The Ketch ‘Gleaner’

Written by S. Ablott
First Published


The Gleaner was a 68 ton, ketch rigged fishing smack. She was launched at Burton Stather on the 9th of March 1871. She belonged to Henry Maddick of Daltry Street, Hull, who owned a number of smacks. A few of Maddick's were built at the Burton Stather shipyard, including the Adventure, Diamond (H1191) and Ruby (H1032). The Gleaner was registered at Hull with the fishing Number H678.

The story of the Gleaner is a rather sad one, the vessel, in 1882 being the scene of a most horrible and cruel crime, one which made headlines across the nation. Although it along with other similar cases of the time helped bring around some change in the way boy apprentices were treated at sea.

The Apprentices

The fishing industry had been using an apprenticeship system for some time in the nineteenth century, and in the early days, when the Humber fleet was a modest size, it seemed to be working. In the days when one man owned one smack and employed one crew, he may employ an apprentice. It was usual then for a boy to live with his master, where they were generally well fed, clothed and looked after in a family environment.

Around the mid century, with the advent of the railways leading to the rise of the Humber fleets, things changed. The fleets expanded exponentially, and fishing developed from a family concern into big business, it was all about profits. Smack owners now had whole fleets of smacks and employed a number of skippers, crew-men and apprentices. With an ever growing demand for cheap labour to man the smacks, the apprentice system became increasingly exploitative, and the relationship between master and apprentice much less personal.

Boys as young as 10 or 11 were enticed or coerced into terms of indenture, in some cases for as long as 10 years. To do this they exploited some of the most deprived of places, such as reformatories, poor houses and unions, which were often pleased to be relieved of the burden of another boy. Some of the boys came from towns and cities inland, and had never even seen the sea before signing up. For many, their first voyage was a terrifying experience. Even today, with modern communications, search & rescue services, navigational equipment and deck machinery, commercial sea fishing remains a tough, physically demanding and highly dangerous profession. But the conditions on a modern day trawler would seem like a luxury cruise in comparison to those on a nineteenth century smack.

Of course the younger boys would not be physically strong enough for many of the tasks performed by the crew, so were often engaged as cook onboard a smack, which entailed some of the less strenuous but more menial tasks for the crew, such as cooking, washing up, cleaning and gutting fish. They would still be expected to lend a hand on deck, as a means of getting to know the ropes before being promoted to deck hand.

If you have already read the story of the Stather built labour schooner Young Dick, on this website, you will know about how indentured labourers were recruited from the Polynesian islands around this same time, and also how the so called Blackbirders would trick or kidnap the natives onto their ship, forcing them into a term of indenture. This kind of exploitation was not confined to the native ethnic groups within the colonies, similar things were happening to native British boys, much closer to home. In 1878 it was alleged that Grimsby fishermen had kidnapped boys from Leicester and had them working on smacks. Their parents left wondering where they had gone, and on learning of their boys whereabouts, were powerless in getting them back. They must have at some time been signed into a legal indenture, and some Leicester parents had not the means to travel to Grimsby to address the matter. Boys who absconded faced a term in prison, only to be sent back to sea on release.

And if life was not hard enough for the boy apprentices, it was not unheard of for the boys to be beaten by their masters or superiors on board a smack. While the physical punishment of unruly crew was not illegal, there were a number of cases where the practice crossed the line, all the way from excessive punishment, to a systematic regime of abuse, and in some cases murder. The story of the Gleaner is one such case.

A Break In and Lock In

We first note the Gleaner as a crime scene in July 1877. Although this particular crime was thwarted before it was complete.

On the morning of Sunday the 15th, the Gleaner was moored on the North side of the Queen's dock, Hull. The watchman employed to look after the smack in dock saw a man board the smack who broke open the cabin door using a winch handle, and went inside. The watchman shut the slide to, keeping the would-be thief inside until he fetched a policeman. The man was arrested; he was another fisherman who was on the dock watching another smack near the gleaner. He was called James Turpin and had previously been convicted seven times for various offences.

Three Lads Alone

The next chapter of the Gleaner story is a case of negligence by the skipper and mate, which shows some disregard for the safety of the boy apprentices. This episode does however have a happy ending, as the three lads involved did themselves proud in dealing with the matter.

On Sunday the 30th of December 1877 the Gleaner was out about 110 miles from land. She had on board the Master, mate and three boy apprentices, one of whom was only a small boy. The weather at the time being calm, the skipper and second hand left the smack to visit another Hull Smack nearby. They took the small boat, leaving just the three lads on board.

After some time, the wind came around to the north and rose into a gale. The two smacks started to drive apart and the skipper and mate were unable to return to their ship. The three lads did their best to get the vessel under control by reefing the sails. In the darkness of night, they lost sight of the other smack. They were now truly on their own, with a smack in a gale, without any properly qualified crew.

They figured that the only course open to them was to make their own way back to Hull, and this feat of seamanship and navigation they achieved. They safely brought the smack through the heavy sea, back to The Humber. They then navigated The Humber up to the port of Hull, without assistance.

The safe conduct of the smack through the heavy gale which was experienced after they were left by the only men on board and their subsequent successful navigation of the vessel reflects great credit on these brave young fishermen.

Hull Packet
11th January 1878

Loss of a Cook

On the 12th of January 1882 the Gleaner set sail from Hull for a fishing voyage with the fleet on Dogger Bank. She set off with a crew of five hands, they were: Skipper, Daniel George Callan; Second hand, Edward Wheatfill; the third hand was a man named Gamble; the deck hand was a German youth named Karl Fritzwilhelm Ratzloff; and finally a 16 year old boy, Peter Hughes, who was employed as cook on board the smack.

