The Veronica Mutiny and Trial
In August 1902, while at Ship Island, a very special event occurred in the life of Antoine Bellande. It concerned a ship mutiny. Ernest Desporte Jr. told me this tale when I was a teenager. Ernest Desporte Jr. (1888-1977) was a native of Biloxi and lifelong resident. He had a remarkable memory and enjoyed telling stories of Biloxi's early history. He also was a writer of local history and genealogy sometimes using the nom de plume, Old Timer. When I met Mr. Desporte about 1960, he was an elderly septuagenarian gentleman and of keen wit. His father, Ernest Desporte Sr.(1853-1931), had been a bar pilot and harbor master at Ship Island at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Captains Bellande and Desporte served together as fellow pilots guiding blue water barks, brigs, schooners, and steamers across the Ship Island Bar to safe anchorage at Ship Island Harbor. After 1902, they would sail these large vessels seeking Mississippi longleaf pine for the world export market into the new harbor at Gulfport.
The result of my meeting with Ernest Desporte was new knowledge about the life of Antoine Bellande. The most intriguing information was the reference to a mutiny. Desporte wrote the following for me: When Gulfport became a port about 1898, Captain Bellande was one of the pilots, piloting vessels through the Gulfport Channel into the harbor at Gulfport. On one occasion he piloted a vessel from Gulfport harbor to the open Gulf of Mexico. This vessel was bound for England, but the crew mutinied on the high seas. The crew was captured and tried in England. As Captain Bellande was the last man to see the captain and crew, he was a witness in the trial of the crew in the Royal Court of England.
Without a date for the alleged mutiny, I was never able to corroborate the tale of Captain Desporte. In the fall of 1989, I was in the history and genealogy section of the Biloxi Public Library waiting to talk to Murella Powell, archivist and historian. She was on the telephone, and I heard her speak to someone of "the mutiny at Ship Island". Immediately I thought of the account of Desporte. When she became available, I related my story, and she shared her very interesting knowledge of the subject. She had been contacted by a Canadian novelist, Bruce Wishart, who was writing a book about an episode in maritime history known as the Veronica Mutiny. Since the event commenced at Ship Island, he needed background data on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to write his novel. Murella was doing basic research for him especially concerning Ship Island.
I contacted Bruce Wishart at his residence in Brandon, Manitoba. From him I learned the details of the mutiny and with my knowledge of Captain Bellande incorporated these facts into my rendering of the story. With this background knowledge, I now present the reader the Veronica Mutiny:
At a time when most men his age had long retired or passed on, Captain Antoine Bellande and Inspector Duckworth of Scotland Yard, England were boarding an L&N train on April 15, 1903, at Biloxi. Their destination was Liverpool, England via New York where they would board the steamer, Irenia. The catalyst for this adventure had been the three-masted barque, Veronica, out of St. John, New Brunswick. The Veronica had sailed into Gulf waters south of Ship Island in August of 1902.
Captain Bellande had come to Mississippi from Marseille, France in 1851, at the age of twenty-two years. His family in France had been caulkers in a local shipyard, and the ways of the sea were natural to this young French immigrant. He had learned well the waters of the Gulf of Mexico while navigating his trading schooner the, John Randolph, to Cuba for sugar and tobacco. Occasionally, he would transport longleaf pine to Galveston and New Orleans. His maritime lore was so widely acclaimed that during the Civil War, Admiral David Farragut utilized his services for the Union Navy. His Civil War records indicate he was an acting ensign and pilot, one of only two in the entire Navy.
Antoine Bellande served the Union well. He was the pilot aboard the USS Monongahela at the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864, when it valiantly rammed the CSS Tennessee. After the War, Bellande settled at Back Bay (D'Iberville), and began a family with Marie Harvey (1840-1894). They moved to 254 Reynoir Street about 1882, the year he became a Ship Island bar pilot.
When Captain Bellande boarded the Veronica, he met Captain Alexander Shaw, the master of the 1167 ton vessel which was loaded during September with Mississippi lumber for Montevideo, Uruguay. The heavily laden vessel waited for a high tide and was towed across the Ship Island bar on October 11, 1902, into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
While at sea, the four German crewmen of the Veronica became upset with their Anglo-Saxon shipmates. While off the northeast coast of Brazil, they murdered Captain Shaw and the crew, and set the ship afire. In December 1902, the mutineers landed on the small island of Tuotoia which forms a part of the bar at the mouth of the Rio Parnaiba in northeastern Brazil. They were rescued by the SS Brunswick in mid-January 1903.
The German seamen made a fatal mistake by bringing the ship's cook Moses Thomas, a Negro, with them. On the way to England, Thomas related the tale of horror aboard the Veronica to Captain Browne. After the Brunswick reached Liverpool in late January, three of the alleged murderers were incarcerated until the trial which commenced on May 12, 1903, at the Liverpool Assizes. The fourth seaman, a youth, was given mercy.
