Convict Histories

Murder on the High Seas – Miles & Seymour

By Irma Walter, 2019.

Three men stood in the dock as the judge put on his black cap and pronounced sentence. A jury had found them guilty of having, on the 6th June 1857, on the ship Martha Jane, then on the high seas, feloniously, wilfully and with malice aforethought, killed and murdered Andrew Rose, a seaman onboard the vessel. The three accused were Captain Henry Rogers, and his two mates, William Miles and Charles Edward Seymour.[1] They were sentenced to death by hanging.

Details of the case were widely published, even in Australia. In his address the judge spoke of the necessity for a maritime country such as Britain to ensure the safety of its seamen, by limiting excessive use of power in any shipboard conflict. The jury recommended mercy, but the judge stated that that decision would be in the hands of Her Majesty’s ministers.

During the trial, evidence was given that a series of assaults against Rose had taken place in May and June of that year during a return trip from Calcutta to Liverpool. In Barbados Captain Rogers had taken over as captain and the murdered man Andrew Rose, from Orkney, was signed on as an able seaman.[2] Miles was the chief mate and Seymour the 2nd mate on board the Martha Jane.

The violence began on Andrew Rose’s first day when he was assigned a task that Seymour found fault with and gave him a beating. Rose was advised by other crew members to leave the ship that day so he ran off, only to be found a few days later and put in irons. Seymour, Miles and Rogers all beat or whipped him that day. Crew members later gave evidence that from that time the whippings became a daily occurrence.

One day the Captain lost his temper when the prisoner showed his defiance by singing after a beating. To prevent him from talking he forced an iron bolt across Rose’s mouth and the two mates tied it in place with some yarn around his head. The captain had a dog on board and it was encouraged to attack Rose. On another occasion they placed Rose inside a water keg and rolled it around the deck before hanging it over the side of the ship for twelve hours. The heat inside was intolerable and the only air came through the bung-hole. When released Rose collapsed on the deck, but when other crew members attempted to give him some water, they were threatened by the captain.

When Captain Rogers told Rose that he wished he would drown or hang himself, he defiantly replied, ‘I wish you would do it for me!’ At that the captain and the two mates tied him to the main mast by the neck, dangling several feet above the deck. A crew member later gave evidence that Rose’s face became black, his eyes protruded from their sockets and froth came from his mouth as he hung there for two minutes before they cut him down.

After this event Rose was half-crazed and the crew took him below, but had to tie his hands to restrain him. Within a few days he was brought up on deck and lay there unattended, covered with festering wounds. Shortly afterwards he died and his body was tossed over the side. On arrival in Liverpool the matter was reported to the police and the three men were arrested for murder.[3]

Captain Rogers, in spite of pleas for clemency on behalf of his wife and children, was executed before a large crowd in front of Kirkdale Gaol. A few days earlier a despatch had come through that the sentences of the two mates, Seymour and Miles, had been commuted to terms of transportation for life.[4]


William Miles – First Mate (1831 – 1899) (Reg. No. 7194)

On hearing of their reprieve, William Miles and Charles Seymour sobbed with relief when informed that their death sentence had been commuted to transportation for life. They were held at Chatham Prison awaiting transport to Western Australia.

William Miles was born in Queensferry, Scotland in 1831. He was described as 5’9½” tall, light hazel eyes, a long face, sallow complexion and slight build, with a crucifix on his right arm and a female figure on the left. He arrived in WA on the Clyde on 29 May 1863. He left behind a wife but no children. His possessions on arrival in WA included eight books and 40 or 50 London journals and newspapers, an indication that he was literate.

