Lillie’s and Ella’s Tragic Lover’s Quarrel

The citizenry of Pocomoke, Maryland, knew Miss Ella Hearn as a quiet, pleasant young woman. While she may not have been beautiful, she struck observers as refined and ladylike.  Her bosom companion, Lillie Duer was the exact opposite; she preferred to dress in men’s clothes, and had “decidedly masculine manners, such as smoking, boxing, climbing trees and jumping posts and fences.”

Pokomoke City

Women of the period regularly embraced, kissed, held hands and expressed their love, so contact of that sort between Lillie and Ella excited little comment, but then the small town did not know of how often the two women disappeared into the wood alone, or locked themselves behind the Hearn’s parlor doors, away from prying eyes.  The girls had been roommates at seminary school, and had become friends.  Ella’s parents suspected nothing of the true nature of the relationship; in fact, Mr. Hearn had encouraged Lillie’s visits.

Ella Hearn

For three or four years, their companionship continued, but both girls were growing into women, and by the time she was 18,  Ella was attracting the attention of several young men about town.  Lillie’s competitors also appeared in female form, Ella Foster, who shared a name and at least a friendship with Lillie’s beloved.  Alarmed by the growing jealousy, Ella called off the relationship, and requested that the daily visits cease.  For a time, Lillie complied and busied herself studying medical textbooks, but soon she was back, begging Ella to relent.

Lillie Duer

Ella agreed and the walks resumed, but things did not smoothly go back to the way they were before.  Lillie was suspicious, Ella standoffish.  In late October, 1878 the two had a falling out while they were out in the woods, ostensibly picking tea-berries.  Ella declared in a huff she was going home; Lillie pleaded with her to wait; Ella refused.  Lillie whipped out her pistol, fired two shots in Ella’s general direction, and then broke down crying.  Ella snatched the gun from her, asking if Lillie had intended to murder her.  “No,” the weeping woman responded, “I only intended to frighten you and make you wait for me.”

The Woods

Lillie had indeed frightened Ella, and the walks in the woods ceased.  As Ella withdrew, Lillie began sending frequent, desperate letters.  She proposed marriage, claiming the thing could be done if Lillie disguised herself in men’s clothing.  There was no response.  On November 4, Lillie sent one of her frequent notes, requesting that Ella pay her a visit.  This time Ella came, accompanied by her younger sister.  Lillie made what seemed on the surface such a simple request, another walk in the wood,s but Ella made no answer. Lillie fell to her knees, grabbing at the hem of Ella’s dress; “Before God Almighty Ella Hearn, if you do go into the woods with me tomorrow I’ll never ask you to go anywhere else.”  Ella left, and Lillie hoped she’d show up the next day.

Ella failed to make an appearance and Lillie went storming to the Hearn house.  She found Ella quietly sewing.  The two fought, Lillie got up to leave, sat down, got up to leave again, then standing over Ella, grabbed her sewing and threw it to the ground.  Lillie started for the door; Ella followed her into the hallway.  Lillie, in tears, asked Ella to take it all back and start fresh, and tried to kiss her.  Ella shoved her away, knocking Lillie to the ground.  Lillie rose, and tried to get her love to listen; but Ella ordered her from the house.  Lillie couldn’t understand; did she love one of the men who’d been calling, did she love Ella Foster?  “Yes,” came the response.


Lillie stepped back, “Say that again, and I’ll kill you.”  The look on Ella’s face made no response necessary; the pistol she habitually carried appeared in her hand.  Ella raised her arm to her throat, and started to scream, but the sound of the shot drowned out the cry.  The pistol ball grazed Ella’s wrist, then lodging in her upper jaw, smashing her teeth and knocking her to the floor.

The family came running.  Someone sent for Dr. Truitt, who pronounced the wound as non-life threatening, but he deemed it wise not to extract the ball.  Lillie fled in the commotion, cutting her hair and donning men’s clothes.  She turned up in Philadelphia, but second thoughts sent her back to Pocomoke.  She even visited Ella.  The first time Ella was conscious; she asked Lillie if the shot was intentional.  Lillie shook her head no and collapsed onto Ella’s chest, holding her tight.  Lillie came again two weeks later.  By then the shot, combined with Ella’s nervous disposition, had rendered her delirious.  She screamed at the sight of Lillie, and drew the covers over her head.

