Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
On 3 July 1896, the Herbert Fuller left Boston. Ten days later, the captain, his wife, and the second mate were dead. Murdered with an ax while they slept. Surrounded by ocean, that meant someone on board had done the horrendous deed and any one of the survivors could be next.
There was no inkling of anything out of the ordinary before that fateful night. The barkentine carried a cargo of white pine bound for South America on a journey that should have taken about two months. There were twelve people aboard the ship, including Lester Hawthorne Monks, a student at Harvard University. That night, before going to sleep, he read a story of mutiny and murder by William Clark Russell. Sometime after he retired, he was awakened by a scream. When he went to investigate, he found Captain Charles Nash dead. Later, he and the steward also found the bodies of Laura Nash and August Blomberg.
Soon after, the remaining nine men aboard decided to preserve the bodies and some of the evidence and to sail for Halifax, Nova Scotia, which they deemed the closest port where they could report the murders. They also tried to determine who did the deed. The most likely suspect was Charley Brown, a Swedish sailor who acted suspiciously. But perhaps Thomas Bram, the first mate, was the murderer. Or maybe the two acted together. Whatever the truth, surely the authorities in Halifax would find the answer. If not them, the Americans would since the victims were American, the Herbert Fuller was American, and she had departed from an American port.
What ensues, however, is an account of questionable justice rife with lies, exaggerations, racism, and manipulation. No one, not even the passenger Monks, the victims, the sailors, or even the attorney who prosecuted the case, were above reproach. Only one victim supposedly got justice, because errors made by the grand jury meant the defendant could be tried for only one murder. Black-and-white pictures and diagrams, some submitted as evidence, are included, as is a bibliography and index.
Hiam provides an insightful and riveting account of the days before, during, and after the murders were committed. He shows how even some of the participants and those who followed the proceedings questioned the findings and the verdicts. It is also a compelling commentary on society and the legal system in the final years of the 19th century.
Review Copyrighted ©2023 Cindy Vallar
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