His good record in Fremantle prison indicates his determination to make the most of his second chance at life. No transgressions were recorded against his name and shortly after arrival he was discharged to Mt Eliza. He obtained his Ticket of Leave on 2 July 1863 and in 1865 was transferred to Champion Bay. His Conditional Pardon was issued on 21 October 1867.[5]

Being a seaman, he was soon able to find employment on coastal vessels. In 1864 when employed on the cutter Hope at the Abrolhos Islands, he was wrongly suspected, along with another ticket-of-leave man John Anderson Christie,[6] of trying to steal another boat.[7]

Miles became well-known along the Western Australian coast as the master of more than a dozen different vessels between 1867 and his death in 1899. He mostly plied the north-west trade route, where a pearl shell industry was already established and land was being opened up by pastoralists. From Fremantle he carried passengers, supplies and timber to these isolated areas. On the return journey he brought pearl shells, turtle shells, wool, guano and passengers from Broome, via Port Walcott and Champion Bay.

In 1874 Government tenders were called for the construction of a telegraph line connecting WA to South Australia via Esperance and Eucla, a mammoth undertaking in those days. Miles won the contract to deliver the timber and supplies needed: W. W. Miles, to convey telegraph posts, &c, to landing places on South Coast, at £5 per load of 50 cubic feet.

In 1871, William had married Sarah Gallop, daughter of James Gallop and Elizabeth Spencer. In order to fulfil the telegraph project, he formed a partnership with his brother-in-law Charles Gallop. They acquired two vessels, the Tribune and the Mary Ann. Other vessels contracted to deliver the equipment were the Twilight, the Nautilus, the Pet and the Pearl. The inhospitable southern coast was subject to rough weather and unloading the cargo at specific points along the coast where required by the construction teams was a difficult undertaking, with the timbers having to be floated ashore by raft.[8] Not all of the ships survived the length of the contract.

Returning along the coast after one delivery in July 1876, Miles took the Mary Ann alongside the Tribune to attend to its seriously ill captain, who had sustained an injury to his back, causing damage to his kidneys and liver. Captain Sheppard’s life was saved when the cook was persuaded to insert a catheter into the patient. Shortly afterwards the Mary Ann went ashore at the Bellinger Islands during bad weather, luckily with no loss of life. As a result the stranded crew and passengers had a long walk along the coast to Esperance.[9]

Miles completed his contract aboard the Planet. The telegraph project was completed by December 1877, with congratulatory messages being exchanged between the Governor and the other Australian colonies and with Lord Carnarvon, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in London.[10]

By 1878 William Miles and Charles Gallop were ready to enter the north-west trade again, advertising the availability of the Tribune to carry cargo and passengers to Champion Bay and Shark’s Bay, and on the Clarence Packet to Point Walcott.[11] Miles was welcomed back by his former customers in the north-west, as recorded in the Inquirer:

COSSACK, April 30.

By our old and favorite trader, the Clarence Packet, of which Capt. W. W. Miles is commander— one of the most, if not the most, painstaking seamen we have on our coast — I have an opportunity to give you a brief outline at our doings of late.[12]

It wasn’t long, however, before they were in financial trouble. Miles had been found guilty of bringing a cask of rum into Fremantle from Eucla on board the Planet, without notifying Customs and paying duty. In 1878 James Slade, Resident Magistrate at Fremantle, seized the cutter Tribune and the schooner Clarence Packet from partners Gallop and Miles when they couldn’t pay the excessive fines, which amounted to £160 for Miles and £100 for Gallop.

At the time Miles was still owed £500 for his telegraph contract, but the money hadn’t come through from the Government. They were obliged to take out a mortgage to cover the fines, plus the £900 cost of insuring the vessels. They took Slade to the Supreme Court for the illegal seizure of the two vessels. Judgement was found in favour of the complainants, but they were only awarded damages of £76.