The Bedroom

A week later, Ella was dead.  Her father swore out a charge of first degree murder.  Lillie’s defense centered on Ella’s nervous disposition hastened her demise, and even Dr. Truitt conceded that the pistol shot hadn’t been the sole cause of death.  The jury found Lillie guilty only of manslaughter. The court levied a $500 fine and left it at that.  Anonymous friends raised the funds, and Lillie was free.  She announced an intention of going on a lecture tour, to take advantage of her momentary celebrity, but there is no indication it happened.  A few years later, newspapers reported she’d gotten married, and then Lillie disappearedfrom the record.

Duer during the trial


The Tragic Tale of the USS Onieda, Conclusion

For Part Two:

For Part One: 

Oneida’s officers and men sprang into action. Crowninshield’s first thought was for Captain Williams; still unsteady, he climbed over the wreckage to the cabin he shared with Williams. Two other crewmen had already carried Williams on deck. Crowinshield grabbed a cap from his duffel, and put on his warmest coat and boots before heading on deck to receive orders. The officers gathered around Williams on the Bridge  to survey the damage. Yates pointed to the fleeing Bombay, “that steamer ported her helm and cut us down.”

“I know it,” Williams responded, “but let us save the ship.”

Lt. Commander Stewart took charge of the efforts to hail the Bombay. Dressed only in shirt sleeves and without a hat, Stewart sprung onto an arms chest; yelling through cupped hands “Heave to, you have cut us down.” Bombay continued to retreat into the distance. With no help forthcoming, Stewart led an unavailing search for the blue lights and rockets which would signal a ship in distress; they’d been stored carefully in the stern, the very part of the ship which Bombay tore from Oneida.

Desperate now to attract attention, Stewart and Ensign Adams decided to fire the Parrot gun. With the key to the arms locker resting in the pocket of one of the men washed overboard, it took precious minutes to force the door to the arms locker. Stewart and Adams managed to get off three shots in as many minutes before the tilting deck and gravity caused the gun to come loose from its moorings. It crushed Ensign Adams as it careened backwards, killing him instantly.

Muldaur reported to the Captain that the ship would sink in three minutes. Williams turned to him; “Save yourself and all you can; never mind me. This is my place and I will stay here.”  Yates reminded Williams that the ship lacked lifeboats; “I know it but what can I do. I asked for more boats, and they weren’t allowed me.”

Williams on the Bridge

Williams ordered boats that remained filled, and Suddards took charge of the port side cutter. Already it was dangling by its davits. Coal heaver Robert Dyer and Landsmen George W. Kaufman jumped aboard at the last moment, and fastening ropes cut away. In the hurry to get clear, the cutter struck Oneida’s side, severely damaging it. With the cutter in danger of sinking, they pulled for the Western shore.

Onieda Going Down

The Captain ordered Copp to the berth deck to help the wounded top side. Copp quickly completed the assignment, but refused to abandon his post, even when a fellow officer shouted down to him that Oneida would sink in a few moments. Copp responded “I will stay until relieved.” Orders relieving him from his post never arrived, and Copp died where he stood.

After doing all he could, Frothingham raced below deck, searching desperately for the Japanese orphan whose care had been entrusted to him. Their last moments are unknown, one hopes that Frothingham found and comforted him as the icy water poured into the ship. Frothingham had not yet had time to add his ward’s name to the ship’s roll; the orphan son of a Samurai perished anonymously. The casualty list simply called him “a Japanese boy.”

Among the officers, Yates alone managed to make it to the starboard side cutter; leaping aboard as the men lowered the boat into the water. They could hear Williams give out his last order; “All men to the rigging.” Yates stared aghast at his crewmates climbing the rigging in a final desperate attempt at life. “Every part was black with the poor fellows, who like so many wingless, helpless birds, perched and clung to it and on the yards, hoping to thereby lift themselves above the profound abyss of the waters.” Yates described,  “As the surging waters parted to receive and engulf her, one concentrated piercing shriek from every line and mast and spar went up to heaven, then all was silent.”

Onieda after the Col.

Moments before Crowinshield hit the water he shed his overcoat, a desperate struggle against the Oneida’s vortex brought him to the surface directly besides Yates’ cutter. The men hauled him aboard, sputtering and chilled. Yates spotted Stewart as well, from across the water Stewart appealed in desperation; “Yates, for God’s sake save me.” Yates ordered the men to row backwards to reach Stewart, they were only a few feet from him when he sank beneath the waves. Other sailors managed to come alongside, and the boat filled rapidly. Aided by their crewmates, men who could not fit into the overloaded cutter tied handkerchiefs to the gunwale and hung on with fingers rapidly stiffening in the frigid air.

