recommend that the constables and schoolmaster, who, as persons placed in authority, were bound to have done their duty, however disagree- able it might have been, should be deprived of their gratuities.
A charge was made against the owners by the surgeon, of a deficiency of medical comforts. But it having been proved that the ship was amply supplied on leaving Plymouth, and that an agent was despatched to Pauillac to put on board additional supplies, the Board do not recommend the infliction of any fine.
[Since the publication of the report, the surgeon of the Stebonheath has again turned up, although supposed by the Solicitor-General to have "made away with himself." He has, moreover, attempted to vindicate his conduct through our columns.]
Mr. Rowland, we must confess, has not much improved his position before the public by the long letter he has addressed to us. His sudden disappearance when he was summoned to answer the charge of assault, naturally induced every one to suppose that he was conscious of his guilt, and wished to avoid punishment. His professed reasons for running away are without force. He justifies his conduct towards the handcuffed girls, and alleges that his treatment of them was absolutely necessary to preserve the ship from becoming a scene of disorder and disease ; and that therefore, so far from being wanton cruelty, it was a real kindness to them and to the whole ship's company. But if these allegations are true, what had he to fear from a charge of assault ? If his conduct was justifiable, why should he shrink from an enquiry? If his accusers were disposed to be hard upon him, magistrates and judges would not be. Our courts are impartial. He had but to show that in no respect had he abused his authority, and he would receive a triumphant vindication. He would be put to no ruinous legal expense, while he would be- come entitled to his gratuity. But he has absented himself, precisely at the time when it was most necessary for his credit that he should have been present. The enquiry by the Immigration Board has terminated, and judgment has gone against him by default. If however, he has been unfairly accused-if, in con- sequence of his absence, his own exculpatory evidence has not been allowed to modify the public judgment, he will still have opportunity to set himself right. We presume that his re-appearance in town will be the signal for the restoration of those actions that were abruptly stopped by his absence : and that the Solicitor-General, who pathetically bewailed his departure, will, now that his whereabouts is once more known, favour him with a call.