The following letter was published in the Manks Mercury & Briscoe's Douglas Advertiser, Douglas, Isle of Man, February 19 and 20, 1793.
The following is a genuine copy of a letter written by an officer who attended the trial and execution of the three unfortunate persons belonging to the Bounty, to his friend in London. If it coincides with the plan of your useful paper, the insertion of it in your next will greatly oblige many of your subscribers, and none more than
Your humble Servant, &c.
"The execution of the three men belonging to the Bounty has been represented in many different points of view. You have undoubtedly seen the account in a variety of shapes: but as all the different accounts vary from the truth, it is but justice that something should be offered in refutation, that public minds may not be abused by erroneous statements, and their judgments misled. In all the accounts exhibited, they are said to have protested their innocence to the last. A more inhuman conclusion could not have been drawn, alike pernicious and untrue: it seems as it intended to promote and spread an opinion of three unhappy men being murdered by chicanery, or under the guise of legal authority. Great murmurs are also carefully breathed, and assiduously promulged, on the pardon of the midshipman and boatswain's mate fraud[?], according to the vulgar notion, money bought their lives; and that the others fell sacrifices to their poverty.
"These prejudices in themselves are far, too far, beneath the notice of common sense, to merit an answer. I shall just, therefore, by way of narrative to you, deliver what I saw and know. The trial being, in my opinion a very interesting discussion of some[?] part of our military arrangements, I made it a principle to attend the Court from the opening of the prosecution to the passing of the sentence. I am therefore, from so unremitted an attendance, quaified to say that, so far from there being the smallest shadow of injustice in the pardon of the two aforementioned, I was equally struck with horror and astonishment on having them included in the sentence of condemnation, as was every on in the Court. Indeed, so very slender were the evidences in favour of the prosecution, that they really did not amount to crimination; and I will be confident, had they suffered, it would have been (from appearances) undeservedly.
"On receipt of the order for eecution, the captains drew lots: the painful task was ours.
"The evening preceding the day of execution, the prisoners, under the charge of the provost-martial, escorted by a guard, came on board. I expected to have seen them emaciated, wan, and half-expiring with the keenness of their afflictions; but, to my astonishment, they tripped up and down the ladders with the most wonderful alacrity, and their countenances, instead of being, (as I expected) the woeful depression of mind, were perfectly calm, serene, and chearful. It really gave me a shock to see them, but a few hours before their solemn exit, in the full possession and vigour of their health and spirits, as in a seeming ignorance of their approaching fate. Herein I was mistaken; as it was nothing less than a calm resignation, acquired by a length of confinement, and habit of study on religiou subjects for some considerable time.
"This ship appears to have abounded with men above the common herd of uninformed illiterates. The boatswains mate, who was pardoned, stood his own counsel, questioned all the evidences, and that in a manner so arranged and pertinent that the spectators waited with impatience for his turn to call on them, and listened with attention and delight during the discussion. Milward, one ot the poor fellows who suffered, was also a man of education and capacity. Early in the preceding night, I heard him read Dodd's Sermon to his fellow prisoners, and in such a manner, that, until I saw Milward in the act I was firmly persuaded one of the chaplains was in performance of his office.
"The gun-room was set a-part for their reception; the ports securely barred in. Skreen upon screen enveloped the sad apartment. Not a ray of light was permitted to obtrude. All was silent, solemn, and gloomy, and put on the sad aspect of misery and affliction. In one corner of this wretched asylum was a small spot, again partitioned off as a cell, to which they were consigned. In this small space they employed their night occasionally in devotion, conversation, and sleep. Through a small opening to their cell, I, unperceived, observed them very minutely, heard their conversation, which was chearful, resigned, and manly. Their faces were the chearful indexes of serene and placid minds. I never saw them she a tear. After ten they reposed themselves in beds, spread for the purpose in the cell, when the provost-martial retired behind the hangings, a circumstance then occurred, which, though shocking in its nature, I cannot help reciting, to show how far habit can inhumanize the heart.
"The provost-martial (whose office is that of a gaoler and hangman) on his quitting the prisoners, came into the more expansive part of the gun-room, among those who from duty or curiosity had assembled; a melancholy groupe of mournful spectators, whose hearts, touched the feelings of humanity, had communicated their impulse to the fruitful river of the eye, that well-known sources of indicating sorrow. This was a sight equally surprising to his eyes as foreign to his heart. He began in the very hearing of the prisoners to marvel, and in the most hardened insensibility, said, "The young one's a hardened dog!" Not content with this instance of obdurate brutality, he pulled a nightcap from his pocket, and exclaimed, "Here is one; I have all three of their caps in my pocket." I resisted the impulse as long as possible; but humanity could endure these attacks no longer. Fearful of his behaviour being carried to greater lengths of brutality, I ordered him out of the gun-room. He obeyed—went to the birth of the searjeant of marines, where the infernal brute sat down to drinking with the most chearful countenance you can possibly imagine. Oh! how I wished for the pen of a Steine!
"At nine o'clock the next morning the fatal gun was fired, and the yellow flag displayed the dreadful summons to claim the attention of all the fleet. Boats from every ship assembled, and, in a short time, the ship was crowded within with officers, and men without with boats manned and armed. Along the shore, and, even afloat in wherries, were men, women, and children, to the amount of thousands, as if, instead of a solemn scene of sorrow, it had been a spectacle of joy. The officers and men were arranged along the deck in columns; the yard ropes streatched along in each man's hand. At eleven, the prisoners were summoned up, and marched, preceded by four clergymen, through the ranks of men along the main deck upon the forecastle, when the eternal separation took place between the one who hung on the tarboard and the two who hung on the larboard, fore yard arms. On the cat-head Milward addressed the ship's company, confessed the errors they had been guilty of, acnowledged the Justice of their sentence, and warned them by his fate to shun similar paths of impropriety: his speech was nervous, strong, and eloquent; and delivered in an open and deliberative manner. After half an hour spent in devotion, during which time Morrison performed the last offices to his departing companions, the gun was fired, and their souls too their flight in a cloud, amid the observations of thousands. They behaved with a manly firmness that would have dignified a superior state, merited a better fate, and was the admiration of all!
"Thus you see the case literally as it stood; unbiased by narrow prejudice, and uninfluenced by professional opinion. You will therefore, decide for yourself. I well know the difference between civil and military opinion, and that discussions in criminal cases will always terminate to the prejudice of the latter; however, you have known my sentiments on martial law, more on that subject will therefore be unnecessary; but unbiassed by either, I will venture my opinion, that, according to the articles by which they were tried, they suffered justly!!"