Lucraft and Luckraft One-name Study

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Drunk in charge of the cannons on H M ship Hawke

Lt Edward Alfred Luckraft’s career in the navy came to a spectacular end with him firing the ship’s guns while in port in Queenstown (Dublin) in 1858. The Times of London carried reports of the Court Martial which followed, and though the text is long, covering two sessions of hearings, on December 1st and 2nd, it is re-produced here in full, with slightly amended punctuation to ease our reading today.

Perhaps the nerves he suffered led to an early death. After leaving the Navy in 1859, he died on 15th October 1861, and was buried at Ford Park cemetery in Plymouth. The grave would soon hold his mother, Sophie, Admiral Alfred’s second wife, who died just three months later in January 1862. His older sister, Zelie Virginie was buried with them in August 1871, followed just two months later by the old Admiral himself, Alfred, who had been wounded at Trafalgar as a young man.

This was truly a sad family. Admiral Alfred’s first wife, Jane, had died aged about 20, weeks after giving birth to her only known child, Alfred’s first, called Alfred, and born about 1817. This first son too would suffer mental health problems, and was posted to the Coast Guard service after a spell at the Royal Navy’s Lunatic asylum at Haslar. He died in 1865, aged about 48. He had only been married about 5 years, to a woman called Louisa Elfrida Luckraft. That is her maiden name, and her father was George Luckraft, of Southwark in London. (We don’t know who she was, but possibly she was Alfred’s cousin, and daughter of Admiral Alfred’s brother George. This is only hypothesis, based on the fact that George’s wife lived and died as a widow in Deptford, not far from Southwark.)

By one of those strange co-incidences, some years ago a present day Luckraft was working at Haslar, which is now a naval hospital.


The Times Wednesday December 1st 1858

IRELAND, DUBLIN, Tuesday Morning

(From our own correspondent)

A court martial was held at Queenstown on Monday, on board Her Majesty's ship Nile, on Lieutenant Edward Alfred Luckraft, Second Lieutenant of her Majesty's Ship Hawke, on a charge of having acted in an improper and un-officer-like manner on the night of 31st October. The alarm caused to a large portion of the residents of Queenstown on the night of Sunday, 31st October, by loud and prolonged cannonading from the Hawke, must be still fresh in the minds of the public, and the proceedings today were an investigation of the charge against the officer who had ordered the cannonading, Lieutenant Luckraft. The officers composing the court were, Rear-Admiral Sir Henry Chap's KCB, Port Admiral, President; Captain
Forbes, Captain Ommanney, Captain Chads, Captain D’Eyncourt and Captain Wright. Captain Crispen was also nominated, but having been objected to by the prisoner his name was struck out.

Mr C E Pritchard, secretary to Rear Admiral Sir C Fremantle, acted as Judge- Advocate; Lieutenant Pickard, her Majesty's Ship Hawke, was the prosecuting officer and Mr Kenneth Sutherland, Paymaster of the Royal Albert, appeared on behalf of the prisoner.

The following charge was read to which the prisoner pleaded not guilty.
For that he Lieutenant Edward Henry Luckraft being in actual service and in full pay in Her Majesty's fleet and a Lieutenant belonging to Her Majesty's ship Hawke did on Sunday 31st October 1858 without orders from his superior officer, beat to general night quarters, and in an improper and un-officer-like manner did cause fire to be opened from the great guns of Her Majesty's ship Hawke, the said Lieutenant Luckraft being at the time drunk.

The charge refers to a cannonading which took place on the night in question from the Hawke while lying in Queenstown harbour, by the orders of Lieutenant Luckraft who happened to be the senior officer on board.

Lieutenant Pickard, First Lieutenant of the Hawke was sworn and deposed to having proceeded on board the Hawke on the night of 31st October, on hearing the firing in Queenstown and to having been informed by the gunner that it had taken place by the orders of Lieutenant Luckraft. The gunner also informed him that Lieutenant Luckraft was drunk and he then placed the latter officer under arrest.

Thomas Andrews, gunner of the Hawke, deposed that about 8 o'clock on the night to 31st October he was directed by one of the men to go down to Lieutenant Luckraft, and on going down he found him in the wardroom with a decanter and gin on the table, and a number of officers there. He asked witness would he take some gin and witness said he would rather not. He then told witness that he wished the men to beat to night quarters to which witness replied, “Very well sir.” Witness then asked him if Lieutenant Pickard knew of it as it, was usual when the men were beat to night quarters to know it some time before, and Lieutenant Luckraft said it was all right. He, the prisoner, added afterwards that he had got a letter directing him to do so. Witness then remarked that a number of the men were ashore and that it was impossible to man all the guns, and the prisoner told him to fire four rounds from both sides.