The judgement was sufficient to bankrupt Miles. His assets, the Tribune, and his quarter share of the Clarence Packet, plus his Fremantle house and personal effects, were advertised for sale by auction.[13]

Undaunted, he was soon back at work on the north-west route as master of the Sarah, then on the Laughing Wave. In December 1887, Miles was returning from Columbo as master of the Janet when she went down near Rottnest, luckily with no loss of life. Following an inquiry, Miles was found to have been negligent and had his mariner’s ticket suspended for four months.[14]

In 1890 financial problems struck once again, with William Warden Miles, of Fremantle, master mariner, filing a petition in liquidation. The estimated amount of liabilities was set down at £756 14s. 8d., but his assets were not stated.[15]

He continued working as before. In May 1899 another disaster occurred when he was master of the pearling lugger Don Joseph, which was wrecked on a reef near Point Cloates. The crew all survived, getting to shore in a dinghy, then were taken by an aboriginal to Carter’s homestead, where they were treated hospitably.[16]

William Miles was not so lucky a few months later when he left Fremantle in the Sultan for Broome on 25 July 1899. When she failed to arrive fears were expressed for the vessel’s safety. Miles and his crew were recorded as missing, believed dead. In December 1899 probate of the last will of William Warden Miles, late of Fremantle, master mariner, was granted to his widow Sarah Miles, to the value of £837 8s.[17]

William and Sarah Miles had two children, the eldest being a daughter, Elizabeth Cyclone Gallop Warden Miles, said to have been born on her father’s boat at Roebourne during a cyclone. Their son, George James Gallop Warden Miles, was born on 8 May 1873 at Fremantle. He later became a prominent businessman and local identity in Marble Bar, representing his district for many years as a Member of the Legislative Council from 1916 until 1950.[18] George’s grand-daughter is Jo Vallentine, a prominent peace activist and Senator for Western Australia, 1985 – 1992.[19]


Charles Edward Seymour – Second Mate (c1836 – ?) (Reg. No. 5613)

Charles Edward Seymour, born c1836, was one of three men convicted in Liverpool in 1857 of the murder of a seaman aboard the Martha Jane, off the African coast. Like William Miles, his sentence was commuted to ten years’ transportation which he served in Western Australia. From Chatham Prison, where his behaviour was good, he was taken on board the Palmerston and arrived here on 11 of February 1861.

Seymour could read and write well. His possessions when admitted to Fremantle Prison were a Bible, a Prayer Book, a knife and a bag of letters.[20] He was described as a mariner, aged 25, height 5’5½”, with brown hair, dark hazel eyes, a full face, dark complexion, a stout build and an anchor on his left arm. He was single with no children. His behaviour was described as exemplary.[21]

In November 1862 he received his Ticket of Leave and was employed from 30 June 1863 as a boatman, working for the Harbour Master in Fremantle and paid £5/3/4 per month. In October that year he was at the Vasse, employed as a general servant by the Yelverton family, on £3 per month. Two months later he was promoted to the position of foreman at the same property.[22]

Seymour decided to return to the sea life, employed on board the coastal vessel Arabian in July 1864, at a pay rate of 60/- per week. He was transferred to the Victoria District in November 1864, and then back to Fremantle on 29 December 1864. The following year he was on the Sea Spray, under James Cobb, at £6 per month.[23]

No more is known about Seymour. It is possible that he may have left the colony.


[1] Saunders Newsletter and Daily Advertiser, 21 August 1857.

[2] Sib Folk News, Issue No 74 June 2015, pp.8-9. at

[3] Ibid.

[4] Northern Standard, September 1857.

[5] Convict Department Registers, General Register, 1850-1868 (R21B).

[6] John Anderson Christie, Convict 5711.

[7] Bicentennial Dictionary

[8] Inquirer and Commercial News, 4 October 1876.

[9] Sunday Times, 14 Nov 1909.

[10] Western Australian Times, 28 December 1877.

[11] Herald, 27 September 1878.

[12] Inquirer, 26 May 1880.

[13] West Australian, 13 July 1880.

[14] West Australian, 30 December 1887.

[15] Daily News, 13 March 1890.

[16] Western Mail, 19 May 1899.

[17] West Australian, 11 December 1899.

[18] Biographical Register of Members of Parliament of Western Australia, at

[19] Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, at

[20] Convict Establishment, Miscellaneous, Prisoners’ Property Book, 1861-1865 (V14)

[21] Convict Department Registers (128/38-39)

[22] Convict Department General Register for Nos. 8127-8190, 5497-5894 (R3-R4)

[23] Ibid.