Designed for only twenty-five but with forty aboard, the cutter rode low and took in water. Yates ordered the men to bail with boots, hats, and whatever else came to hand. With his cutter in dire straits, Yates overcame his desire to keep searching for survivors. Reluctantly he ordered the men to row for the lights of a small Japanese village on the Eastern shore. It took them over an hour to make the trip. Grounding the cutter, the survivors stumbled to ashore beneath the village; Yates and his men collapsed in exhaustion.

Suddards’ trip proved easier, the Western shore was closer to Oneida and his cutter carried fewer men.  Clinging to the hope that Oneida may have grounded in water shallow enough that some of the crew might survive, Suddards and Ensign Anderson began walking towards Yokohama. Neither of the two men wore enough clothing for an eight hour hike over three mountains in below freezing temperatures. Benumbed by cold and barely able to stand, they arrived in Yokohama at 3:00AM. Suddards pounded on the door of an American merchant whom he considered a friend, Mr. Carroll. Once inside, Anderson collapsed, but Suddards mustered his last reserves of strength and escorted by Carroll, took a boat out to Idaho. They reported the collision to Captain Muller, and then steered to the Ocean. Ocean’s crew helped Suddards aboard, and he passed out in the Captain’s quarters.

Less than an hour after the collision, Bombay arrived in Yokohama Harbor. She behaved suspiciously. Her captain, Arthur Wellesley Eyre, anchored far out in the Bay, and away from the prying eyes of those aboard the various merchant and naval vessels closer to shore. One of Ocean’s lieutenants, aboard Bombay to pick up the mail, heard Eyre state,  “I have cut the quarter off a damned Yankee frigate. Serves her bloody well right, she crossed my bows with a starboard helm.” A few of Bombay’s officers, over brandies at the International Hotel, let slip word of the collision, and were overheard stating that not stopping to verify that Oneida was not sinking was a mistake.  

Not until Suddards arrived did Yokohama begin to stir itself. Bombay was the only ship in the harbor with her steam up, but Eyre refused to sail. Only when dual orders from the Pearl and Orient offices and the British Navy arrived did Eyre agree return to the scene of the collision. Eyre’s efforts and those of the Sylvia, Ocean, and Vsadnick could not help Oneida’s crew. The few survivors not fortunate enough to find a spot on board the cutters perished hours before any of the erstwhile rescuers arrived.


            Back in the United States, details trickled in slowly with the arrival of each ship from the Orient. Newspapers splashed accusations across their headlines. The Washington Star accused Eyre of running so as not to get into to trouble. Another paper contended that abandoning Oneida to her fate “fixes a stain and a crime on Captain Arthur W. Eyre that will forever damn him before the civilized world as an inhuman wretch.” The Saturday Evening Post drew a lesson from the bravery of Oneida’s crew:

How can we despair of a country that can breed such sons? The brave old blood of the sea kings still runs in our veins. The calm courage of our grand Celtic Saxon race, which has looked death proudly in the face so many thousand times since our wandering sires left the great plains of Central Asia, still when the occasion comes gleams out of our eyes. We may make mistakes on our political theories and policies, but while that indomitable spirit still runs in the blood of the race, who can despair of the Republic?

The rumor went out that Eyre was merely to be suspended from duty. Out of distant Tucson in the Arizona Territory, the Weekly Arizonian had a different type of suspension in mind, “Suspension may mean hanging, and if just were done would so in the present instance. To suspend Capt. Eyre and not to hang him is an outrage as well as a paradox.”

In Yokohama too people talked of lynching Eyre; to forestall mob justice the Peninsular & Orient Company requested an immediate Court of Inquiry. Two questions were before the court; 1) Was the collision between Bombay and Oneida occasioned by any fault of Mr. Eyre or his officers? and 2) After the collision had taken place did Mr. Eyre do his duty? At the outset, the Court warned Eyre anything he said could be used against him in a prosecution for murder. Wisely, Eyre stuck to his story and kept it short: He had been following the rules of the road; the collision was not his fault; he did not think the collision was serious; and had no reason to believe that the Oneida in danger of sinking. He had seen no lights, and knew of no hail from the Oneida.

