THESE sanguinary men were indicted at the Sessions of the High Court of Admiralty, at the Old Bailey, on Friday the 18th December, 1812, for the murder of James Keith, master of a trading vessel, called 'The Adventure.'-- There were other counts in the said indictment against the prisoners, charging them with the murder of William Smith, the first mate of the said vessel, and two black men belonging thereto, called, the one Joe, and the other John.*[see note]
From the evidence adduced on the trial it appeared that the deceased, James Keith, was master and sole owner of the vessel in question; and that, having embarked the whole of his property therein, to the extent of nearly two thousand pounds, he resolved to make a voyage to the South Seas upon a fishing concern; and for that purpose engaged a crew, which, with himself and three boys, amounted altogether to fourteen persons. Palm was a Swede, an experienced seaman, by his commander appointed to the post of second mate.
The 'Adventure' sailed from Portsmouth in the month of November, 1811, and for a part of the time had a prosperous voyage; but one of the crew becoming sickly, and eventually dying, the captain put into the Island of St. Thomas's, and took on board the two black men, Joe and John, already mentioned. He then shaped his course towards Congar, upon the coast of Africa, intending thus to make his voyage to the South Seas; but, whilst an hundred leagues off that place, the crew began to show strong symptoms of mutiny; and, on a morning in April, about four o'clock, a boy named George, who was at the helm, called to the captain, saying there was something bad going on upon deck. The unfortunate Keith, who had already in vain attempted to conciliate his crew, instantly arose from his bed, and, without putting on his clothes, hurried to the deck, where he saw Palm, the second mate, in the act of striking a light.
The captain asked what he was about, when Palm struck him with the cooper's hammer, which he had ready in his hand. In the mean time, another man, since dead, attacked the chief mate, who had come on deck immediately after the captain, and struck him repeatedly with the cook's axe, and Palm, and two other Swedes (both since dead), took an active part in throwing the captain and chief mate overboard.
After this all hands went below, except the boy at the helm. Palm produced a Bible, and they all took an oath upon it, wishing they might never see the light of heaven if they divulged what had passed.
The boy left at the helm was afterwards sworn; and, after the bodies of the captain and chief mate had been thrown overboard, the two Swedes provided themselves each with a pistol and a glass of rum: the rum they offered to the blacks; and, whilst in the act of drinking it, each shot his man; when both were immediately thrown overboard by Palm and the two Swedes.
After this they plundered the captain's property, and Palm had a five-pound note out of it. Palm then took charge of the vessel; but it was afterwards determined to scuttle the ship, and take to the boats, and steer for the coast of Guinea.
Two boats were prepared, and provisions put into them with the crew, eleven in number; they were three days and three nights before they reached land, and then one of the boats was swamped, and a boy was drowned; they then walked along the beach till night, when they lay down on the sand to sleep, and next day went into the country. The moment, however, they were discovered, the black natives rushed upon them, seized, plundered, and stripped them naked, and led them off through the country, to be sold as white slaves.
In this deplorable state they remained several weeks, traversing a vast extent of country, during which all of them died through disease, cruelty of the negroes, or fatigue, except Palm, Tilling, William Wright, not yet apprehended, and Henry Madis. The survivors were marched, or rather driven, to Cape Lopez, a southern promontory of Africa, where the black chief released them, supposing they were shipwrecked mariners, and, after a short time, a Portuguese vessel touching there, Palm and Wright took their voyage to Europe in her, and in a few days, a Liverpool ship also touching there, Tilling and Madis got a passage in her, and they were landed at Liverpool in September.
Tilling, appearing an object of charity, was admitted a patient in the hospital; and Mr. Capper, the first mate of the ship which brought them back to their native country, humanely took the boy, Madis, to his own home. In about a week after their arrival, when Madis went to see Tilling at the hospital, he was greatly surprised to see Palm at the same place, having, on the morning of that same day, been taken in as a patient from the ship that brought him over.
The day on which young Madis landed in Liverpool he wrote the outlines of the above sad story to his mother in London; and urged her to send him money to defray travelling charges, that he might lay the whole before a London magistrate.
Such was the evidence against the prisoners. The impulse which appeared principally to occupy the mind of Palm was that of criminating his fellow-prisoner, whom he laboured to make appear to have acted an equal part in the bloody scene with himself; which by no means came out in evidence: on the contrary the work of death seemed to have been done by Palm and his brother Swedes, of which country the greater part of the crew were composed.
Witnesses were called to the character of Tilling, among whom was his sister; who all spoke highly of his former conduct in life. This might have had some weight in his behalf; indeed nothing vindictive was proved against him, and those charitably inclined believed that he took the forced oath, and appeared, after the murderous deeds were done, as indeed any one would, to retain the blessing of life;-- but Tilling did not act like Madis, who gave information of the horrid transaction on his return to his native country. They were both found Guilty, and suffered at Execution Dock on the 21st December, 1812.
Palm appeared to be about fifty years of age; but the hardships he had undergone among the negroes in Africa might have had a premature effect upon his appearance. Tilling bore the marks of youth, not mere than twenty-five years. They were placed in the cart which led them to Execution Dock without betraying those emotions natural to men in their unfortunate situation. Palm, soon as seated, put a quid of tobacco into his mouth, and offered another to his wretched companion, who refused it with indignation. Some indications of pity were offered for the fate of Tilling; Palm, execrations alone.
*Note: The prisoner, Palm, being an alien, was asked, in the usual manner, whether he would be tried by a jury composed of half Englishmen, and the other half foreigners. He hesitated; but answered that he would rather trust himself to Englishmen, than have a single Swede on the jury.