American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

GLOBE MUTINY. The Globe (built 1815) of Nantucket* might have been remembered as the first ship to return more than 2,000 barrels of whale oil, but that distinction was eclipsed by its being the stage of the bloodiest mutiny* in the history of the whale fishery.

The Globe sailed on its fourth voyage December 1822 for the Pacific, worked the Japan ground, and stopped at Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands in December 1823, where it lost seven crew members (six by desertion) and signed on six new hands, two of whom, Silas Payne and John Oliver, were to be key players in the mutiny and its sequel. The vessel left Honolulu 29 December 1823; a month later on the night of 26 January 1824, while off Fanning* Island (3° 49' N/158° 29' W), boatsteerer Samuel Comstock, the organizer of the mutiny, aided by Payne, Oliver, and William Humphries, broke into the cabin and killed Captain Thomas Worth, Mate William Beetle, Second Mate John Lombard (or Lumbert), and Third Mate Nathaniel Fisher. Two days later the mutineers hanged one of their own number, Humphries, of whose loyalty Comstock claimed to be suspicious.

The motive of the killings seems to have been not so much grievances about discipline (a flogging, insufficient time for meals) as the peculiar psychopathology of Comstock, whose earlier life had been marked by dramatic outbursts of idiosyncratic, often violent behavior.

Under Comstock’s command the ship sailed first to the Kingsmill Islands, where the natives were hostile, and then to the Marshalls and the Mulgraves, where the mutineers landed on Mili Island. There the natives were unthreatening, but the Globe settlement was not destined to be the island kingdom that Comstock, according to some reports, hoped to establish. Within days of their landing, Comstock was murdered by Payne and Oliver, who suspected him of squandering the ship’s stores on the natives to put himself in an alliance with them at the expense of the rest of the crew. Soon thereafter Gilbert Smith, Comstock’s fellow boatsteerer, enlisted five of the seamen who were not mutineers (Stephen Kidder, Peter Kidder, George Comstock, Anthony Hanson, and Joseph Thomas) in an escape attempt. George Comstock was the younger brother of the chief mutineer; some suspicions hung about the role of Joseph Thomas in the mutiny.

Under cover of night the six sailed the Globe out to sea and reached Valparaiso four months later on 7 June 1824. Bad relations between the natives and the nine remaining Globe people on the island, attributable mainly to Payne’s abusive treatment of the natives, led to a massacre of all the remaining seamen except for William Lay and Cyrus Hussey, who came under the protection of friendly natives. The dead included not only Payne and Oliver but Thomas Lilliston, who had been recruited by Comstock for the killings but turned back and did not participate, and the innocent seamen Columbus Worth, Rowland Jones, Rowland Coffin, and Joseph Brown.

Lay and Hussey, who were to become the primary chroniclers of the Globe story, lived almost two years among the Mulgrave natives before they were rescued. Under orders from the secretary of the navy transmitted to Commodore Isaac Hull, the schooner Dolphin was dispatched under the command of Captain John Percival to find the Globe remnant, arrest the mutineers, and rescue the rest. A perilous rescue of Lay was accomplished 29 November 1825; Hussey, who had been kept for most of the time apart from Lay, was found shortly thereafter thanks to Lay’s directions and rescued after a show of force. The two survivors were taken to Valparaiso by the Dolphin and returned to New York in the U.S. frigate United States, arriving 22 April 1827.

The six crewmen who had escaped with the Globe were confined and examined by U.S. consul Michael Hogan in Valparaiso and examined again on their return to the United States. One of them, Joseph Thomas, was tried for complicity in the mutiny and acquitted.

Accounts of the Globe events contain minor discrepancies but are in general complementary. Lay and Hussey produced the most popular version, but the later telling of the story by William Comstock, brother of the chief mutineer, is a remarkably engaging piece of writing. The depositions of participants and other official documents are noted by Edouard Stackpole, cited in the following.

FURTHER READING: Comstock, William. The Life of Samuel Comstock, the Terrible Whaleman. Containing an Account of the Mutiny, and Massacre of the Officers of the Ship Globe, of Nantucket; With His Subsequent Adventures, and His Being Shot at the Mulgrave Islands. Also, Lieutenant Percival’s Voyage in Search of the Survivors. By His Brother, William Comstock. Boston: James Fisher, 1840; Lay, William, and Cyrus M. Hussey. A Narrative of the Mutiny on Board the Whaleship Globe. Of Nantucket, in the Pacific Ocean, Jan. 1824. And the Journal of a Residence of Two Years on the Mulgrave Islands; With Observations on the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants. By William Lay, of Saybrook, Conn. and Cyrus M. Hussey, of Nantucket, The Only Survivors from the Massacre of the Ship’s Company by the Natives. New London: Wm. Lay and C. M. Hussey, 1828 [rpt. New York: Corinth, 1963]; Stack- pole, Edouard. “Mutiny at Midnight,” The Sea-Hunters. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1972.

Thomas Farel Heffernan