Witness went to execute the order and took out 48 rounds. Had no suspicion at this time that the prisoner was intoxicated. In a quarter of an hour after witness was sent for again and asked by the prisoner was everything going on, to which the witness replied in the affirmative. And the other then desired him to proceed and to report when all was ready, as he, the prisoner, wanted to have everything over by 10 o'clock.

Everything being ready at a quarter past nine the prisoner came on deck and gave orders to the men to fire three rounds on both sides. As soon as 48 rounds of powder were handed from the magazine, witness told the gunner’s mate not to let out any more until further orders. The prisoner then sent for him and asked what right he had to interfere, and told him he had better mind what he was about, or he, the prisoner, would order him down to his cabin. Witness apologised saying he was very sorry, and asked would he go back to the magazine and go on. The other replied, “You can go wherever you like, for I do not want you.” Witness then observed prisoner staggering while walking, and he desired a ship's corporal to observe him, and take notice of him as he was drunk.

Went on the main deck then and the prisoner ordered the men to fire four rounds quick, and turning round to give the order he staggered and fell against the after gun-tackle on the main deck. Witness asked the chaplain to speak to Lieutenant Luckcraft, and persuade him to cease firing, which the chaplain did, but he did not order the firing to cease until he, the witness, gave the orders himself. At this moment Lieutenant Pickard came on board in a boat, and the witness stated to him that the men had beat to quarters by Lieutenant Luckraft’s orders, and that he was drunk, and Lieutenant Pickard then ordered the prisoner to his cabin.

John Streeting, sailmaker’s mate, deposed to the facts of the firing similarly to the last witness, and said the prisoner appeared at the time to have been drinking. Was led to suppose so from his having given a wrong word of command. Observed that after the first three rounds did not consider that the prisoner was exactly drunk but he had been drinking to the best of witness’s belief. Saw him reel against the foremost side tackle of the after-gun, but he did not exactly fall. The wrong order he gave was “Inboard secured the guns,” instead of “Outboard secured the guns.” That was the only reason the witness had for supposing the prisoner to have been drinking.

“Are the main-deck guns of the Hawke ever secured inboard in the harbour after firing, for the purpose of been cleaned? - Not secured but run in.

“Examined by the prisoner - might not a sober man in turning round suddenly have staggered as you state me to have done? - He might.

“The President - Did you consider it was from drinking that he staggered and fell against the gun? - He might have done it from turning quickly. I have done the same thing myself. I do not think it was from drinking.

“Assistant Surgeon Conway of the Hawke deposed to a conversation which took place between him and Lieutenant Pickard after the firing, in which he, the witness, stated that he was satisfied that the prisoner was drunk. Saw him about three-quarters of an hour before the beating to quarters and he was not then drunk.

“The Reverend George G W Clemenger, Chaplain of the Hawke, stated that he saw the prisoner during the firing and he was staggering and apparently unable to take care of himself. That partly arose from drink, and partly from confusion and excitement. Believed that the working of the guns and the firing had excited him in addition to the drink he had taken. Saw him about 10 minutes before beating to quarters and considered him then to be sober.

“James Hyde, corporal of the Hawke, stated that he was desired by the gunner to observe Lieutenant Luckraft during the firing and notice if he was drunk, but witness did not observe him to be so.

This closed the case for the prosecution, and the prisoner having asked for time until next morning to prepare his defence, it was granted and the court adjourned to 10 o'clock.


Thursday 2nd December 1858

The court martial on board Her Majesty's ship Nile in the harbour of Queenstown on Lieutenant Luckraft of Her Majesty's ship Hawke on a charge of having while drunk beat the ship's company to general night quarters, and opened fire from the ship, on the night of 31st October, which had been adjourned from Monday, was resumed on Tuesday morning at 10 o'clock.

The prisoner's defence was read, which, after referring to the evidence of the different witnesses to show that he was perfectly sober when the drums beat to night quarters, and that it was improbable he could have got drunk after, when he could have tasted no liquor, proceeded to state that it was much more probable that the staggering and thickness of speech which had been deposed to were produced by a constitutional affection, called by medical men a congestion of the brain, which he would endeavour to prove had been produced in him by a long exposure in a tropical climate. The defence then stated that the best evidence would be produced to show that he was subject to such attacks, and that they might produce all the symptoms which he had exhibited on the night in question, and which had led to the suspicion that he was drunk.

