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Issue 8 - Murdermosthorrid

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 8
May 2003

 

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Murdermosthorrid

LOUISENICOLSONREVEALSTHEGORYGOINGS-ONABOARDTHERIFLEMANONHERVOYAGETOAUSTRALIAIN1873

March16th1873,4.30am,middlewatch.GeorgeMorgan,chiefofficer,walksbrisklyalongthewoodendeck.SomethingiswrongaboardtheRifleman.Thehelmsmansaysthatmostofthecrewwereviolentlysickduringthenight.Puzzling.

“Sir,thecaptainneedstoseeyou,”saysthenewsteward,WilliamKrauss.Quicklydraininghiscoffee,Morganstridestothecaptain’scabin,“Doyouwantmesir?”

InsteadofCaptainLongmuir’sreply,Morganreceivesaviciousthudtothelefttemple.Turning,stunned,MorganseesKraussdeliverthesecondblowwitha5lb-ironbolti.Heisstruckwithsuchforcethatthewoodenbeamabovehisheadisscarred.Despitehisworldspinning,Morgangrabshisattacker,thrustshimagainsttheCaptain’sbedandcallsfranticallyforboatswainJohnNichols.Astruggleofhands,andagunispulledfromKrauss’pocket.Nicholsfallswithabulletlodgedinhisneck.AsecondshotmissesMorgan’sheadandburrowsdeepinsideawoodenbeam.SecondofficerNewtonhurriesin,andafterasweatywrestle,Kraussisdisarmed.“WhathaveyoudonetotheCaptain?”Silence.MorganordersNewtontolifttheCaptain’scounterpane.Bedding,mattressandbertharesaturatedwithred.TheCaptain’swarmbodyiscoveredinbloodfromadeepcleancutonhisrighttempleandathinlengthofloglineknotswoundtwiceroundhisneck.Newtonquicklycutsthedeadmanfree.Morganburstsout,“Youscoundrel,youhavekilledthecaptain!”

"Itwasn’tme!”ButKrausshasnoanswerforthesecondpistol,dagger,knifeand24cartridgesfoundburiedinhisclothingandfivelengthsoflinehiddeninhiscabin.Kraussissecuredinthedeckhouse,whileashakenGeorgeMorgantakescommandoftheRifleman.Hisfriend,CaptainJamesLongmuir,whoseobituarydescribes“amanofsuperiorintelligenceandattainments,abrave,robust,andskillfulseaman”ii,isbelowdeck,preservedinacaskofScotchspirits.Allflagsarerespectfullyloweredtohalf-mastasthegrievingshipsailsontoSydney.

Thisaccountofmurderatseawaspiecedtogetherusingswornwitnessstatementsfromtheship’slogandtranscriptsofthetrialatSydneyCentralCriminalCourt.TheRifleman’svoyagewassupposedtobearoutineaffair.

BuiltbyWilliamDuthieEsq.ofAberdeenandcrewedbyScotsfromthenortheastofthatcountry,theRiflemansailedfromAberdeentoLondon,thencetoSydney,Australia.Aboard,itcarriedvaluablemixedfreightandasmatteringofpassengers.LeavingLondonon27thJanuary1873,herlogbookrecordsKraussunderthenameof“JahnSchelee”iii.Later,itbecameclearthathehadmanyaliases:JuliusProuts,WilhelmKrauss,WilliamCross.Thenewstewardcamewithoutreferences,chosenatthelastminuteinplaceoftheCaptain’sfavourite.Krausswasintheperfectpositiontoexecutehisplan.Hegavethecrewpoisonedlimejuice,grogandbread,causingwidespreadsicknessanddrowsiness.
ThenhecreptintoCaptainLongmuir’scabin…Withtheship’slogandMorgan’stestimonyasevidence,theAustralianlegalsystemswungintoaction.InsanitybecameKrauss’onlydefence.MrDalley,assignedbytheSydneycourtforthedefence,appealedtodoctorstocomeforward“intheinterestsofhumanityandjustice”toexamineKrauss’claim.Inaclimateofpresshysteria,MrDalley’srequesttothemedicalestablishmentwasmockedandmisinterpretedbynewspaperEmpire;

Itisdesiredtoproveanallegedmurdererinsaneandforsonobleandinterestinganobjectwefeelsurethateverymedicalmanwhovaluestheimportanceofhisprofessionandhisownreputationwillbehappytoexerthimselftotheutmost.Therewillbenofeestobesure;butwhatarefeestomenoffeeling,anxiousonlyfortheexplosionofvulgarerrorandthetriumphofscience?

Thepaperwasfinedforcheek,andapleaofinsanitywasdismissedbySydneyCentralCriminalCourt.Krausswaschargedwith‘willfulmurder’;

Carefullyconsideringallthemeritsofthecase,thejurywereoftheopinionthat[Krauss’]insanitywasnotproved…Inonesense,everymanwhocommitsacrimeismad.Ifheweretocalmlyconsiderallthatmustfollowasthenaturalconsequencesofhisact,weshouldnothearofpassion,greedandrevengetriumphingsofrightfullyovereverymoralfeeling–atleastsofarascrimesofthismagnitudeareconcerned.Buttheworldisfullofmadmenofthiskind,whowouldbegladtoseekimmunityfrompunishment,butwhomustnotbeencouragedtohopeforsuch.

Threeyearsbeforetheinventionofthetelephone,accuratenewsaboutthemurder,motiveandsuspectstookweekstoarriveinScotland.Thenewspapersimprovised;

ThatthewretchKraussfailedintheaccomplishmentofhisinfamousdesignisprobablydueonlytoaccidentorwantofskill.Thepoisonadministeredtothecrewfailedtoproduceitsintendedeffect,orwasarrestedbytimelyantidotes;andtheknifewhichwasintendedtodestroytheofficersoftheshipatonefellswoop,dealtadeadlystabonlyinthecaseofthecaptain.

NewspaperswhisperedaboutKrauss’ambitiousdesiretoseizetheRifleman,sailtoBrazil,plunderherrichesandabandonher.Thecrew,hypedupbysurvivingthepoisonedgrog,fuelledrumoursthatthemurderwasrevengeforthecaptain’svigorouscriticismofKrauss’cleanliness.Morgan’slevelheadedwitnessstatementdismissedsuchspeculation.Hesaidthathe“hadnoreasontosuspectfromanythingthestewardsaidordidthathehadanyill-feelingtowardstheCaptain”v.Krauss’motivefollowedhimbeyondthegallows.Onthescaffold,Kraussclaimed,onelasttime,thatherememberednothingofthemurder,before“hisfortitudegavewayasecondortwobeforethedrop”vi.Amessyendtoascandalatsea.

CaptainLongmuirwasburiedinAustralia,leavingagrievingwidowandfamilyofsix,ofwhichtwosonsfollowedtheirfather’sseafaringexample.ReveredforhisbraveryaboardtheRifleman,Morganwasawardedahandsomegoldwatch.

OnhisreturnfromtheRiflemanvoyage,CaptainLongmuirwastoreceivecommandoftheAnnDuthieship.Instead,commandofAnnDuthiepassedtoGeorgeMorganonhispromotiontocaptain,asasombretributetoataleoftwofriends.