When the Gleaner returned to Hull at the end of March, the line up was a little different, with just four hands. Callan, Wheatfill and Ratzloff were still present.

The third hand, Gamble had at some point in the voyage strained himself and as a result was sent home via another vessel at the beginning of February. On the 11th a replacement third hand was sent out to the smack. William Chandler Peaks joined the Gleaner on the 12th, having arrived on the steam cutter Europe (H1276).

The boy, Peter Hughes was gone. The second hand, Edward Wheatfill, sent a letter, signed by skipper Callan, to the smack owner, Henry Maddick, reporting the boy's loss.

When we were laying to this morning, the second hand, Wheatfill, called the cook out to scrub the cabin out. He went on deck to ease himself, and when he was drawing a bucket of water he slipped and fell overboard, and as it was dark, we never saw him anymore. Will you report it, or shall we come home?

Daniel G Callan
24th February 1882

Maddick in turn reported this information to the police, and it went into the books that the boy drowned at sea. Such accidents were not uncommon.

Taking Bacon

On Tuesday the 4th of July the same year, the skipper of the Gleaner, Daniel George Callan, appeared in the Hull Police Court before Stipendiary Magistrate Mr E C Twiss, along with a youth named J W Waterman, charged with stealing two shoulders of bacon from the smack.

Callan went on board the smack on the night of Saturday the 1st and took the bacon from the stores. He told the watchman that he was taking the bacon home. He put them into a bag and handed it to Waterman to carry.

After leaving the smack Callan was stopped by Sergeant Deyes, who after looking in the bag asked Callan what he was doing with the bacon, he replied It's ours. We share alike on our smack.
The police officer said he would charge them with stealing from the smack; Callan protested I didn't steal them. They are our property.

In court, Mr Rollit prosecuted on behalf of the Hull Smackowners' Association. Henry Maddick was called to explain the arrangements regarding ownership of the smacks' stores. The case was, contrary to what Callan claimed, that the stores were entirely the property of the smackowner, Mr Maddick.

The prosecutor did not wish to press the charge against Callan, the object was to illustrate to skippers that the stores do not belong to them and should not be taken from the ship.

Callan pleaded guilty and hoped to be treated leniently on account of having a large family. He said he would rather pay anything than be sent to prison. Mr Twiss imposed a fine of £5 plus costs.

Following this, Callan went to live in Scarborough, not knowing that he would be in the Hull Police Court before Mr Twiss again before the end of the month, charged with a more serious offence.

Alleged Murder

When the Gleaner returned from the North Sea back in March, there was not just the one letter written about the loss of Peter Hughes, handed in to the police station.

William Chandler Peaks, the replacement third hand on the voyage, wrote a quite different account of what happened during that voyage. This was handed in to Chief Constable, J Campbell in early April. As a result of this an investigation began. Peaks gave a full statement to the police. The German deck hand Ratzloff was also called to give a statement. Following this a charge was brought against Edward Wheatfill, the second hand, for the murder of Peter Hughes.

The case opened in Hull Police court on Wednesday the 12th of July. Callan was not present in court, he was in Scarborough. Afterwards a warrant was made for his arrest in connection with the alleged murder. It was also noted that he had also failed to pay the £5 fine for stealing the bacon. Wheatfill claimed that the statement given by Peaks was entirely false. Over the next months there were further court sessions, where evidence was heard by the various crew from the Gleaner. A case was built up against Wheatfill and Callan, along with a disturbing picture of what actually happened during the voyage.

What Really Happened to Peter Hughes

According to the evidence given by the crew, it was not just that Wheatfill had killed the boy, but he had throughout the voyage subjected the poor boy to a regime of torturous abuse which eventually led to his death.

As stated before, the Gleaner left Hull on the 12th of January 1882, the original five hands were: Callan, Wheatfill, Gamble, Ratzloff and Hughes.

Early in the voyage

The third hand, Gamble once saw Hughes run on deck crying, he was followed by Wheatfill, brandishing a piece of wood, saying to the lad I'll make a better boy of you before we get to Hull.

About a week into the voyage, the deck hand, Ratzloff, saw Wheatfill strike Hughes in the chest so hard that he could not speak. This happened apparently because the second hand had lost his pipe. Gamble left the Gleaner on the 1st or 2nd of February due to injury. On arrival in port, word would be given that a replacement would be required.

Saturday the 11th

On Saturday the 11th William Chandler Peaks left Hull on the steam cutter Europe (H1276), to take the place of Gamble as third hand on board the Gleaner. Meanwhile on the smack, Wheatfill beat Hughes across the back about half a dozen times with an inch thick length of rope. Afterwards he made the boy go down into the forecastle, where he was locked in for the night. Callan the skipper did not interfere. The forecastle was not used for accommodation, it was used as storage; it therefore had no fire or bunks with nothing in there but wet sails and ropes. In February on the North Sea it would be a horribly cold and damp place to spend the night.

Sunday the 12th

The following morning, Sunday the 12th, Wheatfill brought Hughes out of the forecastle. He was cold and his clothes damp, he was then sent down into the cabin to wash the pots.

Around noon the cutter arrived and Peaks joined the crew as third hand. Peaks had not met any of the crew on board before. Having seen the skipper, second hand and deck hand, he asked Wheatfill where the cook was. Wheatfill replied The **** is down in the forecastle.
What is he doing there?
He has been stealing some fruit. I have put him there for punishment.
What has he been doing?
He has stolen four pounds of fruit and two or three tins of milk, and I'll give the young **** more before the voyage is up.

