1679, after the Scottish Covenanters' uprising was quashed at the Battle of Bothwell Brig,
around 1,200 prisoners were herded into the open space at Greyfriar's Church in
Many of these prisoners were
set free after making submission, while some were executed and others died of illness,
The 250 prisoners that were left
proved a problem. They had to be "disposed" of somehow.
November 1679, these unfortunates were lead on to a ship, the Crown of London,
in Leith, where they were to be transported to English plantations in America
to become slaves.
Under the command of one Captain Patterson,
the Crown of London set sail in December 1679.
The captain's planned course is unknown, but the ships first port of
call was Orkney where, on December 10, 1679, she sheltered from a storm off Scarvataing,
a headland in the parish of Deerness,
a mile or two from the sheltered bay of Deer Sound.
gales typical of the season, the ship was driven on to rocks after her anchor chain
snapped. The captain and crew escaped the doomed vessel by hacking down the ship's
mast and clambering across it to reach land.
however, were not so fortunate.
They had been confined
to the hold and the hatches battened down under the captains orders. The
reasoning behind this act was simple - the captain would be paid for the number
of slaves on board the vessel and recompensed for those who died on the voyage. He would
receive nothing for an escaped prisoner.
So, when the ship left port, Patterson
took steps to make sure none did.
One member of crew did attempt
a rescue by breaking through the deck with an axe. His valiant efforts meant that
around 50 prisoners escaped and made it to the Deerness shore.
remainder perished as the ship broke up and sank. It is said that over the following
days, bodies washed up over three miles of the Deerness coastline.
the 47 or so prisoners who escaped to shore, most were recaptured and shipped
to slavery in Jamaica, or New Jersey.
The people of Orkney
were told that the prisoners were rebels fleeing from justice, but some are said
to have escaped capture. Tradition has it that some survivors made it
to Stromness, where they found passage
on a ship to Holland. Local tradition also dictates that some were permitted to
settle in Orkney.
It has also been suggested that the ship,
filled with prisoners, was never meant to make it to the colonies. A fully-laden
vessel, travelling the northern routes at that time of the year was bound to run
into trouble, especially when it had no provisions adequate for such a major voyage.
At the time the Colonial ports in America were open only
to ships from England - a fact that makes it highly doubtful that a ship bearing
cargo from Scotland would have been permitted to land.
Was there a darker motive behind the voyage of the Crown of London?
monument for the Covenanters was erected in Deerness in 1888, three hundred yards
from the spot where the ship went down.