When you receive this letter, we will be underway to Marseille where we will rendezvous with the Leaping Hart, Lord Hamilton’s schooner. Our journey could very well have ended when we reached Gibraltar and everyone sent home. We had an incident that shook the morale of the entire ship’s company.
When I last wrote you, the crew had made remarkable strides in learning their tasks. As the ship settled into routine, things began to go missing. Little things like buttons from uniforms, a salt shaker from the galley, a single card from a deck of cards, things to which one wouldn’t pay much attention. Even I was affected, after an afternoon exercise, I was missing a single rifle cartridge from the firing line. Mr. MacMillan, our master-at-arms, said I must have miscounted. I assured him I had not. Then he surmised that one of the crew may have dropped it and it had fallen over the side of the ship. That did not seem possible, but the fact was I could not account for the cartridge.
I was standing watch when Seaman Thomas, Violet Thomas, came to me to report a missing locket. She described a white enameled heart-shaped locket on a gold chain with a violet or purple letter “Vee”. The ship’s girl, Jill St. James, standing next to me said “I’ve seen a locket like that. Are you playing the game?” We have four ship’s girls, all age thirteen. Jill is a sweet girl, but naive in a lot of respects. She is from St. James’ Orphanage, hence the source of her surname. I quizzed Jill about the locket. She said that she had seen Daphne with it and that Daphne had said it was part of a game. “I like games,” she said, “but Daphne said I couldn’t play.” I asked her who was Daphne, but Jill didn’t know her last name. However, Seaman Thomas said that she must mean Daphne Hawkes. So I told Jill to go fetch Chief Tuttle and bring her to the quarterdeck.
When Jill returned with Chief Emma Tuttle, I explained the situation to Chief Tuttle and she shook her head in dismay. She had been the housekeeper for Lady Chatham before joining our crew and said that she had seen the same behavior among scullery maids. I turned my watch over to my male counterpart, Lt. Smythe, and with Chief Tuttle and Seaman Thomas in tow, I set out to find Seaman Hawkes.
Along the way, I encountered Seaman Cynthia Daniels and ordered her to join us. It wasThursday afternoon, the time when the crew was allowed time to mend and launder their clothing. We found Miss Hawkes on the forecastle. She was surprised to see us, but after I told her that we needed to ask her a few questions and to inspect her locker, she immediately began to blush. We went below to the crew’s compartment and as Miss Hawkes unlocked her locker she began crying. “I didn’t mean to.” she said between sobs. The contents of her locker not only revealed the stolen locket, but other stolen items as well, including a tin of peaches from the galley. Chief Tuttle and I gathered up the stolen items. I placed Seaman Hawkes under arrest and she was taken to the brig.
That evening, I was summoned to the wardroom along with Lt. Powell and Lt. Greta “Hildee” Hildebrandt. The captain looked even more dour than usual. It was obvious this was not going to be a pleasant meeting. “Petty thievery.” he bellowed. “the bane of every crew that has ever sailed. If she had stolen just from her mates, we could’ve just returned the property and let them work it out among themselves. But that confounded tin of peaches means she stole from the ship. Do you know what that means, Miss Powell?”
“No, sir.” Jane replied.
“You don’t?” he bellowed again. “By the look on Miss Matthews’ face, she knows. Tell us, Miss Matthews, what does it mean to steal from the ship?”
“It’s a flogging offense, sir.” I stammered.
“A flogging offense.” he repeated. “One of the conditions everyone agreed to was that there would be no special treatment for women. Women would be governed by the same regulations as men. It’s what you wanted, to be equal. And now we have a flogging offense.”
“Terrible thing, a flogging.” the Captain continued. “Makes a good sailor bad and a bad sailor worse. It’s bad for the morale of the crew, if you ask me. But it is the law.” He looked up at us and appeared to be studying us closely. Finally, he said “Miss Matthews, the Pinafore doesn’t rate any marines. So in lieu of that, I’m making you my acting Captain of Marines. Discipline on this ship is now your responsibility. Punishment in two days, I want you to get to the bottom of this and do what you can to salvage my crew.”
“Yes, sir.” I replied and then we were dismissed. Over the next two days I asked questions of the crew trying to find some circumstance that could avert the need for flogging Seaman Hawkes. Punishment for theft meant that the prisoner would receive six lashes, walk a gauntlet of the crew receiving a lash from each crewman in the gauntlet, and then given a further six lashes. Unless I could find a circumstance or provision in the regulations, Miss Hawkes would receive seventy-two lashes. No one would talk. I managed to discover that several members of the crew were playing a type of game where they were stealing things for the thrill of it, and that they were escalating the game to the point where whoever stole the most audacious items would win. I never found out who the other thieves were.
On the day of punishment, the ship was very quiet. At the appointed time, the ship’s girl, Jill, put bugle to her lips and blew “Defaulters’ Call”. (I’ve yet to understand why the seasoned sailors call this the “Angel’s Whisper.” ) The crew quietly assembled with officers to one side and enlisted to the other. The disciplinary party emerged from below and approached me. They halted with Miss Hawkes directly in front of me. The ship’s bell was rung to bring everyone to attention. The crew removed all hats and covers as I began reading the Articles of War concerning theft aboard Her Majesty’s ships. Members of the crew began to sob and groan as I reached the end. I asked Miss Hawkes if she had anything to say before commencing punishment. Tears flooded her eyes, but she did not cry out. She merely shook her head “no”.