The table was set for dinner and Peaks sat down joining Callan, Wheatfill and Ratzloff for the meal. He asked Isn't the cook coming to get his dinner?
Wheatfill replied No, the **** is not coming to have any dinner neither; half a buscuit and a pint of water is good enough for the ****.
Why is he not coming to have his dinner?
Because the **** does not deserve it.
Skipper Callan chimed in Wait, I'll send him his grub forward.

Callan passed Peaks some food to take to the boy, some beef, potatoes and tea. Peaks took the food in to the forecastle, where he found the boy. Hughes said to him Please let me go into the cabin.
Are you hungry?
Yes, I am, and I am very cold.

Peaks stayed and talked with the boy for about half an hour. Hughes complained about his treatment from Wheatfill. He showed him the marks across his back where he had been beaten with a rope, and he had several bruises that looked to have been recently inflicted.

Peaks turned in about 2pm, getting back up at six. He went on deck and saw Hughes carrying a large bucket filled with water on his head. The bucket had no handle and would hold about four or five gallons. He went down and joined the rest of the crew for tea and asked why the boy was carrying the bucket. Wheatfill said it was because he had stolen the fruit and sugar. Peaks said to the skipper I think it's time someone took this up. Is he coming down for his tea?
Wheatfill said No, the **** is not coming to get his tea. The **** does not deserve it.

Peaks started his watch at 6:30, after tea. Hughes was still on deck carrying the bucket on his head. At some point Wheatfill came up and ordered Hughes back down into the forecastle, Hughes protested It's so cold and wet.
Wheatfill said Never mind, go down into the forecastle.
Hughes did not get any tea that day. After Wheatfill had turned in, Peaks went to see Hughes in the forecastle. After he thought Wheatfill was asleep, he took the boy to the stateroom, at the foot of the companion ladder, where to cooking was done. He laid him on the locker near the fire where he could get warm and dry out.

Monday the 13th

Peaks woke Wheatfill at 12:30am to take over watch duty. When Wheatfill got on deck he asked where the boy was, Peaks replied He is down below asleep, for what I know.

Wheatfill went below for supper, after which he went into the state room to light his pipe. He then noticed the boy asleep on the locker. He dragged him of and said I'll learn you to come down here when I tell you to stay on deck. Who told you to come below?
Bill told me to come below.
Wheatfill took a piece of rattling line and started to beat Hughes with it, the boy cried Don't, don't, Edward!

The boy fell to the cabin floor, but the beating continued, lasting about five minutes. After that he pushed the boy up the companion, onto the deck, I'll learn you to come below when I tell you to keep on deck.

Peaks then went down from deck for his supper. After his supper, about 1:30am, he went back on deck. He saw Hughes by the companion stark naked, lifting the five gallon bucket onto his head. Wheatfill was stood close by saying Raise the bucket onto your head and parade the deck.
The boy obeyed Wheatfill's orders Now say, If I had not been eating fruit, I would not have to do this.
And the boy repeated the words as he marched up and down the deck in the freezing night. Peaks asked What are you making him do this for?
Wheatfill just repeated what he previously said about the fruit. Peaks went below to the skipper who was sat on a locker. Come on deck and see what Wheatfill is doing with the boy.
Callan replied I shall have nothing to do with him. He has taken him under his own charge. If anything happens, you are a witness, I never touched him.
Peaks then turned in. Hughes was still parading the deck with the bucket and crying. Wheatfill was following him around, punching him in the back and sides as he walked.

In the morning, around six, it was time to haul the trawl. Skipper Callan said Hurry and get your boots on and we'll have a haul.
As they were hauling, Hughes was absent. Peaks asked Is the boy not coming to help with the warp?
Wheatfill replied No, he's not. He's not coming on deck, he's staying below.
After the haul they had breakfast. Again Peaks enquired as to why the boy was not present for breakfast, and Wheatfill replied No, the **** is not coming to get his breakfast this morning. Half a biscuit and half a pint of water is good enough for the ****.

Boarding fish to the cutter

After breakfast, it was time to board the fish to the cutter. Wheatfill and Peaks took the boat. As they rowed out to the cutter, Peaks asked Wheatfill why he had been hitting the boy. Because he's been stealing fruit. I'll make him either a good 'un or a bad 'un.
Wheatfill went on If anything happens about this when we get back to Hull, you don't know anything about it. I'll talk to Ratzloff when we get back on board.

At dinner time, Hughes was absent again, Wheatfill again denying him his meal, making him stay in the forecastle. At tea time though, the skipper did send him some meat, potatoes, biscuits and cocoa, so he at least had one meal that day.

Tuesday the 14th

On this morning Hughes was brought up out of the ice room, where Wheatfill had locked him. There was no ice or fish in the room, just fish boxes, but it was cold, damp and dirty. When he was brought out he was naked and covered in dirt; he was so cold he could barely stand. He was then sent below to wash the pots.

While the others had breakfast, he had none, except when Wheatfill ordered Ratzloff to gather up the fish bones and take them to him. Hughes was then seen to suck the bones clean, as hungry as he was, to get any morsel upon them. He did not get any dinner either that day.

In the afternoon Hughes was cleaning fish. He got into conversation with Ratzloff and Peaks. He said to Peaks Oh Bill, my back does hurt me. I wish the skipper would take it in hand.
Peaks replied If you speak to him he will perhaps do something about it.
Will you speak to him for me?
The boy was evidently suffering a lot of pain and also suffering from cold. The weather at the time was freezing heavy.

