Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Mutiny Leads To Hanging Of Two Sailors

Gustav Rau
When a British freighter picked up five men off the coast of Brazil in December 1902 who claimed to have been shipwrecked after a fire, the rescuing crew soon became suspicious leading to two of them being hanged for murder.

The story began in October when the MV Veronica set sail from from Mississippi to Montevideo. It was to be a voyage of several months and tensions soon rose when Germans Gustav Rau, Otto Monsson and Henry Flohr, along with Dutchman William Schmidt, took exception to the disciplinarian style of the two ship's mates, carried out under the authority of Captain Alexander Shaw.

At the beginning of December the mutiny, led by Rau, began when the chief mate and two sympathetic crew members were battered to death. The next day Captain Shaw was shot dead by Rau and his second mate thrown overboard. Rau and his accomplices, along with others who hadn't taken either side, then set fire to the ship and set off in a lifeboat, agreeing to say to any rescuers that two lifeboats set off and the other was lost sight of because of the smoke. However two crew members failed to remember all the details and were shot by Flohr and Smith and thrown overboard. This just left Moses Thomas the cook, as the only non rebellious crew member to survive.

Willem Schmidt
On Christmas Day the lifeboat arrived at Cajueira, an island off the coast of Brazil and were accommodated by locals for a few days, Rau getting involved in a brief fling with a local girl. On 29th December the Brunswick, a steamer from Liverpool arrived and they were granted passage on that to England, their story being believed by the captain George Browne. However, Thomas insisted on being accommodated away from the other shipwrecked sailors and shortly before arriving at Madeira, he told Captain Browne what had happened on board the Veronica. The British consul at Lisbon instructed Captain Browne not to allow the Veronica crew off the ship, although Rau was taken ashore at Oporto by a fellow German on board the Brunswick and made no attempt to escape.

Otto Monsson
In Liverpool all four mutineers were arrested, where they told police that it was Moses Thomas who led the mutiny, and they felt that had no choice but to join in because he had a gun. Flohr though soon changed his statement saying what had really happened and he was given immunity from prosecution to give evidence against Ray, Schmidt and Monsson.

The following May Rau, Schmidt and Monsson were found guilty after a three day trial and sentenced to hang, but Monsson had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment due to his age (18). Rau and Schmidt were hanged together on 2nd June 1903 in the first double execution at Walton. Rau maintained his innocence on the scaffold, his last words being "I am not guilty of the murder of those men".

More information about the Veronica Mutiny can be found here

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