The testimony of the rest of the Bombay’s crew and the pilot contradicted Eyre’s carefully crafted story. Eyre testified that the Oneida was travelling at a speed of fifteen knots. Each of the Bombay’s officers named her correct speed; eight knots. Eyre stated he knew of no hail from the Oneida, each of the Bombay’s officers heard a hail, two of them reported it to Eyre, who ignored them. Eyre claimed he did not think the Oneida was in trouble, the pilot contended that Eyre asked him if the water in Yokohama Bay was deep enough that the Oneida could rest on the bottom without fear of danger. Eyre stated a lookout had been posted to keep an eye out for signs of distress from the Oneida; her crew reported Eyre ordered no lookout. Eyre claimed he stopped the ship for an extended period, the ship’s log reported the engines set at full stop for approximately three and one half minutes, not even long enough for the ship to cease forward movement. Eyre stated he had heard none of the four guns fired by the Oneida. Residents of Yokohama, miles away heard them, as did at least two of the crewmen aboard the Vsadnick in Yokohama Harbor.  Even a navigation expert contradicted Eyre’s testimony regarding the rules of the road when entering a bay. In the face of an oncoming ship, Eyre followed the common law for navigation on the Thames River by helming hard a port; the written rules of the road stated otherwise. By helming hard to port, Eyre violated at least three separate naval regulations. According to the expert, the entirety of the fault lay on Eyre.

Rule of the Road at Sea

Aided by skilled trial counsel, Court gave Eyre a light sentence. On the first count, the collision’s fault, the Court found that Eyre had been in violation of the rules of the road, but that Oneida deserved the blame. Oneida should have followed longstanding custom rather than naval regulations. On the second count, the Court found Eyre guilty of leaving the Oneida, but gave him a light sentence, six month’s suspension of his captain’s license. The American Minister demanded that Eyre be held for extradition to the United States, his British counterpart dithered. One step ahead of the slow moving minister, Eyre took the next ship out of Yokohama; it happened to be the Bombay. He shipped as titular first mate.


            A few days later, Japanese fishermen found Captain Williams’ body floating out to sea, naked except for his shirt collar. De Long arranged a burial with all due honor, the American, Prussian, French, and English Ministers, an English Admiral, a large concourse of civilians, a firing party of U.S. Marines in full dress uniform, and the Japanese Governor escorted Williams’ body to Yokohama’s foreign cemetery. The Band of the 1st Battalion, 10th Regiment of Her Majesty’s Army played the Dead March from Saul. British and American troops fired volleys over the grave, and the ships in the harbor dipped their flags in tribute.

Minister De Long turned to the assembled crowd, and in a wavering voice concluded the services, “Gentlemen, in the name of the United States Government, the Army and Navy of the United States, the relatives of the deceased, and in my own, I beg to thank you most dearly and most kindly for your courtesy on this sad occasion.”



            The wife of John C. Fremont announced that the Union Home and School for Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans would educate the children of those lost on the Oneida. A Mr. Forbes in London raised $2,700 for the benefit of Captain Williams’ four orphan children. Many of the home towns of Oneida’s crew raised monuments to the individual dead in local cemeteries. One of those lost on board the Oneida remained nameless, Frothingham’s protégé was simply listed as “an unknown Japanese boy.”

Eyre appealed to a British Admiralty Court in London for reinstatement of his Captain’s license. The Court refused to listen to the case, if anything, they contended, the Yokohama Court of Inquiry had been too lenient. Eyre’s fate is uncertain. One source has him dying a few months after the Admiralty Court’s refusal to hear the case, but there is a record of an Arthur W. Eyre being married in Tasmania in 1881. The Bombay ran as a mail steamer between Yokohama and Hong Kong for a few more years, before being retired and used as a tea hulk. On Christmas Eve, 1880, fire accidently destroyed her while she lay at Woosing.

Japanese fisherman found two other bodies, the American  Minister  interred them on either side of Williams. The foreign residents contributed funds for a monument to the men of the Oneida, it still stands today over the three men’s graves. In the 1890’s, the Japanese cleared the Oneida’s wreck while constructing fortifications on Saratoga Spit. They found a number of bones. One of the survivors of the Oneida, his name lost to history, attended the ceremony burying them in a common grave. A monument stood over the grave, a copper plate attached to it identified the remains, until the Japanese removed it in World War Two to melt down for shell casings. It has not been replaced. DeLong returned to the United States, settling in Virginia City, Nevada, where he died of typhoid fever in 1876.Suddards stayed in the Navy, serving as Chief Medical Officer for the entire branch at the time of his death in the 1880’s. Yates too remained in the Navy. Promoted immediately on his return to American soil, he faded into history. For years, the photograph of the Oneida’s officers with their counterparts of the Vsadnick hung in the later ship’s ward room, surrounded by black crepe.