My heart was so heavy, it was very hard to give the order. Someone in the crew blurted out “Have mercy!” I gave the order to commence punishment. Chief Tuttle removed Miss Hawkes’ blouse. There were gasps of disbelief and some cried “please, no”. Seeing Miss Hawkes stripped naked from the waist up made me feel as though I was staring into the nakedness of my own dark soul. The Master-at-Arms, Mr. MacMillan tied Miss Hawkes to a grate stood on end for this purpose. He tied her wrists high above her head so that she was standing on tiptoe. This caused her to fully extend her back. Boatswain’s Mate Jean Hodges stepped forward. I gave the order “Boatswain’s mate, do your duty.” I felt ashamed.
With the crack of the first lash, there were screams of anguish from the crew. Miss Hawkes began crying. The second lash bit into her flesh and one of the male officers shouted “Come on, girl. Put your back into it.” meaning the mate should strike harder. Immediately, the Captain shouted “Belay that!” The boatswain’s mate looked at the Captain and he said “Lighter, if you please.” I knew then that the Captain truly did not want to see anyone flogged, so I took a chance.
After the fourth lash, I came to attention and shouted “Sir!” The boatswain’s mate halted and the Captain acknowledged me. “Lieutenant Matthews, what have you to say?”
I said “Sir, punishment has been fulfilled.”
“Fulfilled?” he asked. “Do you say this for the sake of the health of the prisoner, or on behalf of the crew?”
“Neither, sir. Punishment has been fulfilled for the sake of the ship and all who will ever sail within her.”
He said “And by what authority do you declare punishment to have been fulfilled?”
Remembering what he had said to me a few days earlier, I played my gamble, I said “By my authority as Captain of Marines, sir!”
Papa, he almost smiled. Then he said “Very well, Miss Matthews. Release the prisoner, secure the detail and dismiss the crew.”
“Aye, sir!” I responded. Mr. MacMillan immediately cut Seaman Hawkes down. She collapsed into the arms of Chief Tuttle and Miss Hodges. The ship’s surgeon, Dr. Smollett was quickly at her side. They wasted no time in taking her below.
I turned to the crew and said “Today you have witnessed a terrible deed to uphold the laws that govern us at sea. This is a ship, not the kitchen or scullery where petty theft is met with a cuff about the ears or a dismissal from a position. This ship is our lifeline at sea and in hostile lands. When you steal from your mate or from the ship, you are stealing a part of the lives of all of us. Those remaining among you who took part in this game of thievery have until dawn to return all stolen items to the galley. If you pinched so much as a piece of twine, it had better be in the galley at dawn. Crew, dismissed.”
Early the next morning an excited Lt. Hildebrandt woke me up. Her watch had ended and she couldn’t wait to have a peek into the galley. I quickly dressed and we dashed to the galley. Papa, you wouldn’t believe the pile of loot we found. There were buttons of assorted sizes and colors, ribbons, playing cards, a penny whistle, tins of fruit, a jar of marmalade, pieces of twine, sewing needles, various pins, torn pages from a book, lockets, rings, combs, brushes, a knight from a chess set, and, to my amusement, a rifle cartridge.
The ship slowly returned to normal. I visited Miss Hawkes in sickbay. She was so thankful that I was able to halt the flogging. I told her that she shouldn’t thank me, but to save her gratitude for the Captain. Dr. Smollett said that she would make full recovery and there would be very little scarring. By the time Seaman Hawkes returned to duty, we had finished our training or “shake down” cruise and had set course up the coast of Africa for Gibraltar.
The crew was excited when we entered the straits. It is a sight one never forgets with Africa on the starboard side and the Rock of Gibraltar off the port side. The great rock sat like a silent judge of all who passed by. Indeed Gibraltar would be the place of our evaluation as a crew and we would be judged either worthy to continue our voyage or we would all be sent home. The Captain’s report and the ship’s logs were scrutinized in every detail. The Pinafore and her crew were inspected from tip to stern.
The final inspection took place dockside where I put a firing platoon through close order rifle drill for Admiral Sir Rodney Eddington. As you know, father, at the end of all such drills, the senior officer inspects the troops. Sir Rodney casually passed through the ranks. He came to a stop directly in front of Seaman Hawkes. I was taken completely by surprise. “How did he know she was the one punished?” I thought to myself. I wondered if someone had pointed her out. He took her rifle and while looking down at it, asked “What is your name, sailor?”
“Seaman Daphne Hawkes, sir.” she responded.
“And how are they treating you, lass?” he asked still looking down at her rifle.
“Better than I deserve, sir.” she answered.
Her answer caused him to jerk his head up. “Better than you deserve?” he repeated. “By George, I’ve never heard that before.” He handed the rifle back to her and continued his stroll down the ranks. “An excellent platoon you have here, Lieutenant.” he remarked. At the end of the inspection he tipped his hat and said “Well done, ladies, well done.”
The next day we received four delightful surprises. First, we would be able to continue our voyage. Second, none of the crew asked to go home. Third, the extra male officers who had been our opposites were being reassigned to other ships. This meant that instead of sharing a cabin with eight officers, we now could spread out to four officers per cabin. The fourth surprise was especially delightful. Sir Rodney had ordered our old Martini-Henry Mark II rifles replaced with the new Martini-Henry Mark IV’s.
Well, Papa, they’ve sounded “lights out”, so I must put pen and paper aside. I will post this letter tomorrow morning as we set sail on the afternoon tide.
Your loving daughter,