A maritime item from the Sunday, Feb. 8, 1885, edition of The Daily Morning Astorian:

The news of the week involved a naval court of inquiry by the British vice-council regarding the conduct of Capt. Paul James Paynter, master of the Embleton, who was accused of brutality by some of his crew.

While in Acapulco, Mexico, after delivering a load of coal, the crew contracted what was then referred to as Mexican Coast fever, which was probably yellow fever or dengue fever. The crew had medical treatment at the port, and were convalescing when the ship set sail.

Everything went well for the first month at sea, when the weather was calm and balmy. But then the weather turned, and for 15 days it was “exceedingly boisterous and bitterly cold.”

Thebut the crew fell ill again, and took to their bunks, leaving Capt. Paynter, who was sick himself, to sail the vessel — which required a crew of 22 — with only the assistance of seven men, plus the mate and steward. The brutality charge came about when he rousted some of the crew from their bunks to help.The court of inquiry took the cook to task for not feeding the crew properly, thus aggravating their weakened condition, and chided the captain for not giving the crew enough strict discipline during the good weather, to prepare them and toughen them up for the bad — a backhanded slap to the crew for slacking.

Overall, the court vindicated exonerated him completely, and commended him for bringing the ship into port under such trying circumstances.

The Daily Morning Astorian’s take on it was not nearly as dry. “Surrounded by the dead and dying, on a wintry sea, himself suffering from the same complaint that laid the crew corpses at his feet, he held up with superhuman effort, and not till safe in port did he relax the strain that was as successful as any effort of mortal man could be, and which has rarely been equaled in the history of heroic endurance on this coast.”

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.

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