A special court of Bangor Petty Sessions had sat in the seaside town reported the News Letter in April 1898 when, two men were accused of having illegally deserted SS Athos which had been anchored in Bangor Bay.
Their surnames were given as Gillan and Hughes and they were both prosecuted by Sergeant Kerr.
Evidence was given by Mr David Barnes of Groomsport to the petty sessions. He said that on the evening in question he had been fishing in Bangor Bay.
He told how the captain of the SS Athos had requested that he take some workmen ashore and it was at this stage that the two defendants jumped into his boat.
Mr Barnes was then asked by the captain of the SS Athos to “put a rope round them” so that the crew could take them aboard the steamer, but Mr Barnes said that he had refused the captain’s request and the two defendants had refused to go back to the SS Athos.
William Barnes, the father of David Barnes, also spoke at the hearing and gave corroborative testimony in support of the evidence which had been given by his son.
Mr Samuel Young, the deputy superintendent of marine at the custom house in Belfast deposed that he had witnessed the defendant Gillan affixing his “signature or mark” to a document binding him to work as a fireman on the SS Athos.
He added that that document was “now with the ship”. Gillan at this stage remarked that his health was such that he was “not fit to go on the voyage”.
Constable Howard deposed that the coastguards and police had been signalled for by the steamer and that on going out to the steamer that he had been informed by the captain of the SS Athos that there had been a mutiny onboard the steamer.
The captain then directed Constable Howard’s attention “specially” to the two defendants and asked him to arrest them.
Constable Howard told the petty sessions that: “It appeared that they wanted to leave the boat.”
At this stage that the constables who had travelled with him out to the SS Athos then placed the two men under arrest.
It was at this point in the hearing that Gillan had said that he had not mutinied. Gillan told the court: “The skipper would not allow me to get off. I was too ill to go on the voyage.”
Colonel Bowlby asked: “Did the men at the time say anything about illness?”
To which Constable Howard replied: “When we were bringing them ashore Gillan said something about his back being sore.”
Gillan replied that he had complained to the captain but that he had refused to allow him to go ashore.
In his defence Hughes told the court that he would have gone on the voyage if he had been given some clothes.
He told the court: “I had no clothes with me beyond what I had on my person. I got an advance note at the last minute and had sent to procure clothes on the strength of it but they did not arrive until the ship had left Belfast.”
He added: “The vessel left before we knew where we were and we could not get off. We had to get somewhere and we decided to get off at Bangor.” He added: “I did not sign articles.”
Replying to the last statement from Hughes the petty sessions clerk informed the magistrates: “Hughes’s name is not on this form (produced) at all.
Mr Young told the magistrates: “The captain of the Athos had the original of the document and he was bound before he left a port to give a copy of it on pain of a fine of £10 to the proper authorities. Hughes’s name is not on the copy.”
Sergeant Kerr asked: “Might it not be on the original with the captain and not on the copy?”
To which Mr Young replied: “It might be, but it is not at all likely. If it were the master of the ship would be liable to a fine of £10.”
Sergeant Kerr continued: “That has nothing to do with the matter. If the master of the vessel has committed an offence it is for the Board of Trade to deal with him.”
At this stage in the hearing Hughes repeated that he had not signed the articles.
He told the magistrates: “I was called onto the ship which immediately left Belfast and I was told that I could sign on the ship. I did not sign at all. I would not have objected to go on the voyage if I had had clothes.”
Gillan then repeated his claim that he was too ill to go on the voyage. To which Colonel Bowlby asked: “Then why did you sign to go on it?”
He answered the magistrate: “It was three days from the time I signed until the vessel sailed and I took ill in the meantime, I did not know the boat was going away when she did or I would not have gone in her. They gave me no choice to get off. All my clothes are on the vessel.”
Hughes then turned to the magistrates and requested that they let him off “this time” and that he would “never leave a ship in such a manner again”.
He explained that he was the sole support of an aged father and that if he were sent to jail his father would have to go to the workhouse.
The chairman of the petty sessions said that the desertion charged had been “distinctly proved” against the defendants but that the court would only order the forfeiture of any clothes that were on the boat belonging to defendants and any wages which were due to them.