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Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 08 May 2016 04:17 
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Joined: 18 Nov 2008 21:50
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On Thursday the 11th of December 1834 the ship “Statesman” left London for Sydney, New South Wales with cargo and passengers. On board were, at least, three Irishmen, Mr. Jasper Coughlan, Chief Officer, Thomas Roche, apprentice and John Gaffney. All were from Wexford town. Coughlan was brother of William Coughlan J.P., Roche was from Carrigeen and Gaffney was the son of Mr. Timothy Gaffney, the Wexford shipowner.
Roche kept a log and part of it tells the story of a meeting with Spanish pirates on the high seas. The pertinent section begins on January the 19th 1835.
The early morning was clear and seas were calm, but later came a heavy thunderstorm, which was welcomed by the crew, as by this time in the voyage water must have been scarce. About 11 a.m. the lookout spotted a sail about 8 miles ahead on the starboard bow. By 2 p.m she was more westerly and bearing down on them. The captain of the “Statesman” raised the British ensign but there was no acknowledgement from the approaching ship. Captain Quillan of the British ship kept the approaching ship under close observation through his telescope, as he considered her to be suspicious. He noticed a number of black people on deck, which lead him to think that she was a slaver. Her foremast was shattered and her sails were in tatters from gunshot. But, what must have been of greater concern was that she appeared to be very well armed, with a swivel of ten large guns. Captain Quillen gave the order for his guns (four in number) to be got ready and within minutes they were unlashed and pointed to their portholes.
Still the strange ship continued to bear down on them and orders were given to fire a shot. Continuing on her course towards the British ship, the stranger hoisted her colours, which showed her to be Spanish. Capt. Quillan ordered all the ships small arms to be brought up and loaded. The ship’s boat was then lowered and Coughlan, the mate , was dispatched to reconnoitre the Spanish vessel. Coughlan took his boat alongside the Spanish ship, which was still about a mile away from the “Statesman” whose crew waited anxiously to see what would transpire. About half a hour later the boat returned and reported that the Spaniard was a dangerous customer, called the “Formidable”, a prize taken by the “Buzzard”, man o’war, of Fernando Po and that her crew were from the “Buzzard” and bound for Sierra Leone. She had been carrying 500 slaves, but was now reduced to about 300, many in need of medical assistance. A surgeon was urgently required to look after the wounded.
They also claimed to have been struck by lightening which damaged their chronometer but shortly afterwards contradicted themselves by saying it had gone out by not having been wound. This and other contradictory statements did nothing to allay the captain’s suspicion of them.
Coughlan had offered whatever help he could but told them to stay off his ship. The Spaniard replied that they were not in need of anything and tried to persuade Coughlan and his men to come aboard the ship. When Coughlan declined their offer they became abusive and complained at their treatment at the hands of the British ship. Still the “Formidable” continued on her course towards the “Statesman”, as fast as the little wind would bring her .He told the captain of the Spanish ship that unless she bore off the “Statesman, which was well armed and ready, was under orders to open fire on her as soon as he (Coughlan) was clear. The Spanish captain ignored him and said that he would go along side directly, giving orders for his guns to be loaded. The men on the “Statesman’s boat heard the guns being loaded and asked if they intended to fire on an unarmed boat. Just then a young Englishman put his head out of a porthole, indicating to them to pull away, which they did, heading back to the “Statesman”, expecting at any minute to be halted by a shot from one of the Spanish guns.
After the boat arrived back to make its report to Captain Quillan a boat with an officer and four men onboard was seen leaving the “Formidable”. Captain Quillan immediately ordered a fresh crew into his boat and set out to meet them. His though must have been to keep them away from his vessel so that they could not determine the strength of his crew or armaments. He met them half way and ordered them off, but told them that he would give any help he could and would send it by boat. Again the other ship’s men were upset by this, insisting that they would board the “Statesman”. Quiller lied to them and told them he had part of the 50th Regiment on board, bound for Sydney and that it would be folly for them to attempt to molest them. The men on the “Formidable’s” boat became agitated at this and returned to their ship, still advancing towards the “Statesman”.
Quiller’s Bluff
Quiller’s bluff worked as shortly after the Spaniard was seen to alter course and sail away from the “Statesman”. Later in the day they spotted three sails in the distance but could not distinguish if either was the Spanish ship. The wind increased and shortly after the sails disappeared from sight. Now, Captain’s Quiller’s claim that there were some of the 50th Regiment onboard was not totally a bluff; for there was actually one member of the regiment on the “Statesman”, a Captain Bartley!
Eaten by natives
Later in the voyage Gaffney was sent ashore in a boat, somewhere near what we now call New Zealand and was never seen again. It was thought that he had been eaten by natives. After that trip Coughlan joined The American Navy where he reached the rank of Commodore, retiring after the War Between the States.
It was never determined if the crew of the “Formidable” actually were what they claimed to be, a prize crew taking their capture to a friendly port. In fact, it was never stated that they actually were Spaniards as their ensign claimed them to be. There were inconsistencies in the story told by the “Spanish” captain. For instance, had she been taken as a prize as he claimed, surely any wounded from the engagement would have been seen to by their “mother” ship before sending them to Sierra Leone? There also appeared to be English and some Black men among the crew, not what you would expect in a Spanish vessel of the time.
It was obvious that she had recently been in a battle of some kind but seemed more likely to the captain of the “Statesman” that she had escaped from her opponent off Fernando Po, and was not a captured prize as they claimed. It also seems more likely that they were pirates, intent on getting their hands on the “Statesman” whose sails alone, considering the poor state of their ship, would have been invaluable to them.

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