MUTINY aboard the 'VENUS'

Convicts escape to New Zealand.

© 2003


Several  versions of this event in early history have been recorded over the years and the story has also been dramatised into an excellent historical novel. The true story of the mutiny is very difficult  to separate from the rumours and conflicting reports which abounded at the time.
An account, written in England for Sir Joseph Banks in November, 1807, compiled from various sources by the retired Govornor of New South Wales, Philip King, was subsequently found to contain many inaccuracies.

Brigantine-similar to 'Venus'
In April, 1806, the Colonial brigantine VENUS, owned by Robert Campbell and under the command of Captain Samuel Chase,  lay at anchor at  Twofold Bay, Port Dalrymple, on the northern coast of Tasmania. Aboard she had a consignment of grain, flour and salt pork for the settlement of Hobart.

Back in Port Jackson [Sydney], on the outward voyage, Captain Chase found the vessel short on crew. Due to sail on the next tide, he was requested by the authorities, to give passage to Hobart of a New South Wales Corps soldier, Richard Thompson, who was escorting John Lancashire and Richard Evans, both convicts and two other women, one, a convict, carrying a small female child. Reluctantly he agreed to allow them aboard.

The woman convict was Charlotte BADGER, who had come to Port Jackson, Sydney, aboard the convict ship, the EARL of CORNWALLIS in 1801.
Charlotte had been convicted of the felony of housebreaking and had been sentenced to seven years deportation by an English Assizes Court at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire . She was eighteen years old at the time.

She served five years of her sentence at the Parramatta Female Factory , during which time she gave birth to a daughter. It was here that she met her friend, a woman named Catherine Hagerty².
In 1806 Charlotte had just two years of her sentence left to serve and was assigned as a servant to a settler in Hobart.

Setting a course for Port Dalrymple, the Captain soon discovered he had made a grave mistake taking the convicts on board.  During the voyage, he found several of the crew in a drunken state and the two women dancing half naked.  He accused the first mate , an American named Benjamin Kelly, of tapping into the casks of whisky in the cargo hold.
Kelly denied this, backed up by his convict lover, Catherine Hagerty, a strong willed blonde, whom Captain Chase had also accused of being a 'slut.' She had also thrown some valuable papers overboard belonging to Captain Kemp during one of their many arguments during the voyage. Charlotte Badger had also been co-habitating with John Lancashire, a fellow convict.

Port Dalrymple-Tasmania, 1801
By the 17th June, 1806, Captain Chase was very glad when the vessel finally put into the Bay at Port Dalrymple. He went ashore, feeling a little uneasy, to attend to some business and deliver some official dispatches he was carrying, unaware that the crew were plotting to mutiny and take over the ship.

Once he had left, the ringleader of the mutiny, the mate, Benjamin Kelly, together with David Evans, the pilot and Richard Thompson, the soldier, armed themselves with muskets and took command of the ship, encouraged and assisted by the two women convicts. Richard Edwards, the second mate, who resisted, was knocked unconcious and then dragged and confined below deck.
Five of the loyal crew refused to participate in the mutiny and were put ashore and left to break the news to Captain Chase. He returned to find the vessel underway with Richard Thompson at the helm, setting a course for New Zealand and the Bay of Islands.

It was later reported to the authorities by Captain Chase that the VENUS crew was now made up of:
Benjamin Kelly, the first mate; Richard Edwards, second mate, who had been knocked down and confined below, Richard Thompson, the soldier; Joseph Redmonds, a half-caste seaman; Thomas Ford, a cabin boy; William Evans an aboriginal cabin boy; Richard Evans, a convict; a Malay cook; Catherine Hagerty; John Lancashire, convict and his lover, Charlotte Badger with her small child, all twelve still aboard the vessel as she sailed out of sight.

 Crossing the Tasman Sea, the Venus and her mutinous crew arrived at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands where they joined the few other white Europeans, James Cavanagh,George Bruce and some sailors left behind by a whaler, who were living there at the time.

The Maori chief, Te Pahi, had a son named  Maa-Tara. He saw six people landed from the Venus, he later said, two men, two women and two young children. Presumably these were Ben Kelly and Catherine Hagerty; John Lancashire and Charlotte Badger; her young child; and perhaps one of the smaller cabin boys, together with a supply of stores, confirming reports that the two men had set about building a strong hut for the women and the small child to live in on arrival at the Bay, loading this with stores from the Venus cargo hold.

