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The Adventure of the Gloria Scott
The Adventure of the Gloria Scott, one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of 12 stories in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. This story is related mainly by Holmes rather than Watson, and is the first case to which Holmes applied his powers of deduction, having treated it as a mere hobby until this time.
In his college days, Holmes spent a month with his only friend, Victor Trevor, at his father's estate in Norfolk. While there, Holmes amazed his host, Victor's father, who was a Justice of the Peace and a landowner besides. He had made his fortune in the goldfields in Australia. One of Holmes's deductions was that the elder Mr. Trevor was once connected with someone with the initials J. A. whom he wanted to forget. His host then passed out on the table. Holmes had touched a sore spot, and possibly did not believe the old man's explanation once he had come back to himself that J. A. had been an old lover.
Holmes perceived that he was making his host uncomfortable and decided to take his leave. The evening before he did this, another old man suddenly appeared at the house causing the elder Mr. Trevor to rush for a shot of brandy before greeting him. They had apparently been shipmates some 30 years earlier, and Mr. Trevor said something about finding him some work. Soon afterwards, Holmes and his friend found Mr. Trevor drunk.
Holmes spent the next seven weeks at his chemistry experiments, suddenly receiving a telegram from the younger Trevor begging him to come back to Norfolk. Once he got there, Victor told Holmes that his father was dying as a result of a stroke suffered after he received a letter. They found that he had died while Victor had been meeting Holmes at the station.
After Holmes had left the house seven weeks earlier, it seems that this old man who had come looking for work, and whose name was Hudson, proved to be as unruly an employee as could be imagined. He had demanded to be promoted from gardener to butler and had got what he wanted. He had taken unforgiveable liberties which would normally have resulted in an employee's dismissal. He was often drunk. Victor could not stand him and would have beaten Hudson up if he had been younger. The other staff had complained about him. However, Victor's father always let him get away with any infamy. Suddenly, Hudson announced that he was leaving because he had tired of Norfolk, and he was going to Hampshire to see Beddoes, another old shipmate.
Now, Holmes's friend had become thin and careworn by the ordeal. He had thought that the trouble was over when Hudson had left, but then came the letter, from Fordingbridge in Hampshire. It read:
- "The supply of game for London is going steadily up. Head-keeper Hudson, we believe, has been now told to receive all orders for fly-paper and for preservation of your hen pheasant's life."
It meant nothing to Victor, and it was quite a while before Holmes saw anything in it. He found the key. If one read every third word beginning with the first, there was an intelligible message: "The game is up. Hudson has told all. Fly for your life."
Holmes realized that the game was blackmail. Some guilty secret had been the power that Hudson had held over the elder Mr. Trevor. The old man's dying words to his doctor unlocked the secret. Some papers were found in Mr. Trevor's Japanese cabinet.
The document was a confession. The elder Mr. Trevor had once borne the name James Armitage (initials: J. A.) and had been a criminal having embezzled money from the bank where he worked and been caught. He was sentenced to Transportation.
Once on the ship, the Gloria Scott, bound for Australia from Falmouth, Armitage found out from a neighbouring prisoner that there was a conspiracy to take over the ship. The neighbour, Jack Prendergast, had financed the scheme out of the nearly £250,000 in unrecovered money from his crime. Many of the crew, even officers, were in his employ, and even the chaplain, who was not truly a clergyman at all. He, while pretending to minister to the prisoners, was actually furnishing them with pistols and other equipment to be used when the time was right. Armitage also drew his other neighbour, Evans, into the scheme.
As might be expected, all did not go as planned. The takeover was accomplished unexpectedly when the ship's doctor discovered a pistol while treating a prisoner. The prisoners then had to make their move right away or they would lose the element of surprise. In the ensuing mêlée, many men were killed, and there arose a dispute between Prendergast with his supporters and a group including Armitage over what to do with the few loyal crewmen still left alive. Armitage and others would not stand for coldblooded murder. They asked to be cast adrift in a small boat to make their way as they would.
Shortly after leaving in their small boat, the Gloria Scott blew up as the result of the violence spreading to where the gunpowder was kept. The men in the small boat, among whom was also Evans, hurried back to the site and rescued one survivor — Hudson.
The next day, as luck would have it, the men were rescued by another ship, the Hotspur, also bound for Australia. They passed themselves off as survivors from a passenger ship and once in Australia, headed for the goldfields. Armitage changed his name to Trevor, and Evans changed his name to Beddoes. Both later returned to England as rich men.
All had gone well until Hudson had suddenly shown up.
Since no scandal involving the Gloria Scott ever followed the odd message from Beddoes (Evans), and since neither Hudson nor Evans was ever heard from again, Holmes deduced later that Evans had likely killed Hudson, believing that he had told all, when in fact he had not, and then fled with as much money as he could lay his hands on.
The exact date at which this story is set is unknown; however, the story says that the Gloria Scott left Falmouth in 1855, and since that was "thirty years ago", according to Trevor's confession, the date would seem to be 1885 or thereabouts, but because 1885 belongs to the time that Holmes and Watson knew each other, the true date cannot be known.
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