At about 4pm Peaks went to wake the skipper and said to him Isn't it time you took the boy in hand and not let the second hand ill use him like this? I have just seen him, he is freezing cold and he is bruised all over his back. If something is not done there will be some bother about it when we get home.
Callan replied I'll see what he does to him when he turns out tonight.
Peaks then woke Wheatfill and they went to get their tea. Again Wheatfill wanted to deny Hughes his tea, but the skipper gave him some tea and biscuits. After tea, Wheatfill got the boy on deck again Go on deck you, and take your dowry.
Once on deck he told him Get your bucket ready with water again.
Hughes cried Oh don't Edward, don't order me to do that; I am too weak to carry it.
You can do it. You shall or I'll make you carry it.
The boy complied, filling the five gallon bucket with water. He used the small bucket with a handle and lanyard to draw water from over the side of the ship to fill the big bucket; the big bucket was too large and had no handle of its own. He placed big bucket on the rail, so he could get on his knees with his head under it. He made several tries at raising the bucket onto his head, but failed to do it in his weakened state. The skipper then came on deck and said Put it down and go to the cabin and turn in, you have had quite plenty. I am not going to get myself into trouble.
Hughes then turned into his bunk in the cabin.

Wednesday the 15th

Peaks got up at 12:30am to take over the watch from Wheatfill. When he got on deck he found that Wheatfill had Hughes up there with him again, carrying the bucket of water on his head. After Wheatfill turned in, Peaks told the lad to go back to the cabin.

During the day some sort of normality had resumed. Hughes went about his work in the usual way, unchallenged. At about 6pm, Wheatfill told him to fetch the coals from the ice room and bring them to the cabin aft. Just before he turned in Wheatfill told Peaks You make the **** do it.
Alright, I'll make him do it.
Don't let him turn in until I come back on deck.
Peaks got the boy to hand up two or three of buckets of coal for the cabin then sent him to turn in to his bunk.

Thursday the 16th

Peaks went down at 12:30am the wake Wheatfill to take over the watch. On reaching the deck, Wheatfill asked Where is the boy?
He's down below, asleep.
You are a sight worse than he is.
Alright, perhaps you will come off worse at the end.
Peaks then turned in leaving Wheatfill on watch. During the day, Hughes spent most of the time in his bunk. Then in the evening Wheatfill dragged him out and told him to fetch more coals for the cabin fire. He said he had not brought enough the night before.

Friday the 17th

At about 5pm on Friday, Wheatfill dragged Hughes up on deck by his arm and proceeded to beat him with a piece of wood. He then ordered Peaks to take the boy aft and lash him to the winch. Peaks refused the order, on the grounds that he gave him no reason to lash the boy up. Peaks then went below. When he returned on deck later, he found Hughes, naked, tied to the winch with a lead line around his middle. The boy was crying and covered in bruises and marks that looked recently inflicted. When Wheatfill turned in, Peaks untied the boy. There was a strong wind blowing at the time, the boy was blue with cold and too weak to stand. Peaks had to help him get down below and laid him by the fire.

Saturday the 18th

In the morning the crew were engaged in gutting and cleaning fish. With the weather being rough and windy, they did it in the ice room, rather than on deck. Wheatfill ordered Hughes to take off all his clothes while he gutted the fish. Hughes asked if he could at least keep his shirt on, Wheatfill refused. They were cleaning fish for about two hours, Hughes being naked for the whole time. He was so cold and his fingers so sore, he could barely hold his knife and unable to perform the task properly.

After the fish was cleaned, Hughes asked if he could then have his clothes. Wheatfill said Not before you have washed.
Wheatfill insisted on washing the boy on deck in the cold wind. Instead of washing with a woollen cloth as usual, Wheatfill drew buckets of sea water and threw them over him. With the lad now freezing cold, wet and naked, Wheatfill knocked him down on deck and kicked him. The skipper then said Look, he had better get his clothes on now.

Wednesday the 22nd

By Wednesday the next week, the wind had calmed down, but it became foggy and by 7pm the smack had lost sight and come adrift from the rest of the fleet. Peaks was on deck holding a flare. Callan ordered Hughes to pass up a second flare, he told Hughes Never mind lighting it, hand it up.
But Hughes had lit the flare at the cabin fire. As he approached the companion ladder, he must have stumbled, he knocked down the container, spilling paraffin on the deck and started a fire in the state room.

After the fire had been got under control, the skipper ordered the boy to mop up all the water below that had been used to extinguish the fire; he gave the boy two or three smacks across the face with the back of his hand. Wheatfill, who was in his bunk at the time of the fire then got upon deck, still in his stockings, and chased the boy as he ran forward from the skipper, shouting I'll learn you to suffocate me.
He caught Hughes, grabbing him by the shoulder and shook him I'll learn you to try and set fire to the cabin.
He then gave him two or three blows with his fist; after that he went below to put on his heavy sea boots. When he got back on deck he chased the boy and hit him so hard in the chest that he fell to the deck. He then began to kick him with his sea boots saying I'll learn you to try and suffocate me.
Hughes protested I did not do it on purpose.
Hughes got up again and ran forward; Wheatfill chased and knocked him down again, then jumped on him a number of times Callan saw it all and was saying Give it to him.

Wheatfill went to fetch a piece of rattling line. Hughes managed to get back on his feet, but could barely walk. When Wheatfill got back to him with the line he held him by the shoulder with one hand and with the other beat him savagely with the inch thick rope. He was beaten on all parts of his body and his face which was starting to swell and disfigure. He cried out to Peaks Oh Bill, come and help me.
I'll give him as much if he comes here.
The beating lasted for about five minutes; Hughes was heard to say Oh, kill me at once, I cannot bear this any longer.
Wheatfill only stopped when he was himself exhausted from beating the boy. He then ordered him to finish cleaning up the cabin after the fire and said he could not go to sleep until it was done.