Reflecting on the disaster, the loss of Frothingham, Copp, and 118 other men, in distant Yankton, Dakota Territory, the Union and Dakotian published an obituary on the Oneida’s crew.

Their memory will live in the hearts of their countryman. It is not difficult to exhibit gallantry, courage, and lofty determination in the shock of battle, when the blood is stirred, and the feelings raised to their highest point. But in the midst of a quiet, peaceful scene, while indulging in the most pleasing anticipations, when suddenly called on to confront death, without the opportunity of escape or resistance, the heroism of these brave men is something indeed for the nation to glory in. 

The Tragic Tale of the USS Oneida, Part Two

For Part One: 

After a brief stop in Hong Kong, where the Navy rotated Captain Creighton home and placed Captain E. H. Williams in charge, Oneida returned to Japan. Only a typhoon marred the good weather Oneida enjoyed during her three years in the Orient. It destroyed two of her longboats, but otherwise did little damage.  By November of 1869, she received orders to begin preparations for the return trip back to New York City, and the Navy dispatched her to Yokohama to have her boilers refitted. Captain Williams also tried to purchase replacement longboats, but they proved too expensive. He hoped to procure some in Hong Kong when Oneida stopped there on her way home.

Commander Williams

Her crew said last goodbyes to their friends aboard the various warships in Yokohama. The Ocean’s crew wished them an especially fond farewell, a shared battlefield experience made the two crews close. The Russian cruiser Vsadnick’s officers invited their counterparts aboard the Oneida to join them at a local photography studio; each crew hung a copy of the picture in their respective wardrooms.

Frothingham gathered up some books to enjoy on the journey, including a volume of Confucius’ teachings. He’d also brought aboard a Japanese orphan, the son of a Samurai killed in the Boshin War. It took some doing to convince the boy’s guardians to allow him to educate the boy in New York City at Frothingham’s expense; but they had eventually relented.

In addition to Frothingham’s ward several men from USS Idaho came aboard. Scheduled to depart the previous November, a typhoon caught Idaho when only one day out of Yokohama. Idaho managed to limp back to port, but she was no longer seaworthy. Those of her crew whose enlistments were schedule to return to the United States joined Oneida’s crew.

Homeward Bound

Ensign Charles Copp was among the Idaho crew transferred to Oneida. Copp was tall and good looking, with a muscular build. He possessed an indomitable will; while working as a newsboy in his native Troy, New York, Copp successfully resisted his compatriots’ inducements to smoke, drink, and gamble. With the money he saved hawking newspapers, Copp left school at age 14, and moved to New York, taking a job as a clerk. Two years later, in the midst of the Civil War, Copp joined the Navy. He proved himself quickly, earned a promotion and his senior office Commander Joseph Miller’s recommendation to the U.S. Naval Academy. Although inclined to refuse, Copp found himself persuaded when Miller threatened to strip his promotion if he refused to take the entrance exam.

Although Copp’s examination was lackluster at best, he found himself admitted. While faring poorly on the academic pursuits, Copp’s impressive build brought with it athletic achievement; Copp was a champion boxer, expert sportsmen, and earned high marks in practical seamanship. The consummate Christian gentlemen, Copp neither swore, used tobacco, nor drank. The beau ideal persona matched well with Copp’s willingness to defend his Naval Academy classmates when upperclassmen attempted to haze them; several fights resulted, which Copp won.

After graduation, the Navy assigned Copp to USS Decatur, the Asiatic Squadron Flagship. In late 1869, the Navy ordered Copp to return home aboard Idaho to take the examination for promotion. After the typhoon disabled Idaho, Copp found himself aboard Oneida.

Oneida’s executive officers, Lt. Commanders Muldaur and Stewart, oversaw departure preparations. Illness kept Williams ashore under the care of Frothingham’s superior, Doctor James Suddards. Williams did make an effort to find replacement longboats, they proved expensive, and headquarters ordered him to wait until the Oneida arrived in Hong Kong. At the last possible moment, Williams and Suddards boarded ship. The Oneida weighed anchor.

Lt. Commander Muldaur

Captain Williams conducted a brief inspection of the ship before Suddards sent him below decks to the cabin the Captain shared with his clerk, William Crowninshield. Williams barely managed to light a candle before sinking down into a sleeping chair. Stewart ordered sails set, arranged lookouts, and set the course south by east, one quarter east. Secured for sea, he turned the deck over to Master Isaac Yates.

