Alannah Hopkin

Writer and journalist

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The Ship of Seven Murders

Posted on 10 Sep 2013 | Comments Off on The Ship of Seven Murders


Cover graphic of The Ship of Seven MurdersThe Ship of Seven Murders
The Collins Press,
co-author Kathy Bunney. 2010.

In June 1828, the Mary Russell sailed into Cork Harbour from the West Indies. Seven crewmen lay in the main saloon, brutally and inexplicably murdered by the captain. Daniel O’Connell, a barrister on the Munster Circuit at the time, was expected to appear for the prosecution, but could not attend Captain Stewart’s trial. The absorbing courtroom drama played out on 11 August, 1828 was a sensation, as survivors revealed a tale of danger and delusion. But what really happened?

One of the most celebrated cases of its time, the story of the Mary Russell was largely forgotten until Kathy Bunney located the carefully-tended grave of a murdered crewman. Now the facts of the case are reconstructed against the background of trade between Cork and Cobh and the West Indies. How would today’s psychiatrists and courts view Captain Stewart’s behaviour? Was his later decline into homicidal mania prompted by guilt, or was mental illness following its natural course? And why has such a strange, intriguing story remained buried for so many years?

This bizarre tragedy, the dramatic court case and its place in history and folklore are unravelled in this gripping account.

A story of murder, madness, medical illness, alcoholic bellicosity, religious mania, or what? Whatever your and the jury’s verdict, Captain Stewart got a very long sentence (forty years) for a crime for which he was found not guilty. Irish Medical News

Vivid and plausible detail. Sunday Times

A true story of delusion, brilliantly told. Sunday Independent

Ghoulishly riveting. Sunday Tribune

Engrossing. The Irish Times