Thursday the 23rd

In the morning the crew were sat down for breakfast, Hughes was still in his bunk. After breakfast Callan went to him and asked How do you feel?
He replied I am great pain, after the beating from Ted. Will you send me home skipper, by the steam cutter?
Wheatfill interrupted Don't send him skipper, he's all covered with marks.
Oh do send me home skipper, or else I shall die.
I dare not send you in like this, or else I shall get myself into trouble.

The crew all went on deck for a haul, except Hughes, who remained in his bunk. After the haul, at around 8am, Wheatfill and Peaks took the boat to load the fish to the cutter. Wheatfill said If there is anything to do about these here marks on the boy when we get back to Hull, you must say you know nothing about it.
Peaks replied I shall speak the truth, as I expect we shall all be brought upon the carpet.
I'll square with Ratzloff when we get back on board. He does not speak very good English; I'll tell him if he's wanted in court, he's to make out he doesn't understand any English.
It's no good you doing that, they will have an interpreter.
Well I will square with him when we get back to Hull; I'll invite him to my house to tea.
Wheatfill continued If we send the boy in just now we shall get into trouble for ill using him.
Peaks replied Well I shall have no trouble with that; I have never laid a finger on him. You can please yourself in whether you send him in or not.
Well I shall not touch him any more now, as the time is growing short.

Peaks would be on watch from six till twelve that night, so he turned in after getting on board. Hughes spent the whole day in his bunk, he didn't get anything to eat. When Peaks got up again at six, Ratzloff was on watch, Callan was in the cabin reading and Wheatfill got the tea ready. All the time Peaks was on board, Wheatfill kept the key to the food stores, presumably so no one else could feed the boy in his absence. After tea, Peaks went up on deck to take over the watch.

Friday the 24th

At 12:30am it was Wheatfill's turn to take over watch duty, Peaks went down to wake him. When he got on deck he asked Peaks Where is the boy?
He's down below asleep.
Wheatfill went down and found Hughes asleep in the state room, Go on deck you, I want you on deck.
Hughes was crying, Wheatfill said Go on deck and I shall give you your dowry.
He pushed the boy up the companion ladder, onto the deck; he had in his hand the piece of line. Hughes was heard saying Don't hit me Edward, don't hit me.
The skipper had woken, Peaks said to him He's got him up on deck again.
Who do you mean?
He has got the boy on deck.
Callan said I wouldn't like to be him if the boy has any marks to show when he gets to Hull.
Peaks heard the boy crying and went to look on deck. Hughes was stripped naked, carrying the large bucket of water on his head again. Wheatfill was stood at the stern of the small boat saying There, you walk backwards and forwards on deck and don't stop.
Peaks stooped down the companion to speak to the skipper Come and look at what he's doing with the boy.
I shall have nothing to do with it; I shall not go near him. He has taken him under his own charge; if anything happens, I shall not be to blame.

Peaks took another look on deck and saw the exhausted boy buckle under the weight of the bucket and collapse onto the deck. Wheatfill then started to kick him as he lay there I'll rope you now for falling.
He then took off his leather belt and thrashed him with the end which had two buckles on it. The beating lasted for a few minutes. Peaks said to Wheatfill Have you not given him nearly enough.

Hughes managed to get up and make his way to the companion and said Let me come down Bill.
He had not the strength to climb down the ladder, from the first step he just fell down onto the state room floor, his naked body a crumpled bruised heap. Wheatfill followed and picked him up by the hair of his head and hit him with his belt I'll learn you to come down here. Go on deck you.
He then pushed the boy back up the ladder to the deck. Peaks again went to the skipper I think it's time someone took it up now, or you will be getting yourself into trouble. You have been left in charge of the vessel and the lad has been made to carry that bucket of water on his head and he has been beating his naked body with a strap.
Callan said The best thing we can do is make sail for home; but I don't like to make sail for home in the state he is in.
No, you may get yourself into trouble, seeing the marks he has on him.
You are a witness that I have not ill used him.
Yes, I know you have not ill used him.

The skipper then went on deck and brought the boy down to the cabin and laid him by the fire. He was shivering with cold and complained of great pain. His whole body was covered in severe bruises. His left eye was discoloured and barely open due to swelling around it. His right eye had the skin torn away at the corner. Callan said to Hughes I don't know what to do with you; whether to make sail for Hull or not.
Oh I wish you would skipper, and let me go home.
Go to your bunk and turn in for the night.
Hughes managed to crawl into his bunk and went to sleep. Peaks also turned in.

Wheatfill had said earlier, while in the small boat, that he would not touch the boy again, as time was short. He knew very well that if the marks on the boy had not healed before they got back to Hull, he could be in very big trouble. In spite of this, he had just given the boy the worst beating yet. Perhaps Wheatfill just could not help himself from inflicting violence on the boy; or perhaps he had another idea in how to deal with the situation.

Peaks woke up at about 3:30am. Wheatfill came down into the cabin and said to him What do you think about this lad?
I shall have nothing to do with it.
Oh, I can see you are going to side with him.
I don't side with him at all.
Come on deck and have a yarn.
No, I'm going to light my pipe, then turn in.
You are going to turn in? You are in a hurry.
Wheatfill then went back on deck.

Peaks woke again at 4:30; he lit his pipe, but stayed in his bunk. He could see Hughes was still in his bunk, apparently asleep. Peaks dozed off again for a quarter of an hour; at 4:45 he was woken again by Wheatfill coming into the cabin. The second hand this time went to Hughes and said Come out you. It's time for you to be out now.
He grabbed him by the arm and shook him, Hughes then got up out of his bunk. Wheatfill said Go on deck, I want you.
Hughes started to cry and the two went up on deck. There was no one else up on deck at the time to see exactly what happened next, the rest of the crew were in their bunks; but as Peaks lay awake in his bunk, he could hear footsteps on the deck above. He heard steps going up and down the deck, which lasted for a few minutes. It sounded the same as when Hughes was carrying the big bucket with Wheatfill following; he also heard the boy sobbing. The sound of footsteps then changed, to the sound of shuffling of feet on the deck for a time, after which all was silent and still.

