Captain Jane and his Cabin Boy

30 April 1726   On a Sessions of Admiralty on Monday last, a barbarous villain, who is called Captain Jane, Master of a Merchant Ship belong to Bristol, was condemn’d for the murder of his cabbin-boy, on pretence of his stealing a little rum and sugar. His cruelty was exercised upon the poor creature for the whole voyage, whipping him every day, and pickling him with brine; for nine days and nights he ty’d him to the mast, with his arms and legs at full stretch, and fed him with bread and excrements; and when expiring, the lad making a motion for liquor, he gave him urine to drink, which he rejected, and dy’d. We hear interest is making for saving his life; but the Dead Warrant is come for his execution on Friday next. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

14 May 1726   Yesterday Captain Jeane was hang’d at Execution-Dock, for the barbarous murther of his cabbin-boy, and was afterwards hang’d in chains on the river-side, over against Cuckold’s Point. When the time of his suffering this deserved death drew nigh, he often fell into such violent fits in Newgate, that ’twas thought he would have died there. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

21 May 1726   Yesterday 7-night one William Woodward, a lad of about 13 Years of Age, apprentice to a Whipmaker near the Faulcon Inn, Southwark, having purposed to go and see Captain Jayne hang’d that day at Execution Dock, try’d in the mean time a fatal experiment upon himself, by twisting his master’s sash about his neck, and tying it to an hook in the wall of the garret; ’tis thought he design’d it in jest, but it prov’d hanging in earnest, for before he was found out the unhappy youth was quite dead. The Coroner’s Jury having sate upon the body brought in their verdict Accidental Death. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

28 May 1726
AS your paper aims at exposing the follies of the town, and little ridiculous passions of men, it is to be hop’d, that your labours are not entirely lost, but that those who are sensible of shame, have received some instruction, and have mended those faults you have thought fit to censure.

If one in a hundred has been made wiser and better, you are richly rewarded for the publick spirit you have shewn: As for the gross of mankind, they always were, and always will be incorrigible; the spirit of God, which cannot err, has declar’d, that the fool, tho’ bray’d in a mortar, will not leave his folly; and our own experience convinces us, that tho’ the pulpit has told mankind their faults these seventeen hundred years, the world is as wicked as ever. This ill success is no argument against preaching; if one in a whole congregation is touch’d, the parson has made a very profitable sermon. So if three or four in the multitude who read your paper are reform’d thereby, I hope, the satisfaction you take in doing so much good will be its own rewards, if you received no other advantage. It being an equal, if not a greater charity to cure the distempers of the mind, that to build hospitals to heal the sores and ailments of the body.

If it is thus meritorious to chastise little follies, how much more do flagrant and enormous crimes demand a louder, a more solemn and severer censure: The late unprecedented barbarity acted upon a poor cabin boy has justly rais’d our horror, and must fill every breast with a sensible indignation, to think that the dignity of human nature could so degenerate into somewhat worse than a brute, no species of which ever falls foul on his own kind, especially delights to torment it.

The late scene of inhumanity is aggravated with every circumstance of cruelty, when we consider the punishment it self, the manner of it, the duration of time in the execution of it, and all this, perhaps, for no greater a crime than stealing a dram of the bottle, or presuming to be his Captain’s taster in so wretched a dish as a sea pye: Such a peccadillo in a hungry or liquorish boy, certainly deserv’d a milder punishment, than what has furnish’d such a terrible example of inhumanity, as shou’d rouse the vigilance of those, who are publick guardians of liberty, to prevent the like cruelties for the future, in not trusting such absolute power in the hands of men, who, if they happen to be brutal in their natures, will not have those savage tempers much softned by the element with which they converse.