Since Antoine Bellande was the last person to see the crew of the Veronica alive at Ship Island, he was called to testify at the trial in Liverpool. Before his departure for England with Inspector Duckworth who had been sent to Biloxi by Scotland Yard to investigate the local scene, an article of interest was printed in The Biloxi Daily Herald on April 15, 1903:
The sailor boys are very anxious concerning the visit of pilot, Antoine Bellande, to Liverpool, for they say he has never served time in the French army, and if the frog eaters in the Old World hear of his being in Europe, they fear in some manner they will get possession of him and force him to mark time and carry a gun to the great loss of the sailor craft of these waters. It is said that John Brasellman, of Dejean & Mitchell's, and John Lyons, boarding officer at Ship Island, will also be induced to go to England on the same errand.
The sworn testimony of Captain Antoine Bellande taken from The Trial of Gustav Rau, Otto Monsson, and Willem Smith: The "Veronica" Trial by Professor G.W. Keeton and John Cameron went as follows:
Antoine Bellande, sworn, examined by Mr. F.E. Smith.
I am a port pilot at Ship Island and Biloxi, and I live at Ocean Springs, four miles from Biloxi. I believe the Veronica arrived at Ship Island in ballast last August. Captain Alick Shaw was in command. She lay in quarantine for something like 15 days. I was on board during the quarantine, and was put in quarantine five days myself. I do not exactly remember either the first or second mates' names. I knew the men well, but not their names.
Tell me whether either or any or none of these men in the dock were on board then?
The middle one (Monsson) was on board when I was in quarantine. I don't know the others. I noticed nothing in particular going on on board the vessel when I was there. Captain Shaw could not hear very well; he was a little deaf.
Do you remember going on board the Veronica to take her out?
Yes, that was in October. At that time her crew consisted of twelve all told-there was Captain Shaw, the first mate and the second mate. I cannot remember the names of the other members of the crew as there were so many vessels going about. There was a man named Moses Thomas-he was the cook.
Will you look at that paper and tell us whether you saw any of those signatures made?
Yes, Monsson. I saw Thomas the cook signing. The captain of the tugboat was with me and Captain Shaw.
On what sort of terms seemed the officers to be with the crew?
They seemed to be all very well, all satisfied; I never heard anything.
Cross-examined by Mr. Maxwell for Rau.
Your only duty on board was to take the ship out to sea?
You had nothing to do with the crew yourself?
No, only when I wanted to get underway.
Out of all those names you only saw Thomas the cook sign?
He signed, yes.
Cross-examined by Mr. Aggs for Smith. You brought the Veronica in when she came in ballast?
Do you remember this man Monsson on board?
Do you remember anybody else? Do you remember Rau being on board?
When she came in who were chief officer and second officer?
Mr. Shaw was the captain; the first mate was a young man.
What I want to know is, was the same first mate and second mate that went out in her as came in with her when she came in with ballast?
You cannot tell me the name of the first mate, but you say he was a young man. What was his height-tall or short?
He was a young man with a moustache, about the same height as me-rather short, I think.
Can you tell me anything about the course the Veronica would take in order to get to Monte Video leaving Ship Island-would she go due east?
How far east would she go before she turned down south?
She would have to go to the Strait of Florida.
Would she have to go farther east after she went through the Strait?
She would go through the Strait and keep east.
Can you tell whereabouts that part of the ocean called the Doldrums is?
Can you tell whether vessels get into a part of the ocean where there are contrary winds and calms sometimes?
It happens at sea that there are calms and so on.
Is there a part of the ocean in which they are more frequent than other parts?
I do not know.
What is the time of a voyage from Ship Island to Monte Video?
Between 60 and 70 days.
Did you not say when you gave your evidence before that the length of the voyage for a sailing ship is from 43 to 80 days?
From Monte Video, yes. It is longer from Ship Island to Monte Video.
You would agree that it would not as a rule take more than 70 days?
From 60 to 70 days, although with a fair wind it might be shorter.
You spoke also as to the provisions, which were taken on board this boat. Do you know anything about that?
-Not very well. They took provisions, but I cannot say how much.
Can you tell me, would a captain as a rule take about 60 or 70 days' provisions with him for this voyage?
-Generally it is a rule to take double the provisions to come back with.
Would he not be able to get fresh provisions at Monte Video?
-He would get meat and flour, but would buy nothing else because it is too dear.
Re-examined by Mr. F.E. Smith.
Did you notice while you were on board the vessel what the name of the firm was that was supplying the provisions for the Veronica?
Yes, the DeJean & Mitchell Company. They are a good firm.
Have you made the voyage from Ship Island to Monte Video? If I gave you this chart (chart shown to witness) could you mark out the course in pencil a sailing vessel would take to go from Ship Island to Monte Video?
No, I could not do it.
The Veronica Trial ended on May 14th, 1903. Guilty was the verdict rendered by the jury against all three defendants. Two were hanged at Walton Gaol outside of Liverpool while the third was given penal servitude for life. Captain Bellande returned to America from Liverpool, England aboard the Campania and landed at New York City on May 23, 1903. At Biloxi, he continued his service in the Ship Island and Gulfport Pilots Association.