I found this after finishing Shanghai Days by Richard Dillon. After reading about Merriman's command of the ship "Commodore T H Allen" I began searches on the ship and this Times article instantly popped up. It seems the ship Comodore T.H. Allen was named after Captain T.H. Allen that defended both Robert "Bully" Waterman of the clipper "Challenge" and the Captain of the "Sunrise" in San Francisco, two famous "hell ship" trials. And this vessel was noted over and over again for Merriman's treatment of the crew while he and his son commanded it. Were they thumbing their nose at the union activist by naming a ship after one so prominent in the defense of the ship owners and captains?
From the Sacramento Daily Union, April 17, 1875
Pacific Coast Items:
"In San Francisco on Thursday, Captain Merriman of the ship Carrier Dove was brought before the United States Commisioner O'Beirne on a charge of cruel and unusual punishment to one of the crew, named Bernstein and to another crew member, James Fevel. The evidence was to the effect that Bernstein was wounded on the head with a knife by the third officer. Then the second mate requested that the complainant wipe off the blood and have his shirt washed. He refused. Whereupon the captain had him put in irons and kept him doubled up for several hours in a very painful position. The commissioner held the captain to answer with the bail set at $1,000.00. "
And here is an excerpt from Richard Dillon 's Shanghai Days:
"Ironically, a ship which made the black list (of the Red Record) most frequently was the T. H. Allen, named for the commodore who had defended the brutes of the Challenge and the Sunrise. A seaman, McDonald, who had protested the third mates vile language, was beaten against a rail and suffered a dislocated shoulder. When he complained to the captain, Robert H. Merriam that stalwart said, "It serves you damned well right." The carpenter's shop was turned into a brig where McDonald died."
And another "Red Record" posting mentioned by Dillon:
"In this "Red Record" The ship Commodore T. H. Allen made it's accustomed appearance, this time for the beating of her colored cook. Captain Merriam was freed on bail. Mate Merriam (his son_ and Second, Crocker , hid. The crew was shipped out; the case vanished into thin air and was dismissed for the usual lack of evidence"
"The ship Commodore T.H. Allen , for example, was "honored" for a fourth time in the Journal with the result that the first mate, Merriam, called on the editor not once but three times to protest his articles. Mackay (the journal's publisher (no relation to me)) just expressed the hope that New York would pack the pair of Merriams off to Sing Sing."
One may have noticed that the name "Merriman" is mispelled here. It appears this way in Dillon's book. However all my other New York Times searches confirm that it was Robert H. Merriman of the ship Commodore T. H. Allen. I am almost certain that we have the same man here.
I also have just finished RH Dana's "The Seaman's Friend" and it is a wealth of information of seaman's rights and punishments as defined by the maritime laws of the times (1841). It is surprising to know that the laws were as sophisticated and detailed as they were. This book was meant to be a handbook for green horns and seasoned mariners alike.
I would think that it wouldn't have been long before many disgruntled sailors were thumbing through this book in the forecastle and finding the pages that discussed a seaman's right to fair treatment and just who could punish him and who couldn't and when. Below is an excerpt:
" Punishment.- The master may inflict moderate correction on a seaman for sufficient cause ; but he must take care that it is not disproportionate to the offence. If he exceeds the bounds of moderation he is treated as a trespasser, and is liable in damages. . . "
" This power over the liberty and person of a fellow-man, being against common right, and entrusted to the master only from public policy, regarding the necessities of the service, is to be sparingly used, and a strict account will be required of it's exercise."
Is this where the term "Sea Lawyer" sprung up? There are rules discussed in other chapters about a sailor contacting a consulate in foreign ports with complaints of unfair treatment.
There are more articles to come. Stay tuned!
I have just finished the book "Shanghaing Days" by Richard Dillon and half way through it I was startled to see Robert Merriman's name mentioned more than several times in this litany of atrocities visited on sailors.
It appears that Robert Merriman and his son who served as his first mate for a while, before apparently going on to become a captain himself, was mentioned in the Seaman's Journal's RED RECORD more than 4 times. That is not counting the several articles I have discovered about the different charges of cruelty by him.
The Seaman's Journal was the journal of one of the first sailor's unions and the Red Record was a sheet that was published for a time that kept an account of current incidents of cruelty to the crews. Up until that time the common sailor had no redress for brutal treatment. It is recounted over and over again in my readings of American maritime history the sailor's lack of human rights. The laws of the United States stated that the captain of an American ship was the absolute law on board ship while at sea, any member of his crew could be thrown in jail for desertion with stiff sentences and the captain could basically do anything he wanted to his sailors including beating them and even killing them if he thought it was necessary to ensure the overall safety of the ship. Captains who were brought to court for mistreatment or murder were more often than not, let off with just a minimal fine until the formation of the seaman's unions in the 1890s. Until then sailors were considered untrustworthy drunkards who could not be counted on to tell the truth about anything. Of course sailors were famous for their bad behavior and many of them were probably challenged both mentally or emotionally. They were easy prey for the bucko mates and the boarding house crimps and runners. Judges and lawyers were always more sympathetic to the owners and "boarding masters" who's influence came from money and community backing. But in the 1890s things began to change and it seems that Merriman was finally brought to book for the things he was accused of doing. Unions began to hire lawyers for the sailors involved in cruelty and murder cases.