Lt. Commander Sterwart

With the exception of those on duty, most of the officers and crew relaxed. Captain’s Clerk William Crowninshield lay down for a nap; he found a perch on the starboard transom and dozed. The officers made their way to the wardroom. In the absence of Captain Williams, Lt. Commander Stewart presided over the meal. Newcomers like Copp sat cheek by jowl with old Oneida hands such as Frothingham. Indeed, the men probably swapped stories of life in the Orient, or told tales of home, excited over the prospect of seeing loved ones left behind some three years before.

Yates disturbed the ship’s officers at dinner to ask Lt. Commander Muldaur, the navigation officer, to verify Oneida’s course. Muldaur’s lone concern was the Saratoga Spit, a small piece of land jutting into Yokohama Bay from the East. If she kept to her present course, Oneida would be safe. Off to West, the distant lights of an approaching ship glimmered on the water, but Muldaur saw no need to worry. “That steamer will pass to the starboard of us,” he told Yates then headed  back down to dinner.

Yet, with each passing minute, the steamer drew closer. Her green starboard light could be seen clearly now, and in an profusion of caution, Yates ordered Oneida’s helm to starboard; turning the ship to port. He again called for Mulduar, who insisted Saratoga Spit posed a threat, not the approaching steamer. The bay was three and a half miles wide, more than enough room for both ships. Besides, Naval Rule 14 stated that if two ships saw each others’ green starboard lights, they were to remain well clear of each other by helming to starboard. Oneida already had helmed to starboard as far as was safe, were the distant steamer to do the same, all would be well. Muldaur ordered the course resumed, and joined Frothingham, Copp and the rest at dinner.

Bombay drew closer. Inexplicably, she seemed to be recklessly attempting to round Oneida and get on her port side, in between Oneida and the western shore. With only a few feet between the ships, Yates ordered helm hard starboard. For the briefest of moments, it seemed the steamer would go around Oneida’s stern. It was not to be. On January 23, 1870, at 6:50 PM, the Peninsular and Orient steamship Bombay collided with the USS Oneida.

Bombay’s iron hull sliced off the entire rear quarter of Oneida just aft of her mizzen chains. Steaming away into the distance, Bombay carried with her Oneida’s spanker book and gaff. In the steamer’s guest dining room, two female passengers barely felt the collision, looked up momentarily, then resumed their game of bezique.

The Collision

Frothingham, Copp, and their fellow officers, relaxing in the wardroom with the solid contentment of men who’d enjoyed a good meal; in mere seconds the hull of the ship came bodily across the dinner table with a sickening sound of crushing timber and shrieking metal. In his cabin, the crash knocked Captain Williams to the floor. Crowninshield, moments before asleep in the transom, fell to the deck, stunned. As his head cleared, he stared, mouth gaping. Where before there had been the ship’s hull, know he looked out at the sea and stars. On deck, Alfred Ruggert fell to his knees, aided by his grip on the weather wheel. Fortune favored him; he’d seen two of his crewmates sent overboard into the icy water.

The Tragic Tale of the USS Oneida, Part One


In the cool, clear evening of January 23, 1870, USS Oneida bobbed gently in the rolling swell inside of Yokohama Bay. Her less than graceful lines earned her the sobriquet “The Ugly Duckling” and she deserved it. She lacked berths for the enlisted men, and many of them spent their nights in the open air, sheltered only by the boom cover. They may have preferred sleeping in outside; the berth deck also housed the galley, and smoke from the cooking fires blew back into the men’s quarters where it mixed with the smell of a hundred unwashed bodies.

Many of the crew had been aboard Oneida for three years, and had grown to love the cramped vessel. Dr. Edward Frothingham signed on in January 1867 as a Surgeon’s Assistant. Only 27 when he came aboard, Frothingham had already served with the 44th New York Regiment in the Peninsular Campaign, transferred to the Medical Corps for the duration of the Civil War, entered Columbia University Medical School, earned his medical certificate, and applied for a position in the Navy; he alone among the seventeen applicants passed the Navy’s entrance examination. As a man of letters, he supplemented his meager Navy pay by agreeing to write columns to the New York Times each time Oneida docked.

Oneida spent three years wandering from one port to another, and Frothingham enjoyed himself capitally. He toured the Cape Verde Islands, and visited the American cemetery there; an American midshipman who’d lost his life to fever years before was its only inhabitant. Under the lights of a full Rio de Janeiro moon, he’d danced with dark skinned Portuguese girls at a ball thrown by Brazilian Emperor Pedro II in honor of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred.

