- Historic Sites
“Mad Jack” And The Missionaries
April 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 3
On the way there they passed the new house of Billy Pitt, a substantial stone structure with a forty-foot verandah across its front. The rioters stopped long enough to smash the verandah windows and frighten a group assembling upstairs for evening worship. Bingham had left the house ahead of the mob and raced home by a back way, but finding that his wife had prudently locked the door, he returned to Billy Pitt’s yard, with the rioters now on his heels. The native converts, seeing Bingham surrounded by the seamen, intervened, and there was a small scuffle from which Bingham escaped and returned to his house. This time Mrs. Bingham let him in.
Just then Percival, with two of Dolphin ’s midshipmen, McBlair and Schermerhorn, rushed into the yard, roaring “I’ll teach you to disgrace us!” and laying about him with his cane. With the help of the natives the officers seized and bound every sailor in sight and sent them on board Dolphin . Two of the men carried off a third, who had been knocked out by a club. Bingham leaned out of a window and shouted that the clubbed seaman had been killed (for so it appeared, although the man did not die) by another of the sailors, and not by a native. “I wish they were all killed,” Percival retorted.
When the men had been secured and the excitement had passed, Percival returned to call on Bingham. He assured the missionary that the damage caused by the rioters would be repaired but pointed out that the decree against shipboard fraternization was the source of the trouble. He reminded Bingham that prostitution was common enough in America and England and accused him of interfering with the government of the islands by putting forth the Decalogue as law. Bingham denied it, but Percival said, “You are going on too fast; you will have a terrible reaction shortly. … The tabu must come off. I will not leave the islands until it is taken off; I would rather have my hands tied or even cut off and be carried home maimed as a criminal than to have it said that Lord Byron [captain of the Blonde ] was allowed a privilege greater than was allowed me.”
Next morning Bingham, at Percival’s invitation, boarded Dolphin to help single out the rioters for punishment. He declined, however, to witness the flogging, saying as he went over the side, “I hope they lay it on well.”
From that day until Dolphin sailed, none of her seamen was allowed on shore. But within a few days the nervous Governor Boki lifted the taboo for the duration of her stay. Meanwhile, as a result of the rioting, Percival on March 3 sent a letter to other commanders in the port:
The excitement of the Seamen towards Mr. Bingham who is at the head of the Missionaries at this Island is such, and from the recent outrage committed by them from the belief he has interfered with some of the Civil regulations of this place, and thereby deprived them of an enjoyment they have always been in the participation of, when they visit this Island: I have to request you will let but a small proportion of your Crew come on shore on Sunday. By complying with this request you will aid my wishes in preventing anxiety to the Missionary family.
Bingham, however, while he may have felt less anxious, contrived to take umbrage at the letter, inferring that the “enjoyment” mentioned by Percival could mean only one thing. He spent a good part of the next several months in preparing charges against Dolphin ’s commander, to be forwarded to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. These, together with charges brought by Edwards, ex-captain of London , were to cause considerable trouble for Percival on his return to the United States.
For Percival was also engaged in a quarrel with Edwards, which began to wax hotter just as his imbroglio with the missionaries seemed to be cooling off. A sharp character, Edwards had been transporting a large amount of uninsured specie aboard London ; he hoped, by concealing its presence from his underwriters, to avoid paying the portion of the salvage charges that should have accrued to it. Percival, who had taken charge of the specie as a favor to him, got wind of this and refused to relinquish the money until a written accounting of it had been made, and until the bill for charter of Convoy ($815) had been paid.
While this matter was still being argued, Edwards made arrangements to charter the native-owned brig Becket to take himself and crew, his remaining cargo, and the specie to China. Percival was called upon to witness the charter, but upon reading it he discovered that it had been drawn in such a way that the United States was made guarantor of payment. Accordingly, he declined to witness the document. Edwards snapped that he had merely come for Percival’s signature and not to discuss the terms of the charter. This sneer lit the fuse to the Percival temper. Mad Jack called Edwards a few choice names, among the mildest of which were “liar” and “scoundrel,” and then collared him and threatened to throw him over a balustrade.