At 4:55, ten minutes after Wheatfill took Hughes on deck, Wheatfill came back down to Peaks and announced Bill, the cook is gone.
Peaks asked Have you called the skipper?
Peaks then jumped out of his bunk and woke Callan and Ratzloff, he said to Callan Ted come and told me that the cook's lost.
The skipper exclaimed I don't believe it!
Peaks at the time thought the boy would be hiding on board, down below somewhere, he said Let's light the deck lantern and look for him.
Wheatfill said I don't think he's gone down below.
Well I'll have a look.

Peaks and Ratzloff went on deck with the lantern. As they passed the small boat, it was noticed that the large five gallon bucket was missing. Wheatfill and Callan were then behind them on deck; Peaks turned to Wheatfill and said It seems rather funny that the big bucket that you make him carry is missing.
Wheatfill said Oh, I don't know. He has perhaps been drawing water with it.
It seems rather curious that he should be drawing water with that bucket, and not the small one along side of it.
Peaks pointed out the small bucket with the handle and rope which was for the purpose of drawing water. Wheatfill said Perhaps he has been drawing water with and has overbalanced himself.
I'll go below and get all the things on deck; I'll find him.
Wheatfill said to Peaks Oh it's no use you looking. He is gone.
Peaks then proceeded to make a thorough search of the vessel, after which he returned on deck and said I can't find him. I'm afraid it's true, he has gone overboard, as I cannot see anything of him.
Callan said It does seem curious that he would use the big bucket to draw water, when he could use the small one that was beside it.
Peaks addressed Wheatfill Ted, don't you think it curious that he should be drawing water with the big bucket? Not only that, it was all done in a few moments.
Wheatfill replied That is as much to say that I have thrown him overboard.
It looks very suspicious. Look how you had him on deck naked, in the middle of the night, carrying water in that big bucket on his head, as freezing as it was. That was enough to kill him.
Oh, that was just a bit of drill for him.
Think what grub he has had, not enough to keep him alive.
The skipper was stood by and heard all this, he turned and went below, Peaks followed. In the cabin, Callan spoke to Peaks What do you think about it Bill?
It's my belief that he has dropped him over the side. You ought to have taken it up long since and not allowed him to ill use him as he did.
I ought to have seen into it more than I have done. I am frightened there will be a bother about it. You are a witness I have not done anything wrong to him.
Yes, but I told you more than once what he was doing and to take it in hand.
I am frightened that I shall get into a row when we get to Hull.

Wheatfill then came below in a somewhat excited state saying I don't know what to do about the lad being overboard.
Peaks responded Perhaps the trouble is coming upon you having him stark naked and beating him on deck.
There is no conscience pricks me.
You were only talking to him a few minutes before and ordered him on deck. That was a quarter to five, and at five to five you came below and reported he was gone; I could hear him walking around the deck a few minutes before, in the same was as he was while carrying that big bucket. You made him do it. There was no one else on deck but you; If it had not been for the skipper sending him some grub forward, he would have been dead long since.
Wheatfill said nothing.

Saturday the 25th

At about nine in the morning, Wheatfill came to Peaks and said I have written a letter to Mr Maddick about the cook being lost, to take off to the police station.
He read the letter to Peaks; it stated that the cook fell overboard when he overbalanced himself while drawing water from over the side and that following this every effort was made to save him without success. Peaks asked Why did you not come down and tell some of us? We could have got the boat out.
Wheatfill made no reply.

When Wheatfill first suggested that the boy was lost drawing water, on the night, it was to the effect that he supposed that that is what happened, as if he had not witnessed the accident, while at the same time seemed very certain that the boy was overboard. In the letter he gives a detailed account of the accident, as if he were witness to it. He also signed the letter in Callan's name, referring to himself as a third person, reporting the accident to the skipper.

Friday the 31st

The subject was not spoken of for the rest of the voyage, until the very last day, as they entered the mouth of The Humber. Wheatfill called Peaks to one side for a talk. Now if there is anything to do about it, I shall talk to Ratzloff in a bit.
Peaks interrupted I shall tell the truth and clear myself, as I know we shall all be wanted up.
Mind what you are going to say then.
The Gleaner arrived back in Hull later that day.

Difficulties of the Case

After Peaks handing into the police his own letter and version of events in April, there was an investigation and court proceeding began in July. Peaks, Ratzloff and Gamble were called as witnesses. The second hand Wheatfill was charged with murder, they also wanted to charge the skipper Callan with being an accessory. Although Callan played no part in the boy's final demise, he was not on deck at the time of his loss, and had not himself abused the boy, with the exception of when smacked him a few times after he set the cabin on fire, he was considered to be partially responsible. As master of the vessel, he held a position of command and responsibility over the whole of the crew. He was the only man on board who had authority over the second hand; it was therefore within his power to put an end to Wheatfill's continued abuse of Hughes and one may say his duty to do so, in maintaining the safety, welfare and good order of his crew.

But any charge against Callan was dependant on Wheatfill being guilty of murder. The defence played upon the fact the main requisite for a murder case was a body, which had been seen by no one. This being the case, there was in fact no evidence that the boy was even dead, or of the abuse he was alleged to have been subjected to. On top of this, no one saw Wheatfill throw the boy overboard, it was only supposed so, there was no evidence that it did actually happen. It was possible that it could have been a genuine accident or a suicide.