Maa-Tara related that the local Maori had their own ideas about how the living accommodation should be used. They ordered that the women be kept apart in their own huts which the maori chiefs then declared as 'tapu-tapu' and nobody dared to go near them.

Sailing down the North Island to the East Cape, the Venus, with its all male pirate crew, (minus Kelly and Lancashire), kidnapped the sister and neice of Te Morenga, a chief of the Taiamai Plains. 
The sister was later swapped for mats with members of the Ngati Porou tribe who later decided to kill her. The neice was made a slave but was also later killed and eaten by Te Waru, a chief of Tauranga. These and other actions were to later provoke several war expeditions to the East Coast around the year 1818.

Ex-Governor Philip King's letter to Sir Joseph Banks in November, 1807, mentioned the fate, if accurate and not rumour, of six of the crew members:
".....& the Pirates were dismissed under a promise to leave the Bay the next day, but Tipane did not chuse to give up the Six that had taken refuge on shore but claimed them - the Master of the Whaler readily agreed to give them up - as this piratical attempt was regarded by His Majesty in a very different point of view to the crime of stealing a piece of pork, he hung the whole Six, and desired the Captain of the whaler to tell King George & Governor King what he had done - & was sure they would approve of it."

Another report reached Sydney on the 12th April, 1807 from the New Zealand scow  Commerce, under Captain Bernie. The Sydney Gazette reported that the 'Venus' had been seen in the Bay of Islands  and had left under the command of a 'black man', possibly Redmonds, who was apparently trying to return to Port Jackson, but was incapable of piloting the vessel.

The report contained information that the hut, which had been built by Kelly and Lancashire on their arrival at the Bay,  was now being used by eight or nine men from the whaler,  Inspector.
It was also reported that two of the pirates had been taken prisoner, Kelly aboard the ship Britannia and Lancashire held in irons on the Brothers.

The two women, Charlotte and Catherine, had been living onshore, but Catherine Hagerty had become ill and died in April, 1807. Charlotte and her child remained in the Bay, where it was believed that she lived with a local maori rangatira for some time. She refused to return to Port Jackson even though they were offered passage from several ships, including the Elizabeth, saying she wanted a passage to America.

Finally, Charlotte and her daughter are believed to have accepted a passage aboard a ship calling into Tonga. A newspaper report in 1816, by the Captain of an Australian ship calling into the islands of Tonga,  stated that a large 'stout' English woman with a little girl of 'eight or nine'  had landed there some ten years previously. This would indicate that Charlotte left the Bay of Islands during 1806-7, as there was no mention of her in the earlier report from the New Zealand scow captain.

'WANTED FOR PIRACY '

notice in the Sydney Gazette July, 1806


"Whereas the persons undermentioned and described, did, on the 16th day of June, by force and arms violently and piratically take away from His Majesty's settlement of Port Dalrymple , a Colonial Brig or Vessel called 'VENUS...etc....Description of same: CHARLOTTE BADGER age 23yrs, convict, very corpulant, full face, thick lips, with infant child." CATHERINE HAGERTY, middle sized, light hair, fresh complexion. BENJAMIN KELLY, thin faced, small build, etc, etc............"

The above description of her seemed to match the report! Could this be the same Charlotte Badger and her young daughter?

Somehow the half-caste seaman, Joseph Redmonds, also managed to survive the mutiny. Perhaps he deserted the  ship during its voyage down on the East Coast. He is recorded as being finally settled at Mercer, near Hamilton, on the Waikato River.

The brigantine VENUS was reported last seen off the coast of New Zealand in May, 1808, apparently in distress. Shortly afterwards there was nothing to be seen. 

The story of the mutiny of the crew of the Venus leaves us with many questions unanswered. It is unlikely that they will ever be known for sure.

Note ² :A convict of the same name, Catherine Haggerty, is recorded as arriving at Port Jackson, Australia, in 1792 aboard the convict ship Kitty. She was pardoned by Governor Hunter in 1800 and sailed for England aboard the 'Reliance'.