United States v. Holmes

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The criminal case United States v. Holmes treated the events surrounding the rescue of the passengers of the American ship William Brown , which sank on April 19, 1841 with 31 passengers on board. 16 of them were able to save themselves in an overcrowded lifeboat.

Sink and rescue

Under the command of Captain George Harris, the William Brown left Liverpool for Philadelphia on March 18, 1841 . The ship had a crew of 17 sailors and 65 passengers. Most of the passengers were economically weak emigrants from Scotland and Ireland . At 10 p.m. on April 19, the William Brown collided with an iceberg 250 km southeast of the Canadian Cape Race , Colony of Newfoundland , and sank. The captain, eight sailors and one passenger made it to Galivat . These were rescued six days later by a French ship, the Crescent . Nine crew members and 32 passengers reached the dinghy . One person died during the voyage and the rest, most of them children, went down with the ship.

Before the two boats parted, Captain Harris gave his first mate Francis Rhodes the command of the leaky and overcrowded dinghy. Around 10 p.m., 24 hours after the sinking of the William Brown , it began to storm and rain heavily. The dinghy railing was flooded. The first mate yelled, “This… won't do. Help me, God. Men, go to work. ”(“ That… doesn't work. Help me, God. Men, do something. ”). When none of the crew members did anything, he said: "Men, you must go to work, or we shall all perish" ("Men, you must do something, or we will all perish!") Then the crew began, including Alexander Holmes, twelve men, including a Frank Askin , to be thrown overboard. Two women who did not want to abandon their husbands voluntarily went into the ice-cold water, where they had no chance of survival. The next morning, two men were found hiding and they were also thrown into the sea. Except for two married men and a boy, all of the passengers' men were sacrificed while all of the crew remained on board. On the same day the Crescent's boat was discovered, the people rescued and brought to Le Havre .


The surviving passengers filed a lawsuit against the crew in Philadelphia. Of the crew members, only Holmes was found. He was charged with the murder of Frank Askin. A grand jury before the chief judge Justice Henry Baldwin refused him for murder ( Murder accuse), but allowed only the manslaughter ( Manslaughter ) to. In the United States v. Holmes was found guilty of Holmes and sentenced to six months in prison and a $ 20 fine. No other crew member was ever charged.


The 1937 feature film Shipwreck of Souls (OT: Souls at Sea ) starring Gary Cooper , George Raft and Henry Wilcoxon is loosely based on the case.

The 1957 feature film Seven Waves Away (later renamed Abandon Ship! In the USA) is also loosely based on the case. Tyrone Power played Alec Holmes here . In 1975 a version for television was shot: The Last Survivors with Martin Sheen in the lead role.

The case was mentioned in the German television film Terror - Your Judgment from 2016.

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d UNITED STATES v. HOLMES - Circuit Court, ED Pennsylvania. 26 F.Cas. 360 (1842) . Buffalo Criminal Law Center. Archived from the original on April 18, 2009. Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Retrieved March 8, 2009. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / wings.buffalo.edu
  2. a b Alexander Holmes Trial: 1842 - Holmes Tried For Manslaughter . Law Library - American Law and Legal Information. Retrieved March 8, 2009.