Lieutenant Pickard, First Lieutenant of the Hawke, was then examined, and stated that he had never seen the prisoner under the influence of drink previous to 31st October, and that he had never hesitated to leave him as commanding officer of the Hawke when circumstances required it. The prisoner had also been frequently commander of the Hawke at Plymouth.

Believed the prisoner to be of a nervous temperament, and from his manner and the peculiar nervous twitching of his head and eyes, which were observed in him since he joined the ship. Witness’s opinion was that the prisoner's conduct, as an officer and gentleman, had always been perfectly correct while on board for Hawke, up to the 31st October.

Mr Thomas Heywood, Paymaster of the Hawke, also stated that he had observed prisoner to suffer occasionally from nervous attacks while on board the Hawke, particularly a few days after joining the Hawke at Plymouth, when the prisoner requested him to write an application for 42 days' leave, and when witness endeavoured to ascertain the reason, he seemed perfectly unaware of why he wished to get the leave.

Mr George Simmons additional paymaster of Hawke, also gave evidence as to the nervous temperament of the prisoner, and as to his uniformly correct conduct up to 31st October.

Mr John M’Kay chief engineer, Stephen Cuer, boatswain, and George Creed, carpenter, all deposed that the prisoner was sober up to 9 o'clock, and the two latter stated that about 10 minutes past nine he told them the ship's crew were going to quarters, and he then was quite sober.

Rear Admiral Alfred Luckraft, father to the prisoner, was next sworn, and deposed that while the prisoner was serving in China he wrote several letters to him, the witness, stating that he had on several occasions suffered from sun-strokes, one of which was a very severe one. And from his letters after that he appeared to be very depressed. He returned in November 1857 in a state of great weakness and ill-health and on several occasions showed symptoms that made him appear as if he had been drinking. The witness knew very well that he had not taken any drink and that it would have been impossible for him to have taken it without his knowledge. Witness did all he could to keep prisoner from being employed until he should be in a better state of health, but he got an appointment in the Hawke, and he wished himself to join. Witness, before allowing him to go, made enquiries about Hawke and her captain, and finding that she was a quiet harbour ship, he allowed the prisoner to go to sea in her.

A certificate was then read from Dr Magrath of Guernsey, which that gentleman had sworn to stating that he had been in attendance on the prisoner after his return from China, and considered him to be naturally nervous and excitable, and possessed of a naturally week mind, which would be likely to break down in after life. The certificate also deposed to the state of nervous excitement under which the prisoner laboured while under the doctor's care, which led him to impress on the prisoners' father that he should not go to sea for at least six or 12 months.

An affirmation from the sister of the prisoner, made before Mr Gallagher J P of Queenstown, was next to read in which she stated that the prisoner, after his return from China, had frequently laboured under fits of nervous excitement during which he appeared to suffer under delusions, and sometimes did not recollect afterwards what had occurred while labouring under one of those fits.

Dr Alexander Eugene M’ki, staff surgeon of the fleet, was then sworn, and stated that he had served in China, and was acquainted with the diseases peculiar to the climate. Believed that sun-stroke produced congestion of the brain, and that such a disease caused by sunstroke had a great tendency to relapse. Believed that staggering gait, temporary mental delusions, flushed face, and embarrassed speech were produced by such a disease and that frequent relapses had a decided tendency to produce mental disorder. The symptoms mentioned sometimes had the appearance of drunkenness. A person drinking spirits to a moderate extent under such circumstances would be much more liable to have his head affected than ordinary persons.

A letter was then read from Admiral Richards, lately one of the Lords of the Admiralty, addressed to the prisoner, which referred in high terms of praise to his uniform good conduct, and certificates were read from the following ship's of Her Majesty's fleet in which he had served; Sybille, Encounter, Vengeance, Impregnable, Caledonia, and Victory.

Dr Robert Bernard, surgeon of the Hawke, was called by the court and examined, and he gave similar testimony to that given by Dr M’ki as to the effects of sunstroke and the symptoms produced by congestion of the brain.

This closed the evidence on both sides, and the court was cleared.

After an interval of about an hour-and-a-half the public were again admitted, when the Judge-Advocate read the decision of the court which declared their opinion that the charge was proved against Lieutenant Edward Alfred Luckraft, but in

consideration of the medical testimony which had been produced and his previous good conduct the sentence was that he should be dismissed from Her Majesty's ship Hawke and rendered incapable of serving in Her Majesty's employment again.

The court then broke up and the prisoner was released from custody. The sentence does not preclude Lieutenant Luckraft from receiving half pay.


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