It may not be much amiss to enquire, whether or no the late difficulty in manning our Fleet, may not partly proceed from the severity, not to use a worse Term, frequently practised on board our Navy. It is certain that there must be a strict discipline, or unruly men will not be governed; but then the punishment shou’d be adequate to the crime;

the cruel whipping and then pickling a poor sailor, seems somewhat too barbarous to be inflicted on the subjects of a country, the lenity of whose laws has thought fit to abolish the torture; which is continued still by this too frequent custom of extravagant whipping, the pain of which, when it is carried to that extremity, as to make the party die under the lash, (of which we have not wanted some instances) is next to fire, the greatest of torments, and far exceeds the rack of wheel.

Our horror for this cruelty must be increased, when we consider, that this terrible punishment is often inflicted for misdemeanors, which are so various in their kinds, as to make it impossible for any law or statute to comprehend them all, and to provide a stated and peculiar punishment; for which reason the pains to be inflicted on such crimes, are arbitrary, and left to the discretion of the Court.

The civil power, whose justice is dispens’d by learned judges, acquainted with the extent of the laws, can never be suppos’d to proceed to any great extremity on such occasions: The only Example which made a great noise, was the case of TITUS OATS, who was severely whipt for a crime, which wou’d have hang’d him in any other country; and was so plainly prov’d, as to baffle all attempts afterward of reversing the judgment, which stands on record undefaced to this day. The death of so many injured persons sacrificed to his villainy, will extenuate any pretended severity of his sentence, which had no greater effect, notwithstanding all the clamour then made, but to raise his pulse to the heighth of an ordinary fever of which the rogue recovered, liv’d twenty years after fat and lusty, and dy’d at last a no more violent death, than to expire in an arm chair without a groan, after having burst himself by a too plentiful meal on venison pasty and marrow pudding, which were his favourite dishes.

In this last case the punishment cou’d not exceed the crime, but we have read of more terrible judgments given upon trifles by these Scarlet Courts of Justice, whose judges are all suppos’d to be heroes. The drinking a health is not morally ill in it self, it is neither malum in se [evil in itself], nor prohibitum [prohibited], and contrary to no law of God or man.

It is true, it may be counted indiscreet, because it shews a man to have an esteem for some person under the censure of the Government, and may deserve a little reprimand. Nay, we are told, that some little omission in military duty, that is neither wicked nor criminal in it self, has formerly drawn upon a poor fellow the lashes of two or three thousand men, which, perhaps may be a greater punishment than what malefactors suffer for robbery, or even murder, according to the ordinary course of justice. I say, it may be greater, because they may die by it, which must be a death of torture, nay, it has been known, in times past, when some under this punishment have left collops of their flesh upon the posts to which they were tied, and actually died two or three days after, as may be read in Rushworth’s Collections, when the subject was govern’d by a military power under Oliver [Cromwell] and the Rump Parliament.

These examples, and the practice of those Gentlemen in Forty One, who made such a noise for two or three ears being cut off by the Star-Chamber for Crimes, which in a severer reign would have been punished with death, ought to make us afraid of this dreadful inquisition, I mean, a Court Martial. When Westminster-Hall was open, and their own Judges sitting on the Bench, those patriots made no scruple to try their fellow subjects by it, nay threaten’d their own Members.

This made the famous Mr. Saller, who was a Member, in a memorable speech, so earnestly entreat the House not to try him by a Court Martial, where he could not expect much quarter from men, who, as it is their profession to kill in the field for pay, could not be supposed to have any great tenderness of blood, being, by their trade, as unfit for judges as butchers are for juries. The remembrance of these horrid times has justly made all true English men afraid of a military government, so as to insert in their daily litany a Libera nos Dommine [Deliver us, O Lord], from the terror of those cockade tribunals.

To conclude, this punishment of whipping was inflicted by that great people who conquer’d the world, but on none but bond-men; and, I hope, a free-born English man should not be liable to that infamy which was thought a mark of slavery, and below the dignity of a Roman citizen.

Yours, PHILANGLUS. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Captain Jane and his Cabin Boy", 18 November 2001, updated 28 November 2001 <>

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