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100 years ago: Mutiny on ship at Salford Docks is Steward’s tale of woe


We came across this rather unusual court case from the pages of the Salford City Reporter of September 1916 which tells an intriguing maritime tale.

It involves a rebellious crew who reportedly made the lives of the Captain and his men – who feared for their lives – a complete and total misery.

While the court case hung on a suspicion of theft by a cook named Daniel Mottley, the real tale told was one of mutiny on the high seas.

Salford's Dock Offices on Trafford Road © Manchester Libraries

Salford’s Dock Offices on Trafford Road © Manchester Libraries

Practically all of the crew on the boat – sadly unnamed – were men from the West Indies and by all accounts they seemed a rum lot.

The jury heard how the eight-month voyage was a hellish one as the amassed crew kept their masters in state of utter fear.

A busy section of Salford Docks with what is possibly Detroit Bridge in action © Manchester Libraries

A busy section of Salford Docks with what is possibly Detroit Bridge in action © Manchester Libraries

This foreign vessel had been commandeered by the Admiralty (now the Royal Navy) in some unknown port – and with no mention of its cargo.

An eight month voyage into Salford Docks would be a serious seafaring ship, possibly from the Caribbean or Australia.

The Chief Steward Benjamin James Howden had the job of keeping the crew under control.

Violence broke out one day when Howden questioned the cook about the sudden disappearance of 35lbs of meat which had been weighed out and given to the kitchen.

Size of ships at Salford Docks © Manchester Libraries

Size of ships at Salford Docks © Manchester Libraries

Mr Mottley obviously didn’t like the accusations being made about him and struck the Chief Steward in the face with a cast iron soup ladle.

As so many of the crew were involved in mutinous activities of one sort or the other, Mr Howden dared not inflict any sort of punishment upon Mr Mottley for fear of the whole crew mutinying and taking over the ship, and no doubt being chucked overboard along with the Captain.

He carried on his tale of woe by telling the Magistrate that his health had been so badly affected by this traumatic sea voyage that he could not rejoin his ship and had been ordered by a doctor to take a long rest.

Mr Mottley earned £11 a month and on the previous day when he was discharged at Salford Docks, he had £80 on him in wages.

He does seem a colourful character, so I would imagine that the money would be burning a hole in his pocket as he looked forward to a pub crawl along Trafford Road and Cross Lane, the ‘Barbary Coast’ as it was then known – and who knows – to meet a lady friend or two for a drink and a chat?

This life was not to be.

The Magistrate sentenced Mr Mottley to two months imprisonment with hard labour and also ordered him to pay the costs of the prosecution.

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Tony Flynn

SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.