Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Triple Murder at Sea

Well, it seems to be a week for nautical tragedies of one sort or another and today's tale is another sorry story of violence and chaos. It is a tale of adventure and ambition that begins in Scotland and ends in the ocean, with the brutal murder of a family.

George Glas was born in Dundee in 1725 and trained as a ship's surgeon, making numerous voyages in this capacity before he took command of his own vessel. His ship traded between Africa, the Canary Islands and Brazil, and eventually Glas discovered an apparently unexploited river near Senegal that he was sure would be an excellent spot for a trading port. Glas took his idea to the English government and obtained an agreement that he would be given £15000 if he could obtain the port in the name of the king.


Portrait of Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire by Pompeo Batoni, 1766
Portrait of Wills Hill, 1st Marquess of Downshire by Pompeo Batoni, 1766; Hill gave his name to Port Hillsborough

Glas accepted the challenge and, in 1764, set off to secure the port. He took his wife and daughter along on the expedition, intending to settle them in the new settlement that he would establish once negotiations were complete. In fact, Glas' confidence initially appeared to be well-founded and he was able to peacefully negotiate the use of the land.

By the end of the year Glas had founded the small  settlement of Port Hillsborough, named in honour of Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough and President of the Board of Trade and Plantations. However, when Glas undertook a trip to Lanzarote towards the end of the year, he was captured by the Spanish and imprisoned at Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Glas wrote to England requesting assistance, telling the authorities that the Spanish believed that the port should rightfully be theirs. Indeed, as he languished in prison, the Spanish authorities began a campaign to prove their claim.

During Glas' imprisonment, Port Hillsborough was attacked by locals and many members of the settlement killed, though Glas' wife and daughter were able to flee. They made for Tenerife where, following diplomatic efforts, Glas was freed and the family were reunited once more.

With their dreams of life at Port Hillsborough in tatters, the Glas family set off for England aboard the Spanish and Portuguese crewed barque, Earl of Sandwich. As the ship neared Ireland on 30th November 1765, word spread through the crew that the vessel was carrying a fortune in treasure. The sailors mutinied and when Glas left his quarters to investigate what was happening, he was stabbed to death. His wife and child were dragged from their  cabin and thrown overboard to drown as the mutineers scuttled the ship and made off with its cargo.

However, fate had a final twist to play in the tragic story of the Glas family and rather than sinking, the crew less ship drifted on to beach on the Irish coast. The body of George Glas was found on deck where he had fallen and it took little deduction to realise that the sailors who had recently come on shore and were currently getting soundly drunk in a  local alehouse may know something about the crime. The mutineers were swiftly rounded up and confessed to their crime. Within days they were hanged at Dublin, concluding the sorry story of the family Glas.

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