Prince Alfred was Queen Victoria’s son, his mother sent him around the world on a goodwill tour, in command of the HMS Galatea. Oneida met Galatea again in Cape Town. By the time Oneida arrived,  Prince Alfred already had departed upcountry to hunt elephants. On his return, Oneida’s commanding officer, Captain Creighton, invited him to dinner, where the Prince regaled Frothingham and the rest of Oneida’s crew with the story of his hunt.


Like all good hunting stories, they were mixed with a healthy dose of hyperbole; local scuttlebutt had it that it was the Prince’s escort who really killed two elephants for which the Prince received credit. The Oneida’s officers must have hidden any  incredulous smiles well; for the Prince reciprocated the dinner with an invitation to a Royal Ball on shore.

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Frothingham and Captain Creighton must have been on good terms, for each time Oneida docked, Creighton granted him leave to tour the sites. Cape Town’s hustle and bustle reminded him of Scranton. The local museum boasted stuffed lions, giraffes, birds and elephants, as well as a myriad of African weapons and examples of tribal dress, and relaxation came by watching cricket matches, or listening to the regimental bands play in the botanical gardens. Frothingham even attempted to climb Table Rock, making it nearly to the top before high winds forced his party to call off the ascent. The 99th British Regiment treated Frothingham to dinner at their mess, where they ate off plates looted from the Emperor’s Summer Palace in Peking.

Stepping off the ship in Singapore, dozens of Malays clad only in red loincloths surrounded Frothingham begging for grain. Chinese merchants, propelled about by bald slaves, plied their trade between the various ships anchored in the harbor. He saw his first Indian, a “barefooted Hindoo in white, with a turban and a caste mark on his forehead,” and delighted in finding himself “an old world, an old language, and an old religion is before us, yet old as they may be, they are new to us.”

Attending Singapore’s local Anglican church brought a touch of home, but exotic elements pervaded even the familiar service; servants operated “punkas,” wooden fans attached to the roof and moved backwards and forwards with ropes. The minister had a punka all his own as a special sign of distinction. Frothingham spent most of his time in Singapore’s Chinese district, there the plaintive cries of fruit vendors and water carriers mingled in the air with the heavy perfume of joss sticks, which the Chinese burned in honor of their ancestors. Frothingham “went local” setting aside his uniform for a loose cotton robe and white shoes purchased from one of the Chinese merchants using Mexican dollars.

Oneida was a warship, and in Japan, the internecine Boshin War raged; fought by forces loyal to the Emperor and those supporting the Tokugawa Shogunate. To show the flag and protect American interests, Asiatic Squadron headquarters dispatched Oneida to Kobe,  Japan.

Circumstances justified Oneida’s presence when soldiers attached to Daimyo Bezen’s rebel band fired on Commander English of the USS Idaho, the Prussian Minister Baron von Brandt, and Commander Creighton as they crossed Kobe’s foreign concession. The attack appeared to be little more than a few potshots fired in the general direction of the strolling foreigners, but to the Western powers it called for a strong reaction. The American and British resident ministers called out the Marines of their respective navies, included the men on the Oneida. Moving quickly, the joint force pursued Bezen’s forces into the Japanese countryside. When they failed to catch up with Bezen, and contented themselves with laying siege to the rest of Kobe.


Deployment provided a festive change of pace from life aboard ship. British troops constructed a wall from whatever materials lay close at hand; the American troops spurred built a bigger one, on which they placed one of the Oneida’s howitzers. Britons and Americans bivouacked around campfires; perhaps the Marines told stories of Civil War battles, while their British counterparts recounted adventures in the Crimea, in India, or during the Opium War. The men of the ad hoc Expeditionary Force had little to fear from Bezen’s soldiers, armed only with swords. The occupation of the remainder of Kobe was a fait accompli, and Frothingham told the folks at home that. “All the circumstance of the case justified the military occupation of the town, and it was unanimously decided by the combined ministerial powers that the lives of the foreign residents should not be endangered by passing bodies of troops until satisfaction should be obtained for this past offense, and some assurance of protection for the future.” Frothingham looked up from his letter when a sentry sighted Bezen’s men. Orders rang out; “Turn out the guard! Fall in blue jackets! Right Face! Double quick! Ma-a arch.”

