British Executions

James Colvin

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: mutiny

Date Of Execution: 26 Jul 1749

Crime Location:

Execution Place: Portsmouth

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


Part of the Crew of His Majesty's Ship Chesterfield, shot at Portsmouth, for mutiny, July 14, 1749.

   THE Chesterfield man of war, under the command of Captain O'Brian Dudley, was stationed off Cape-Coast Castle, on the coast of Africa, when a dangerous mutiny broke out among the crew, of whom the above-named officers were the leaders. They were charged with "exciting and encouraging mutiny, and running away with his Majesty's ship Chesterfield, on the 10th day of October, 1748, from the coast of Africa, leaving their captain, two lieutenants, with other officers, and some seamen, on shore."

   Hereupon a court-martial, was held on board his Majesty's ship Invincible, of which Sir Edward Hawke, of glorious memory, was president.

   The first evidence called in support of the prosecution was Mr. Gasterin, the late boatswain of the Chesterfield, who deposed that, on the 15th of October, 1748, Captain Dudley, being then on shore at Cape-Coast Castle, sent off his barge to Mr. Couchman, ordering him to send the cutter on shore, with the boatswain of the ship, to see the tents struck on shore, and to bring every thing belonging to the ship on board that night; but Couchman directly ordered the barge to be hoisted in, and the boatswain to turn all the hands to the quarterdeck, where Mr. Couchman, coming, from his cabin with a drawn sword, said, "Here I am: G--d d--n me, I will stand by you while I have a drop of blood in my body!" He was accompanied by John Morgan, the lieutenant of marines; Thomas Knight, the carpenter; his mate, John Place, (a principal actor); and about 30 seamen with cutlasses. They then gave three huzzas, and threw their hats overboard; damning old hats, they would soon get new.

   Couchman then sent for the boatswain to know if he would stand by him, and go with him; he replied, No; and said, "For God's sake, Sir, be ruled by reason, and consider what you are about." Couchman then threatened to put him in irons if he did not join with him, but the boatswain told him he never would [join] in such piratical designs; he was then ordered into custody, and two sentinels put over him. Couchman soon after sent for Gilham, the mate of the ship, and made the same speech to him, who desired to know where he was bound; and upon what account? He replied, "To take burn, and sink, and settle a colony in the East Indies." There were five or six more put into custody with the boatswain in the same place, and were confined only five or six hours, for, in the middle of the night, after their confinement, Couchman sent for them into the great cabin, and desired them to sit and drink punch, and then dismissed them.

   The next day the boatswain was invited to dinner by the new commander, who began to rail against Captain Dudley, and asked him and one of the mates what they thought of the affair: the boatswain replied, he thought it rank piracy; on which Couchman said, "What I have done I cannot now go from: I was forced to it by the ship's-company." The boatswain then told him "that would be no sanction for his running away with the king's ship." The carpenter and lieutenant then proposed their signing a paper, to which the boatswain replied he never would, and would sooner suffer death: the mate said the same. When the boatswain came out of the great cabin, he went to the gunner's cabin, who was then sick, and unable to come out of it, but was of great use, by his prudent advice and assistance; for, after the boatswain had told him that Couchman's party had taken possession of all the arms, he said that he could furnish him with twenty pistols. By this time Mr. Fraser and Mr. Gilham, mates of the ship, the gunner's mate and yeoman, and the cockswain of the barge, were come to them, when the boatswain communicated his design of recovering the ship that very night. To this they all agreed with the greatest resolution.

   It began then to be very dark, being 10 P.M. when the boatswain went to sound the ship's company, and on the forecastle there were about 30 men: he then in a plain but prudent manner disclosed the secret, and soon convinced them both of the facility and necessity of putting his scheme immediately in practice: accordingly, the first step was to get up all the irons or bilboes on the forecastle; he then sent for the 20 pistols, which were all loaded: he next ordered three men upon the grand magazine, and two to that abaft; and the remainder, who had no pistols, to stay by the bilboes, and secure as many prisoners as he should send. This disposition being made, he went directly down on the deck, where he divided his small company into two parties; and, one going down the main, the other the fore hatchway, they soon secured eleven or twelve of the ringleaders, and sent them up to the forecastle without the least noise. The two parties then joined, and went directly to the great cabin, where they secured Couchman, and the lieutenant of marines, with the carpenter, whom they immediately confined in different parts on board.

   Thus was the ship bravely rescued by the intrepidity and prudence of a few honest men, after she had been about thirty hours in the possession of a poor unhappy man, who appears to have been utterly unfit for so daring an enterprise, and in his unfortunate condition very penitent.

   The boatswain (Roger Winket) was afterwards rewarded with three hundred pounds a year, as master-attendant of Woolwich yard.

   John Place was charged with being very active in the mutiny. The gunner deposed that the said Place came to him as he lay sick in his cabin, with a drawn cutlass and a cocked pistol, and swore that he would murder him if he did not deliver to him the key of the magazine. He made no defence, but submitted to the mercy of the court.

   John Place, after sentence, wrote letters of religious exhortation to his brothers in affliction. His letter to Mr. Couchman upbraids him with having been the murderer of those who were condemned with him, by first seducing them from their duty -- exhorts him not to attempt to screen himself by imputing his guilt to others -- and concludes, "I freely forgive you, though you are the cause of my death, as you know full well: and I would have you act with a becoming resignation to the will of God; and not, by mean hopes of life, lose an opportunity to secure a blessed eternity. -- Despise life (as I do, with God's assistance), and die like a man."


"You will die like a villain ! -- S..Couchman."

   The Court found the following guilty, who were executed in manner hereafter mentioned: --

On the 14th of July,
Samuel Couchman, first lieutenant of marines,

July 14,
John Morgan, second lieutenant of marines;

July 24,
Thomas Knight, carpenter.
John Place, carpenter's mate.
John Meeks, seaman.
William Anderson, seaman.
John Reed, quarter-master.
Thomas Scott, seaman.

   Captain Dudley was tried for "neglect of duty, in keeping a number of his officers on shore, at Cape-Coast Castle, when the ship was seized," and acquitted.

   Others of the ship's company, also tried for mutiny, were acquitted.

   On the 26th of June, 1749, James Colvin, late boatswain's mate on board the Richmond man of war, was hanged at Portsmouth, for mutiny.