There were legal problems too for the whistle blower and principal witness in the case William Chandler Peaks, which did not help his credibility.

A Witness in the Murder Case Charged with Felony

William C. Peaks, who is the principal witness against the men Wheatfill and Callan, in the fisherlad or case, was brought up in custody charged with stealing a silver watch from the forecastle of the steamer Zebra on Saturday evening last. The Chief Constable said it seemed that the prisoner was keeping the company with a young girl named Bragg, whose father was a seaman on board the Zebra. He went to see the father on the vessel, and while in the forecastle he took a silver watch and guard from the waistcoat pocket of a seaman named Southwick. This occurred shortly after six, and at seven the prisoner went to the shop of a pawn broker named Seagull and offered them in pawn for 12s. Seagull, having his suspicions aroused, sent for the police, and the prisoner was given into custody. As the prosecutor was not present he applied for a remand. The Prisoner was remanded until Thursday.

Hull Packet
4th August 1882

In spite of all this, the case continued. No one saw a body, but it had to be presumed that the boy was dead. He was evidently not on board the vessel, the only other possibility was that he was overboard. The chances of survival for a boy, half starved and badly beaten, cast in to the North Sea on a freezing February night, were virtually nil. Had he been picked up by another vessel, it would most likely be known.

As for how he came to be overboard, Wheatfill did by his actions arouse some suspicion. Writing about the accident in Callan's name, professing to know in some detail exactly how it occurred, after only supposing that he had been drawing water, immediately after the event, while at the same time being very certain that the lad was overboard and not hiding down below. It also seemed highly improbable that Hughes would choose the big bucket, with no handle, which he could barely lift, to draw water, when the small bucket with a rope on was just beside it. Also, in the case of such an accident on board a smack or any other vessel, the usual drill is to raise the alarm with the rest of the crew, to render every assistance possible to save the person overboard. Wheatfill did no such thing. The sea was calm that night, there would have been no difficulty in getting the small boat out.

Wheatfill also had a strong motive, which was to silence the boy; also to make sure that no one saw the injuries he had inflicted upon his body. Losing him overboard would seem a perfect solution to him; an occurrence on fishing smacks, unfortunately common enough to go unquestioned.

The only other plausible possibility to Wheatfill having thrown Hughes overboard was suicide. Suffering such misery as he did at the hands of Wheatfill, Hughes may have put himself overboard, in a desperate act to end his suffering. But then Wheatfill would still be in a way accountable for his death.

you are to be asked to draw the inference that this was not a mere accident which caused this poor lad to fall overboard, but that it was a wilful, cruel act of Wheatfill which forced him overboard, and in that way caused him to die.

Hon Sir Henry Hawkins
York Assizes, 4th November 1882

The Verdict

Eventually, Wheatfill went before the Hon Sir Henry Hawkins at the Assizes, York Castle, on Saturday the 4th of November 1882. On Monday the 6th the Grand Jury returned a true bill against Edward Wheatfill for the wilful murder of Peter Hughes. The case against skipper Daniel Callan for aiding and abetting was thrown out. On Wednesday the 8th Wheatfill was placed in the dock and called upon to plead, he pleaded not guilty. Asked if he had any counsel engaged to defend him, he had not. He was offered the counsel of Mr Mellor, which he accepted. Mr Mellor was handed the depositions taken before the Hull magistrates over the past months. The case would be taken at nine o'clock on Thursday the 9th. On Friday the 10th Edward Wheatfill was found guilty of wilful murder by a jury. Mr Justice Hawkins then passed the only sentence that the law allowed for such a case; Wheatfill was sentenced to death. The execution would take place on Tuesday the 28th.

Shortly after the conviction a memorial was got up in Wheafill's favour. Through Mr Norwood, MP of Hull, it was presented to the Home Secretary. The arguments in favour were that no one saw him throw the boy overboard, and no one saw the body, therefore he could still be alive. Some thought the condemned man's life might be spared, but the Home Secretary failed to be moved by this, no reply was given to the appeal.

The Execution

In the evening of Monday the 27th of November 1882, a man named Marwood arrived in the City of York. He spent the night in the castle, having travelled there for an appointment the following morning. Marwood was the public executioner.

Edward Wheatfill was the same night in York Castle, in the condemned cell. The cell was in fact a comfortable one, with a large fire kept burning all night by order of the Governor, Captain E W Twyford.

York Castle Prison Gate
York Castle Prison Gate

Shortly before eight o'clock in the morning of the 28th within the castle prison there was a gathering of people outside the Governor's office, waiting for Captain Twyford to appear; as he did, they followed him the condemned cell. Present were: Mr Edwin Gray, Under Sheriff; Dr Anderson, prison surgeon; Mr Spencer, assistant surgeon; Mr Triffit, deputy governor and three press reporters. In the cell they found Wheatfill in the custody of a couple of turnkeys, the Rev A W Baldwin, gaol chaplain, and Marwood, the executioner.

On the arrival of the Governor and officials, Marwood pinioned the prisoner. Throughout the whole process, Wheatfill maintained the most stolid demeanour, showing not the faintest glimmer of emotion, something which had characterised his behaviour during the trials. He complied with alacrity as Marwood fastened the leather straps around his arms. The executioner then gave a silent indication that he was ready and the party proceeded to the scaffold.

As they entered the space of the scaffold, the chaplain began to repeat Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live.
Marwood secured the prisoner's legs with a strap just below the knees, adjusted the noose around his neck and placed the white cap over his head. The chaplain was still reciting when Marwood suddenly drew the bolt and Wheatfill dropped a full nine feet.

