Captain James Lowry: A Notorious Captain

In 1750, a Scotsman named Captain James Lowry commanded a merchant shipped named the “Molly” from London to Jamaica and back again. Although he possessed agreeable features, he was a cruel captain, and it did not take long for his crew of 14 to despise him because of his cruelty. It happened during the return trip.

Captain James Lowry, Author's Collection

Captain James Lowry. Author’s collection.

One of the tars named Keninth Hossack tripped while on the quarterdeck and claimed he was sick. This infuriated the 5 foot 7-inch Lowry, and he came “like a fury” at Hossack and ordered that he be tied up so he could be flogged. Captain James Lowry had one of Hossack’s arms secured to the halyards and the other to the main shrouds. Lowry then “took a rope in his hand, and beat him in a most unmerciful manner, telling him that he was an idle fellow, not willing to perform his duty; for although he pretended to be afflicted with sickness, yet the captain would not believe him.”[1]

After beating Hossack several times, Lowry left him tied up and retired to his cabin. Hossack seeing that the Captain had left, asked the chief mate named James Gatherah to untie him. Gatherah could not do that unless the captain agreed, so he went to Lowry’s quarters and told him what Hossack had requested. Lowry said Gatherah could untie him “if he thought proper … [but] as soon as his request was complied with, he must be tied up in the same manner as before.”[2]

Gatherah untied Hossack, and he was taken down, but because he was so “exhausted with pain … he fell upon the deck, and rolled about like a person struggling under all the agonies of convulsion fits.”[3] Gatherah returned and told Lowry, but he ordered Gatherah to do his duty and retie Hossack as he had done before and this time Lowry observed. He also ordered Hossack’s arms be “extended to the full stretch, in order to make his sufferings as exquisite as possible.”[4]

Captain James Lowry also doubled his rope and beat Hossack on “the Back, Breast, Shoulders, Head, Face, and Temples, for about half an Hour, walking about between whiles to take Breath.”[5] During the beating Lowry would only stop to catch his breath, and by the time the beating stopped, Hossack hung his head and was motionless. Lowry then ordered him cut down at which time Gatherah announced Hossack was dead.

Captain Lowry Beating Hossack, Public Domain

Captain James Lowry beating Kenith Hossack, Public domain.

Lowry did not believe it. He said: “Damn him, he is only shamming Abraham now.”[6] Lowry then ordered Hossack be carried to steerage, where Lowry “whetted a Penknife … opened a vein, but the deceased did not bleed.”[7]

The crew was upset about Hossack’s death and would have bound Lowry but they thought it best to wait until they reached England. The return trip was a miserable one for the sailors because Lowry’s cruelty to his crew increased daily:

“[He] broke the Finger of one Man; bit the Finger of another … [causing so much injury it had to be cut off]; broke the Head and Skull of one Man with his … cane, which he called the Royal-Oak Foremast, one of the Spinters of the Cane stuck in the Man’s Skull; another he beat very bad on his Side.”[8]

The sailors finally reached the breaking point. They confined Lowry to his cabin, which is when the Molly began to leak. The sailors tried to dock in the Port of Lisbon but it was not allowed. A fishing boat with a pilot then boarded the leaking ship and Lowry sent a letter to the British Counsel in Lisbon claiming the men had mutinied. In response to Lowry’s letter, the consul came on board. The sailors were arrested, and Lowry was reinstated as commander. The sailors were sent back to England aboard a Man-of-war.

In London, the sailors sought recourse. They “went to the Lords of the Admiralty, and gave information against Lowry, upon which a proclamation was inserted in the Gazette, offering a reward for apprehending him.”[9] Lowry was brought before the Admiralty for trial on 18 February 1752. The crew confirmed what Lowry had done. In fact, the Foremast-Man also added that Lowry had taken a hammer to Hossack after he had fallen on the quarterdeck and “struck the Deceased on the Side of his Head, and knocked him down.”[10]

As there was clear proof of Lowry’s guilt, he was sentenced to death. On 25 March 1752, Lowry was brought at half past nine in the morning out of Newgate prison. Witnesses reported he was wearing a scarlet cloak over his morning gown and a brown wig. It was also claimed Lowry turned pale at the sight of the gallows cart. The Newcastle Courant gave some other details:

“His eyes were bright and piercing, and his Complexion very fresh and delicate … His Features were very regular and agreeable, and no Ways suited to the Cruelty of his Disposition.”[11]

During the ride to the scaffold, Lowry remained composed, just like Marie Antoinette would during her tumbril ride. Even after spectators began to express their indignation, Lowry did not react:

“Some sailors cried out, ‘Where is your Royal Oak’s foremast?’ others vociferated ‘He is shamming Abraham!'”[12]

Despite the taunting, Captain James Lowry was taken to the Execution Dock where a number of sailors had collected hoping to get some revenge by pouring “execrations on his devoted  head.”[13] He was removed from the cart and a white cap placed on his head. The Newgate Calendar reported:

“[He] prayed very devoutly with the Ordinary of Newgate … then, giving the executioner his money and watch, the platform fell.”[14]

His corpse remained hanging for about 20 minutes before it was cut down. Afterwards he was taken by boat to Woolwich where he was hung in chains.

1746 map showing location of Execution Dock stairs at Wapping, London. Courtesy of Wikipedia.


  • [1] Annals of Crime, 1833, p. 129.
  • [2] Ibid., 130.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] “James Lowry,” in Derby Mercury, 20 March 1752, p. 1.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Annals of Crime, p. 130
  • [10] “James Lowry,” p. 1.
  • [11] “London,” in Newcastle Courant, 4 April 1752, p. 1.
  • [12] Knapp, Andrew, etal., The Newgate Calendar, Vol. 2, p. 159.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Ibid.

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