To light the scene, the British troops fired a rocket, the hasty shot went directly into a nearby tree, provoking laughter from American and Briton alike. A second shot, better aimed, lit the Expeditionary Force tramped into the woods after Bezen’s men. Left behind to man the hospital tent, Frothingham rolled up in a great coat to gather what sleep he could. What fighting there was  ended before he awoke. The rebel forces melted into the pre-dawn mist, and inflicted only two injuries; Walter G. Clark, apprentice boy, received a flesh wound to the shoulder, and Marine Michael J. DeWire lost a portion of his right hand warding off a samurai sword with the butt of his gun. By February 9th, 1868, an emissary from the Mikado arrived, bearing the Emperor’s apologies for the conduct of his adversaries and promising that foreigners would be protected.

Everywhere Frothingham travelled, a crowd of Japanese soldiers, sailors, and civilians followed him, begging for cigars and tobacco, and confessing their predilection for champagne and ale. An insatiable appetite for anything Western characterized the Japanese; they had no hesitation to ask for the smallest trifle, even the very buttons on the men’s coats. “Anyone fortunate to possess himself of a coat, or a European hat, or a pair of shoes, regardless of style, color or size,” Frothingham wrote home, “will strut through the streets proud of his newly acquired garments, unconscious of the ludicrous figure presented.” Frothingham enjoyed Japanese customs as well; off hours were spent in Japanese tea houses.

Tea House

Orders interrupted Frothingham’s idyll, Asiatic Squadron Headquarters sent Oneida to Siam with letters of congratulations for the new King of the Rear Palace, Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua. With a deep draught, the Oneida could not sail up the Maenam Chao Phraya River; so the King obliged the visiting Americans by dispatching a royal steamer to carry Creighton, Frothingham, and a few other officers upriver to Bangkok. The trip began at dusk; betel palms lined the shore, blocking any sound from the surrounding jungle. Millions of fireflies lit their branches, flashing synchronously. They, and the full moon shimmering on the river’s black water, made up only light. As Bangkok hove in to view, Frothingham the palms gave way to low huts, built on rafts anchored thirty feet out in the river. Curious families stared wide-eyed from small verandahs at the strangers on the royal steamer.

King of Siam - 2

Diplomatic protocal required a visit to the King of the Front Palace as well, a task accomplished the next morning when the American emissaries presented themselves to Phra Ong Chao Yodying Prayurayot Bovorn Rachorod Rattan Rachakumarn. He too bore a nickname; his father’s affinity for Washington led to the appellation Prince George.

King of Siam

Duty done, Frothingham found himself free to enjoy Bangkok. During the afternoons, temperatures regularly reached 95˚ in the shade; escape could be had by sipping on coconut milk and eating mangoes. Donning local dress helped too. Frothingham put aside his uniform for a loose shirt of white muslin, and baggy pants to match, purchased from a Siamese merchant who’s shorn head bore testament to Chulalongkorn’s deceased father.  Frothingham made the most of the temperate mornings and evenings. Strolling the streets he saw yellow robed Buddhist priests going door to door begging their rice allotment from the populace. He took the steep path to Wat Sekat; its soaring minaret reminded him of the Tower of Babel. At the summit, circling vultures were at eye level, tracing their way through air over the bodies of criminals thrown from Wat Sekat’s path after their execution.

Executions were commonplace, and Frothingham attended the beheading of a Chinese merchant convicted of theft and murder. Two executioners carried out the sentence. The first partially severed the prisoner’s neck with a sword, and the second finished the work. Superstition dictated that insanity would result if only a single executioner did the job. Work completed, the executioners repaired to the nearest temple, where a sprinkling of holy water prevented the newly deceased from haunting them.

Through the good offices of a resident American, Frothingham received permission to tour the Rear Palace. The King’s temple, Wat Phra Kaew housed a giant Buddha cut from a single piece of jade, and decorated with diamond eyes. Although not surprised when his guide went prostrate three times before it, Frothingham doubted the man’s devotion; he’d failed to remove his cigarette before paying homage. The guide escorted him into the King’s Reception Hall. Among the Western pictures which lined the Hall, Frothingham recognized portraits of George Washington and Franklin Pierce. The King’s Menagerie concluded the tour, where his guide showed Frothingham the King’s collection of elephants, Chulalongkorn had granted many of the prized specimens rank on par with a noble of the fifth class. The most famous pachyderm, the Sacred White Elephant of Siam, proved not to be rather white, but only a disappointing dingy brown. Frothingham was only slightly mollified when the guide presented a white monkey.


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