"Rebels, infidels , and savages" ... revisited. And wreckers?

Malcolm Redfellow

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... and so, from man's inhumanity to man, I mused on the curious story of the Hartlepool monkey. If only to escape from the more depressing, more immediate topics of recent days (as in the re-phrasing of the traditional Chinese curse, "Mrs May, you live in exciting times").

Legend has it that, during the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship was caught in a storm and wrecked off the Tees estuary. A monkey, dressed in a mock military uniform, was washed ashore. The locals (allegedly "fishermen", but as likely shore-watchers or — crudely — wreckers) had never seen a Frenchman, held an impromptu court, declared the monkey a French spy, and hanged the creature from a convenient ship's mast.

In my more-athletic, less-gouty youth, when we played one of the Hartlepool rugby teams, we referred to them derisively as "monkey-hangers". Like all the best insults, it was adopted by the insulted: H'Angus the Monkey became the mascot of the soccer team (and Stuart Drummond, the occupant of the money-costume, was elected as the town's mayor in 2002).

This appears on wikipedia, but as available it has too many loose-ends (no dark humour intended).

There are so many improbabilities in the original story that it had to be "explained". The most sinister "explanation" is that ship's boys were the "powder-monkeys", and it was one of them who was the victim.

We already have pegs on which to hang any number of hats, and any odd theory. Bella Bathurst (page 262 in my paperback copy) makes a calculation:
... it is not Cornwall or the Pentland Firth which has the dubious honour of the highest number of shipwrecks per mile of coast. It is Durham, a tiny county with a tiny sliver of coastline, with 43.8 losses per mile.
Add in the basis of "salvage". In 1236 Henry III of England decreed that an owner of wrecked goods could claim them, within three months of a wreck. However, the same rule added that, as long as any man or beast escaped alive, the ship was not truly a wreck. This was repeated by Edward I's First Statute of Westminster. The intent of the law, as motivated by ship-owners, was to prevent the seizure and destruction of vessels that could be re-floated. The paradoxical result was to create a motive for murder. As long as the odd survivor was around, wreckers could not claim their expected dues.

Then, again, Ned Corvan was a mid-19th century music-hall artist and impresario in the North-East. He produced a series of song-books before his early death from TB. One of his songs was The Fishermen Hung the Monkey, O! — though that might derive from an earlier version by Blind Willie Purvis. The local folk group was (and, despite the recent death of Vin Garbutt remains) the Teesside Fettlers. They had their version of the song in their repertory:

[video=youtube;aQ2rZOlhCBg]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQ2rZOlhCBg[/video]​

Then those same expert "explainers" got to work, and "discovered" similar versions of the same monkey-hanging legend cropping up all the way from north-east Scotland to Cornwall. Included was a prototype of the monkey-legend and the song from Boddam, near Peterhead. Which makes explicit the link between wrecking and making sure there were no survivors to complicate the business of salvage:
Eence a ship sailed round the coast
And a' the men in her was lost
Burrin' a monkey up a post
So the Boddamers hanged the monkey-O
For those who, however unreasonably, insist on a Irish context for a thread on politics.ie, that dimension is covered by Edward J Bourke. As far as I can determine that's a self-published set of books., which I don't have. There is an illuminating extract here. Any further info very welcome.
 
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Fritzbox

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Legend has it that, during the Napoleonic Wars, a French ship was caught in a storm and wrecked off the Tees estuary. A monkey, dressed in a mock military uniform, was washed ashore. The locals (allegedly "fishermen", but as likely shore-watchers or — crudely — wreckers) had never seen a Frenchman, held an impromptu court, declared the monkey a French spy, and hanged the creature from a convenient ship's mast.
From a ship's mast - I always thought the poor monkey was hung from a barber's pole?

I first heard of this curious morsel of history from a genuine living pair of natives of Hartlepool in London 28 years ago.
 


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