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The Virginius Incident

The Virginius


The Capture of the Virginius

Report from Midshipman Don Angel Ortiz Monasterio

The following report, made to Captain Castillo of the Tornado after capturing the Virginius, was reproduced in: “Life of Captain Joseph Fry: The Cuban Martyr” by Jeanie Mort Walker, published in 1875.

Virginius Captured

On board the Tornado,
Santiago de Cuba,
November 2, 1873

In consequence of instructions received from you, to proceed and capture the ship which you had chased during the afternoon and at night of the thirty-first, I embarked in the quarter-boat of this corvette, accompanied by the first engineer and four firemen, besides the boat’s crew, which was indiscriminately made up of persons from all classes of the sailors and troops on board this ship. In those moments of enthusiasm it was impossible to prevent those who wished from embarking in the boat. Having pushed off from this ship, I directed my course toward the steamer chased. At nearing, and finding her full of people, I remarked that any aggression on their part would be energetically chastised by our forces. After this the boat came alongside the steamer, and was, with my assistance, made fast to her. At the same time I ordered all the people on the boat to board the chase, which was properly effected after I had boarded. As soon as I found myself on the deck, I inquired for the captain. As soon as he presented himself, he said that the ship was the American merchant steamer Virginius, whose papers I demanded, and they were delivered to me. I notified him that from that moment the ship was captured, and he and all the crew and passengers were prisoners at my orders. At the same moment I ordered our people to take possession of the helm and ship, commissioning the first engineer to take charge of the engine, telling all of them that our presence there would be no obstacle in the way of the corvette’s sinking the ship as soon as any aggression might be noted, and that every attempt to disable the machines, boiler, or ship would be immediately and energetically punished by the forces under my orders.

In possession of the ship, I learned from the first engineer that the engine was in working order, although it suffered from defects which I shall mention further on. Midshipman Don Enrique Pardo having opportunely arrived with re-enforcements, in another boat, I ordered him to remain on board with half of the crew, and proceeded to embark the prisoners, in conformity with the orders which you had given me. Having completed this task with the aid of the boats that successively arrived, with the exception of the captain and sixteen persons, the people on the Virginius were transferred on board the corvette. The midshipman of the navy, Don Enrique Pardo, from the first moment of his presence on board, accompanied by some of our sailors, made a scrupulous search of the ship, finding in the forecastle a considerable number of people, whom I ordered to retire to the quarter-deck, to send them to the corvette under your command. I must observe, that even after I was on board goods belonging to the cargo were thrown into the sea from the prow.

After finishing the disembarkation of the prisoners, and securing the disembarkation of those who remained, I had time to examine the state of the ship, which was in a very lamentable condition. The furnaces were not only dirty because of the considerable quantity of grease and hams with which they had been fed, but also the machinery and the packing were in bad condition; for they had suffered much during the chase.

The vessel was making a considerable quantity of water at a badly calked point which is toward the prow, and below the water-line generally, on account of the bad condition of the bottom; for she has labored much during the chase. It not being possible to reach the forward section of the ship, for want of means of communication, the rest of her and the machinery were attended to. Her aspect was truly repugnant. She was not only full of grease and broken boxes, that served as packing to the rest of the cargo, but also in a notable abandoned condition. The dead angle of the port-hole was very much damaged, because from this place the cargo of arms and ammunition was thrown into the water, to do which they had mounted a block and pulley, that as yet remain in the same place. The cabin was in disorder, trunks open, clothes thrown about, portmanteaus entirely destroyed, and in all parts of the ship unmistakable signs that everything of any value had been thrown into the water. Not only were there open arm-boxes there, but even cartridges of rifle and revolver, boxes of leather, belts, machetes, and insurgent cockades. Under the coal there are barrels, but it has not been possible for me to divert the people’s attention to examine them, because I could not neglect guard duty, which has been strictly attended to without intermission. Saddles, insurgent buttons, and a portion of papers and effects that were scattered about in all directions, have been gathered up by my orders.

After finishing the work of transferring the people, the officer, Don Enrique Pardo, returned to the corvette, and I confided to him the papers which the captain had delivered to me, so that he should place them in your hands, and by him I informed you verbally of all that had happened; the state in which the ship was found; the measures that had been executed, as also of having taken down the American flag, which, as a pirate, the sip should not be permitted to use, and raising instantly our standard. After finishing the capture, transferring the people, and dictating the measures which at each moment I thought urgent, and finding, upon proof, that the engines were in working condition, the second officer of the corvette came on board to take command. I made formal delivery of it to him, reporting the services of the individuals who had accompanied me.

I profit by this occasion to congratulate you for the very signal service which you, with the ship under your command, have lent to the country, due to your intelligence, energy, and enthusiasm. I am also requested by the individuals whoa re at my command to compliment you for the well-directed orders which you have me.

God guard you many years.

Angel Ortiz Monasterio