All was quiet for a few seconds, then one by one the officials all looked down the trapdoor at the body suspended below. Death must have been instantaneous, as there was no motion other than the body slightly oscillating as it hung. The white cap was partly removed by the drop, exposing his thick, black, curly hair.

Immediately, the black flag was hoisted on the Clifford Tower. A group of people had congregated on the Ouse Bridge waiting to see this signal, though there was otherwise surprisingly little interest in the proceedings by the public.

The body remained hanging until ten o'clock, when Marwood cut it down. A formal inquest was then held in the Crown Court.

Apprentice Records

The following is a transcript from the Register of Apprentices in Grimsby showing the entry for Peter Hughes.

Name of Apprentice Name and address of Master Name and Port of Registry of Ship
Peter Hughes Charles Roots Standard. Grimsby
Date of Indenture Date of Registry Date of Birth of Apprentice Term for which Bound Date of Confirming Indenture Where the Apprentice is to Lodge SPECIAL REMARKS as to Boy's Origin and any Perculiarity by which he may be Identified
7th Oct 80 8th Oct 80 5th Sep 63 4 years 21st Apl 81 With the Master. 28 Templar Terr, Stanley Street. From Middlesborough Union. Blue eyes, Brown hair, Very small for age.

Register of Appearances Before The Superintendent

Date Report By Whom Reported
11th Mar 81 Cut Trawl Warp - Forgiven Master
21st Apl 81 ½ Yearly Report: Good Master
1st Sep 81 Reported damaging stores - Spoken to at request of Guardians and warned Master
2nd Dec 81 Again reported for cutting the warp & c (for which Master had thrashed him). Boy admitted it alleging he wished to be sent back to the Union - Clerk written to. Master
5th Dec 81 Indenture Cancelled
Subseuqently heard that boy was lost at sea in Feb 82 off the smack Gleaner of Hull. J Wheatfill Mate apprehended in June & charged with Murder, and Hung.

Particulars of Spending Money, Renumeration and Payments

Spending Money Renumeration and Payments
Scale 1 Scales 6 and 7

Register of Cancellation

Date Reason for Cancellation Terms for which Cancellation takes place
5th Dec 81 Continual bad conduct of boy in destroying stores & endangering vessel. Master will send boy to Hull with 3/- and two complete shifting of clothes.

Further Disarray on the Gleaner

Back in Hull, life goes on for the Gleaner. Mr Maddick would find new crew for the smack; though that was not the end of problems on board.

Drunken Sailors

On Monday the 9th of June 1884 another crew of the smack were up in the Police Court. William Wilson, James McDonald, John Scott and William Dawe, who comprised the crew, were charged with refusing to obey the commands of the captain, Fras Strauburg, while at sea on the 3rd.

In consequence of their refusal to work, the smack had to return home. It transpired that there had been a lot of drinking during the voyage, with alcohol procured from a Dutch cooper which was working around the fleet.

It was alleged by the crew that the skipper, Strauberg, while very drunk, had brutally assaulted Wilson, the cook. Strauberg denied the assault, but it had been witnessed by another passing smack. As it turned out, the skipper was fined 40s and the crew were all discharged. Mr Twiss, the magistrate said The state of things described were disgraceful, and was owing to the drink got from the cooper.


On the 28th of August 1885, about 250 miles from Spurn, the Gleaner was in collision with another Stather built smack, the Diamond (H1191). The Gleaner ran into them and broke the mizzen mast.

Good Deeds

The crews of the Gleaner were not all bad. On the 19th of February 1886, they took home the injured Robert White, cook from the smack Galetea (H1098). He had injured his arm two days earlier and needed medical treatment, having fallen while coming up out of the hold.

In December 1886 the Gleaner came to the aid of another Stather built smack, the Minerva (H282), which had been de-masted in a storm. They towed the vessel back into port.

Bad Luck and Bad Weather

On the 3rd of February 1888 the Gleaner lost her trawl heads after being fouled by the smack Englishman.

On the 28th of October 1890 she shipped a heavy sea which carried away the mizzen mast. Two months later on the 27th of December they were in collision with the smack Aloungpyah of Hull.

On Monday the 26th of February 1894, the Gleaner had been out for nine weeks with the Red Cross Fleet when she was caught in a storm. The vessel had sprung a leak and the crew had been pumping for days to keep afloat and were at the point of exhaustion. On Saturday they were sighted by the smack Masterpiece of Scarborough (SH162), skippered by Edwin Sellers, while about 45 miles, east by north off Scarborough. Sellers and one of his crew men went on board and took charge. They succeeded in sailing her back into Scarborough.

The End

The end of the Gleaner came in 1898 when she was broken up and the register closed.

Vessel Details for Gleaner

Official Number:65217
Fishing Number:H678
Vessel Name:Gleaner
  • Henry Maddick of Hull
  • Daniel George Callan 1882
  • F Strandberg 1884
  • Henry Scarborough 1885
  • Charles Johnson / Jacob Lion 1886
  • William Sharp 1887
  • August Howe 1888
  • George Powell 1889
  • Thomas Bignall / William White / E Morrison 1894
  • Hull
Trade:North Sea Fishing.
Incidents:24th Feb 1882, Peter Hughes 16, was murdered by Edward Wheatfill, second hand. Wheatfill claimed the boy fell overboard while drawing a bucket of water, but was later found out and sentanced to death. 28 October 1890 North sea. Mizzen mast carried away. Shipped a heavy sea. 27 December 1890 10am North Sea. Collision with the smack Aloungpyah of Hull. February 26th 1894. Vessel strained and leaking, struck a heavy sea. Put into Scarborough March 4th.
Fate:Broken up 1898, Register closed.

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© Background Photograph by Steve Smith.