Context Note: The captain named “Le Mesurier” is only possibly attributable as Bulkeley George Le Mesurier. The man named “Mr Dobree” was probably a relation.
Sir John Cowan (the late Lord Mayor), accompanied by Alderman Pirie, waited upon the Lord Mayor, and requested that his lordship would read an article which was published in a Guernsey newspaper, headed “Shameful Treatment to the crew of the Albion by the Lord Mayor of the City of London.” It was headed as follows:- “Yesterday (Nov. 12) Captain Le Mesurier, of the unfortunate bark Albion, with part of his crew (10 men and boys) arrived here by the Aeolus, Captain Lihon, from Southampton. It appears that after they were taken off the wreck by the French fishing-boat, they were three days beating about before they reached Boulogne. It has been a most disastrous voyage to all belonging to that once fine ship, inasmuch as they have lost the whole of their clothes, some having escaped almost in a state of nudity. Captain Le Mesurier was the last to leave the ship, and, we believe, he is a considerable sufferer by that melancholy occurrence. On their arrival at Boulogne they were properly taken care of by Mr. Hamilton, her Britannic Majesty’s Consul at that port, who on Monday last sent them off in two divisions to London by two of the steamers, where they arrived on Tuesday and Wednesday about noon, furnished with certificates from the British Consul to the Lord Mayor, stating under what circumstances they were sent. About two o’clock in the afternoon they made their case known, but his lordship could not be seen. However, an order was given to find them a lodging, when they were humanely taken to a gaol, among a large number of the dregs of society, there to be fed on gruel and barley bread. The mate (a very respectable man), who was one of the number, asked on the following morning to go out on business for an hour, but that was a favour not to be granted to a shipwrecked mariner in the Christian City of London. We can scarcely repress the indignation we feel whilst we are writing the account of this cruel treatment of our countrymen, which we believe would not be surpassed on the shores of uncivilised Barbary. There was no fear of these men being impostors, inasmuch as they were furnished with certificates from the consul, whom they had left not 24 hours before; but the only commiseration they met with was a lodgment in gaol among felons, with worse fare than would be given to convicted criminals. If the fact had not been corroborated to us by M. Le Cheminaut (the chief mate), and several of the crew of that vessel, we could scarcely have believed that such unfeeling treatment could have been manifested towards shipwrecked sailors (who had lost their all) in any part of Christian England, much less in the metropolis of the British empire. We have known scores of British sailors cast upon and brought to our own shores precisely under similar circumstances; but we have never known the humanity of Guernsey men to have been tarnished by shutting them up in prison, and there feeding them on barley bread and gruel. On the contrary they have been well fed, well clothed, well lodged, and money put into their pockets to assist them home; but public feeling here has never been outraged by treatment such as we have above described. To add to their mortification, on the following morning, when they again applied to the Lord Mayor for assistance to take them home, he said he could not help them, and they might go back to the place whence they came, if that would be any service to them! The conduct of the people at Boulogne towards the crew of the Albion forms a perfect and striking contrast to what these men received at the hands of the Lord Mayor of the most renowned city in the world. They were homeless, houseless, and penniless, and yet they were left in that pitiable condition to find their way home in the best manner they could. Fortunately for them they subsequently found out Mr. Dobree, who, on the credit of the owners of the ship, advanced them the needful to bring them home to their families and friends.”
Sir J. Cowan declared that he was never more surprised than he was upon reading such a statement. The facts were correctly these:- On the day the sailors called at the Mansion-house he was presiding at a Court of Common Council, but Mr. Hobler informed him, that upon hearing their statement he sent them with the marshal to Alderman Pirie, who was as well acquainted with matters connected with shipping as any man, convinced that Alderman Pirie would procure ships for them as soon as possible. They were afterwards taken to the Compter, the only place to which the City authorities could send men in such circumstances, but a more false account of the treatment they received there could not be imagined than that which had been just read. The men were not placed amongst the dregs of society; they were kept in a room by themselves, where they met with treatment for which they expressed their gratitude on leaving the Compter next day. They got as good wheaten bread and as good meat as could be procured, and they were told that they might go out and return when they pleased. Such was the contradiction which he could give to the article containing aspersions on the conduct of the chief magistrate.
Alderman Pirie said that the men were treated extremely well. The only thing he regretted in cases of the kind was, that the want of an asylum in the City for shipwrecked sailors obliged a magistrate to send applicants to be taken care of in a prison, the name of which was disagreeable to honest men. They ought to have been directed to the asylum down the river in the first instance. He felt for the poor men when their case was mentioned to him by the marshal, and he applied to Mr. Dobree, the agent to the owners of the Albion, who immediately supplied them with the means of returning home. It was due to Sir John Cowan to have so groundless an accusation rebutted.
Mr. Teague, the keeper of Giltspur-street Compter, stated that the men were received and accommodated in the Compter to their own satisfaction. They got wheaten bread, a sample of which was before the Lord Mayor, and meat abundantly upon going to the Compter, and next morning they had bread and gruel, and they were on leaving the place most grateful. The only things they seemed to want were tobacco and beer, which it would be against the rules of the prison to allow. They entered the Compter between four and five o’clock, and went away next day at 10.
The Lord Mayor. – Were any of them prevented from leaving the prison?
Mr. Teague. – By no means. Two of them went out, and they were told they might go out whenever they pleased.
The Lord Mayor. – It is evident, then, that the whole statement is false, except that which mentions that they were introduced to the Compter.
(London Evening Standard, 19th November 1838)