Hallowe’en is almost upon us, and so – following a tradition honoured as much in the breach as the observance, I give you The Mark Reynolds Hallowe’en Tales of History Horrors. Previous editions have featured Alsatian folklore and cannibal Canadians. This time, I’m going back to the maritime well, for the incredibly stupid and horrifying tale of The Saladin.
The Saladin was a barque, built in England but based out of Gaspé in Quebec. In 1843, she was under the command of Sandy McKenzie, who had taken her to Peru to pick up a cargo of several tonnes of guano to deliver to England.
The Figurehead of the Saladin. Image from the Nova Scotia Museum
While in the South American country, McKenzie was accosted by a Mr Fielding, who had recently escaped – along with his son - from a Peruvian prison, and were now stranded in an unfriendly country without funds. Taking pity on a fellow English-speaker – even one with so sketchy a history - McKenzie agreed to allow the unfortunate duo to work for their passage out of Latin America.
McKenzie should have listened to his Mother: Never pick up a hitchhiker.
Once aboard, Fielding learned that in addition to the reeking piles of excrement in the hold, the Saladin was carrying a substantial shipment of Peruvian silver - bars and coins - across the Atlantic. Fielding decided that he would like that silver to be his own.
Mckenzie’s poor judgment of character apparently did not stop with his dinner guests: within a matter of days, Fielding and his son were able to recruit half of the Saladin’s crew into a ruthless mutiny. With calculated brutality Fielding and his new allies butchered the officers and half the crew of the vessel, throwing the corpses overboard.
The Saladin was now an outlaw vessel – a floating rat’s nest stuffed with birdshit and manned by murderers, thieves, mutineers and pirates. Worse, they were murderers, thieves, mutineers and pirates with serious trust issues. With weeks ahead before any landfall could be made, the brigands made a pact: all weapons – swords, firearms and blades – would be thrown overboard.
The pact made, the sailors made to sail to an isolated cove where they could abondon ship, part ways, and spend their ill-gotten gain. But then one of them searched Fielding’s cabin, and discovered a brace of pistols. Clearly, the chief mutineer was not playing by the rules.
Within the day of leading the mutiny against Sandy McKenzie, Fielding joined him in the dark Atlantic, followed shortly thereafter by his son, despite the boy’s pleas for mercy.
Now there were only six crew left – Fielding, his son, and all the officers were dead. Unfortunately for the dirty-half dozen, they had not thought to spare the life of anyone with any knowledge of navigation. I repeat: they killed the navigator, leaving no one on board who knew how to drive the poo boat.
So, instead of following the original plan and sneaking into an secluded and empty cove, the Saladin drifted into Country Harbour, Guysborough County, a small fishing port on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, running aground on a rocky point. The locals were suspicious that the name of the ship had been inexpertly obscured, (kind of like taking the plates off your car), and that the boat was remarkably understaffed, and that all offers of help were rebuffed by the mysterious vessel’s hostile crew. So they called in the authorities.
The Saladin killers were brought to trial – four were found guilty and hanged. As murderers, their bodies were not interred in a proper cemetery, and instead were buried under a crossroads – their corpses (possibly) further mutilated by being impaled on an iron spike before burial, as was common practice at the time. Two are believed to be resting under the sidewalk by the Public Library on Spring Garden Road in Halifax.