The Piracy of the Ethel

roebuck-bay-in-the-pearling-days

John A Reddell was the owner of a fleet of pearl luggers operating out of Broome, Western Australia. He personally skippered the supply ship for the fleet, a brig by the name of Ethel, and was known as a hard man who pushed his crews to the limit.

In 1899 he sailed out of Roebuck Bay on the Ethel, bound for Lagrange Bay, 200 kilometres to the south. On board was his son, Jack, a first mate by the name of Taylor, and around ten crew, mostly Filipinos. Trouble had been brewing for a while, and mutiny was afoot.

The captain was standing beside the helmsman when one of the ringleaders, most likely the physically powerful Peter Perez, crept up behind him and buried an axe in the back of his head. The boy Jack met the same fate a few moments later, as did the first mate. Two Japanese divers were also hacked to pieces by the blood-crazed crew and their bodies thrown overboard.

The new leaders, Perez and his friend Pedro de la Cruz, ordered the brig to turn around, setting a course for Timor, then Ambon. On the voyage north they ordered the killing of anyone they suspected of disloyalty.

Arriving off the coast of Ambon they filled the ships’ boats with valuables and stores from the Ethel, scuttled her, then rowed for the coast. There they set about selling the captain’s gold watch and a host of other items. The big-spending strangers soon drew the attention of local authorities.

They might have got away with it if the Chinese cook, Pooh Ah Ming, hadn’t told the whole story to a local schoolmaster. The story was reported, the mutineers arrested, and a British gunboat arrived to take the six main offenders to Fremantle. One man was acquitted, and the other five sentenced to death. Three of those death sentences, however, were commuted.

The Perth Daily Mail recorded the last moments of Pedro de la Cruz and Peter Perez: “The prisoners, who were attended to the last by their spiritual advisers, devoutly invoked the Divine mercy, their last words being, O Padre Mio, O Madre Mia (Oh My Father, Oh My Mother) which was repeated several times in the Spanish language. The hangman pulled the lever, and the next moment the murderers of Captain Reddell were dangling lifeless in the pit below.”

(Written and researched by GJ Barron/Image of Broome’s Roebuck Bay in 1913 credit: National Library of Australia/Sources:gregbarron.com/resources/sources)

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