The Veronica in question was a three-masted wooden barque built in 1879 and by 1902 it was still being used as a cargo ship despite the competition from the much faster steamships.
In October that year, the Veronica set sail from Biloxi, Mississippi, bound for Montevideo with a cargo of pitch pine. At the helm was Captain Alexander Shaw, a red-bearded martinet, ably assisted in his maltreatment of the crew a sadist of a second officer, Alexander MacLeod.
The way that the owners of sailing ships like the Veronica could compete with the steamers was by cutting costs and that meant cutting the crew’s wages. That meant they were not too fussy about who they employed and the ‘sailors’ were often inexperienced or had shady backgrounds.
Already frayed tempers were made worse when rations were cut
All in all, a bad combination. MacLeod subjected the crew to physical assaults with the captain’s tacit approval and the already frayed tempers were made worse when rations were cut due to the Veronica’s slow progress.
Among the shady characters of the crew were Gustav Rau (real name August Mailahn) and Otto Monsson and they had smuggled a pair of revolvers on board. They enlisted the help of Willem Schmidt and 19-year-old Henry Flohr in their mutiny.
On 8th December 1902, they threw First Officer MacLeod overboard and shot and killed Captain Shaw, his second officer and four other crew members. The only person they spared was Moses Thomas, the ship’s cook.
Rau sought to hide their crimes by setting fire to the Veronica and the mutineers escaped in the ship’s lifeboat and were picked up by a tramp steamer bound for Liverpool.
Thomas kept himself apart from the others during the voyage and as soon as the ship docked he went to the police with his account of events aboard the Veronica.
Rau, Monsson, Smith and Flohr were charged with murder, conspiracy, arson, piracy and theft. It was an interesting case as there were no bodies, or indeed a ship, and that it rested entirely on the evidence of the ship’s cook.
Nevertheless, the four were found guilty and sentenced to death. Only Flohr was reprieved following a recommendation of mercy on account of his youth. The others were hanged at Liverpool’s Walton prison on 2nd June 1903.