Crime and Punishment at Sea

Thursday 5 August 2010

A new exhibition exploring a dark chapter in Aberdeen's maritime past has opened at the Tolbooth Museum.

Crime and Punishment at Sea explores different aspects of seafaring law and order, and the retribution criminals received for a range of crimes, including piracy.

The exhibition includes very rare and unique documents from Aberdeen City Archives which tell stories of Aberdonians convicted of piracy and others who were victims of piracy.

It includes:
•An extract from the Dean of Guild Accounts about the cost of hanging pirates, which details the costs for executing four Aberdonian pirates in 1597. They had, along with seven others who escaped, been arrested for pirating a Danish ship off Burntisland. The ship was driven ashore at Cromarty where the crew was arrested and passed by subsequent Sheriffs all the way back to Aberdeen. Having been tried they were hanged on a specially constructed gallows at Pocra Quay, near Footdee, within sight of the sea. All the legal costs came in excess of £40 but the smallest payment in their trial and execution was £1 6s 8d to the hangman for performing the execution;
•Details of the drama onboard the clipper ship Rifleman in March 1873 when the captain was beaten to death in his sleep by the ship's steward, while en-route to Sydney. First mate, Stonehaven man George Morgan, was lured into the captain's cabin and attacked, but overpowered the steward as the criminal tried to shoot him. The killer was kept tied up in the wheelhouse and the captain's body kept in a barrel of spirits while Morgan mastered the ship to Sydney, where the captain's body was buried and the murderer hanged.
•The gold pocket watch presented to George Morgan by the Rifleman's owners in 1873, for his heroic deeds.

Aberdeen City Council Museums and Galleries historian Chris Croly said: "Piracy is a fascinating subject and Aberdeen's history is intimately bound up with it.

"This exhibition is a great way to learn about some aspects of this. Many people were forced into piracy through sheer, harsh and grinding economic circumstances, whilst others lost their fortunes made on the high seas to opportunist pirates.'

The exhibition runs until Sunday 12 September.