Caroline Affair

Reading Robert Bothwell’s Your Country, My Country, I was interested to learn about the Republic of Canada and the SS Caroline, historical details that had previously escaped me. In 1837, Upper Canada (that is, present-day Ontario) was rocked by a rebellion, led by William Lyon Mackenzie and directed against the so-called Family Compact that ran the place. Upper Canada had been set up in conservative reaction to the United States, and so had an established church and a government that was not actually responsible to its people. One did not need to be American to object to this situation, thus Mackenzie’s rebellion; it was unsuccessful, but an inquiry by Lord Durham recommended certain changes to the political situation to forestall future incidents, among them the union of Upper and Lower Canada into a single entity.

(When I first learned about this in grade eight, at my public junior high school, it was pretty clear that Mackenzie was supposed to be the good guy. What a surprise the next year when, playing sports for my private high school against Upper Canada College, I discovered a monument to its cadet corps, which had valiantly helped to defeat the rebels in the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern. This was one of the many signs that I was now living in a different world.)

Mackenzie, defeated in Toronto, retreated with his men to Navy Island in the Niagara River where they proclaimed an independent “Republic of Canada” and where they were supplied from the American side by sympathizers who sent money, food, and arms to them on the steamboat Caroline. On December 29, 1837, however, Col. Allan MacNab (who was later the premier of the united province of Canada) led a party of militia across the international boundary, seized the Caroline, chased off its crew, set it on fire, and sent it over Niagara Falls! From Wikipedia, here is a depiction of the event by George Tattersall:

Destruction_of_the_Caroline

This was an international incident. President Martin Van Buren protested strongly to London, and in retaliation the next year a group captured and burned the British steamer Sir Robert Peel while in U.S. waters. But the Caroline incident has had a lasting influence: it has been invoked many times since in the justification of “anticipatory self-defense” a.k.a. the preemptive strike, like the one that the United States launched against Iraq in 2003.

Mary Celeste

From History Today:

***

The Mary Celeste: ‘A curiosity that has never been satisfied’

The true story behind the much-mythologised ship and its vanished crew.

In 1884, the ‘phenomenally successful’ literary journal Cornhill Magazine published, anonymously, J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement. Purporting to ‘subjoin a few extracts’ from an article that appeared in the Gibraltar Gazette, it began:

In the month of December in the year 1873, the British ship Dei Gratia steered into Gibraltar, having in tow the derelict brigantine Marie Celeste, which had been picked up in latitude 38 degrees 40′, longitude 17 degrees 15′ W. There were several circumstances in connection with the condition and appearance of this abandoned vessel which excited considerable comment at the time, and aroused a curiosity which has never been satisfied.

The Gibraltar Gazette is fictional, Marie a variation on Mary, and the discovery takes place a year late, but otherwise, the above represents a fairly accurate summary of fact: on December 4th, 1872 a small cargo ship carrying 1700 barrels of alcohol bound for Genoa from New York was found by the Dei Gratia adrift in the Atlantic ocean. As is now well known, the Mary Celeste was completely abandoned. Speculation as to what happened to its crew has been a renewable source of debate ever since.

From hereon in, however Jephson’s statement on the fate of the ship and its crew enters the realm of fiction and, arguably, has stayed there ever since. It was the first work to be published in a major publication by Arthur Conan Doyle, most famous as creator of Sherlock Holmes and victim of the Cottingley Fairies hoax. Most writers could only dream of creating such an legacy with their first notable work. Conan Doyle’s sensational solution to the mystery (the culprit is a mutilated stowaway on a cutthroat jihad against all white men) captured public attention to such an extent that the British and American governments were prompted to respond with formal denials and official investigations. In something approaching a self-fullfilling prophecy, the Statement created an interest in the Mary Celeste that has endured, unsatisfied, for well over 100 years becoming a genre in its own right.

***

More at the link. Or perhaps not: see the Wikipedia article for more information, including the detail that Dei Gratia was not British, but Canadian.

Henry V’s Holigost

I am trying to cut down on announcing archaeological discoveries (they’re not really “history,” eh?), but I can’t help but to share this one, in this 600th year of Agincourt:

Holigost, the warship that took Henry V’s fight to the French, discovered buried in mud after 600 years

Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph | October 13, 2015

The wreck of Henry V’s warship the Holigost, lost for hundreds of years, has been found deep in the mud of a Hampshire river.

The flagship of the Duke of Bedford was the second of four “great ships” built for Henry’s campaign against the French in the Hundred Years War, and joined the fleet a month after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Signs of its buried remains were spotted by the historian Ian Friel while studying aerial pictures of a medieval breaker’s yard at Bursledon on the Hamble, where Henry’s flagship, the Grace Dieu, had been found in the 1930s.

A subsequent search through records from the time revealed that the Holigost had indeed been laid up at the site.

Now Historic England, formerly English Heritage, is to launch a detailed archaeological investigation of the warship, which played a crucial role in two battles that broke French naval power and enabled Henry to conquer France in the early 15th century. Over the next few years, archaeologists will use sonar, remote-sensing, drone technology and dendrochronology — the study of tree rings — to learn all they can about the vessel.

“I am utterly delighted that Historic England is assessing the site for protection and undertaking further study,” Dr Friel said. “Further research leading to the rediscovery of the Holigost would be even more important than the identification of the Grace Dieu in the 1930s.

“The Holigost fought in two of the most significant naval battles of the Hundred Years War, battles that opened the way for the English conquest of northern France.”

The Holigost joined the royal fleet on November 17, 1415 and took part in operations between 1416 and 1420.

It served as the flagship of the Duke of Bedford at the battle of Harfleur in 1416, suffering serious damage, and was in the thick of the fighting off the Chef de Caux in 1417. It was also used in missions led by the earls of Devon and Dorset. It had been rebuilt from a large Spanish ship called the Santa Clara that was captured in late 1413 or early 1414, then acquired by the English Crown. The name of the ship is derived from Henry V’s personal devotion to the Holy Trinity.

More at the link.