The People of Gibraltar
1866 - The Pompous Attorney General - Gibraltar - Part 2

Frederick and Pisani
When Flood took over as attorney general in 1866, there were just three Counsellors in Gibraltar apart from himself - one of them, Henry Pisani was still there when he left in 1877. His family had been well off enough to have educated him at St Edmund's College in Ware, the oldest Catholic college in England. He had a B.A. from London University and was called to the Bar soon after. By the time Flood became attorney general he had been working as a Barrister on the Rock for six years. 

Pisani was at the time possibly the best lawyer in Gibraltar by quite a margin. But he was sometimes over confident. His main fault – it you can call it that – was his stubborn refusal to back down whenever he thought he was being unfairly treated by his British-born legal superiors. 

Perhaps it is worthwhile remembering that in those days the Supreme Court in Gibraltar - much to the dismay of most of its lawyers – were not allowed either to arrest or try military personnel no matter what infraction, misdemeanour or felony they might have committed unless the Governor gave his specific approval – something that was about as rare as un mirlo blanco – to use a local expression.

(Pre-1879 – From Captain Buckle’s Album)

Instead these military law-breakers were tried by courts marshal with the attorney general of the day acting as Judge Advocate. It was a distinction that must have grated on his colleague’s nerves and given Flood immense satisfaction whenever he was called upon to act in this capacity. It was also the norm that the Chief Justices left Gibraltar during the hot summer months and their places taken by the attorney general. Flood was left holding the baby more often than not which was certainly not to the liking of his peers of which of course Pisani was one.

Sir James Cochrane - Chief Justice of Gibraltar from 1841 until his retirement in 1877

However, the antagonism between Flood and Pisani can be traced back to a court case that took place in 1869. It seems that an elderly local lady by the name of Manuela Porro wanted to sell a house in Cannon Lane that she had inherited from her mother. She eventually came to a tentative agreement to sell it for an annuity and asked Pisani for advice. Three other people entered the fray - including Pisani himself - and made their offers. One of them soon backed off, the other was thought of as a scoundrel by Mrs Porro and she ended up selling the house to Pisani. 

Cannon Lane – once known as Artillery Lane because of its proximity to an Artillery Barracks  (Possibly just after the end of World War II)

Rather unfortunately Mrs Morro died shortly after the transaction had taken place. Even more unfortunately from Pisani point of view was that he had been involved in the drafting of her death-bed will in which she made no mention of the house she had sold to Pisani. In her previous will she had left it in trust for the children of one of her friends.

Understandably, suspicions were aroused that Pisani had somehow acted improperly. However, nobody took any legal action until Flood decided to intervene. He ask Pisani to start proceedings in order to vindicate his actions. Pisani refused. He had done nothing wrong; the house was his and that was the end of it.

Flood then took it upon himself to make a claim in 1869 against the Barrister. The case lasted 25 days and ended badly for Pisani – the second will was declared void. Characteristically, Pisani refused to go down without a fight and filed an appeal with the Privy Council in England.  There was a huge delay for which Flood unfairly blamed Pisani but in 1873, four years after the original judgement, the Privy Council reversed Cochrane’s original verdict. The attorney general was incensed but there was little he could do about the outcome.

The next case in which the two locked horns was that of the captain of a schooner - the David Sinclair.

The schooner David Sinclair

One day in March 1873 the Captain – John Arthur Copeland Brittain - had asked his rather frail steward whether he had been drinking his “grog”. According to John Restano in his Justice so Requiring the old man had angrily replied:
What do I know about your damn grog you son of a bitch?
Whereupon the captain  pushed his old steward who fell over and was found dead the following day. Pisani was then duly appointed lawyer for the defence. The case itself is too involved to go into in detail here - other than as a summary that might reveal the farcical relationship between Frederick Solly-Flood and Henry Pisani.

Pisani asked for an adjournment – Brittain accused him of doing so to increase his chances of being paid for his services – which Pisani refuted. Brittain was convicted but argued that Pisani had forced him to plead Not Guilty when he wanted to do the opposite.

Flood entered the fray when he got news of Brittain’s complaints and put them before the Chief Judge who agreed that Pisani had cause to answer why he should not be struck off, Pisani responded by impertinently asking for permission to appeal the judge’s decision. Flood  then accused Pisani of behaving in a disgraceful and unprofessional manner –while  Pisani countered by alleging that Flood was influenced by personal animosity towards him.

During the court case Flood arrested Pisani’s messenger illegally for perjury within the court precincts and the Chief Judge accused Flood of a failure to treat the court with respect . It was now time for the Chief Judge to leave Gibraltar for his summer holidays, his place being taken by Flood as usual. Pisani, who was not about to subject himself to the whims of a totally unsympathetic Judge, buggered off to London and asked for advice from Sir Douglas Straight – an English lawyer, Judge, Journalist and MP.

Sir Douglas Straight (1879 – Vanity Fair – Leslie Ward)

Flood kept up his complaint about the delays while Pisani ignored him and presented his own about Flood directly to London. With considerable help from his London connections the case against Pisani’s conduct was quietly dropped whereas Flood’s were described as “open to very great blame”. Flood had won a few battles but he had certainly lost the war. I suspect he never really recovered from these two cases. The next one didn't help him much either. 

Frederick and the Mary Celeste
In 1872 running parallel to all the kerfuffle about permits, Gibraltar found itself in the middle of an affair that became known as the mystery of the Mary Celeste. This story both as fact or as fiction - has been written about too often to be able to add anything new.

But if anything in his life ever made Frederick Solly-Flood at all known to the outside world it would be his involvement in the events that took place after the ship had arrived in Gibraltar harbour with a three-man crew made up of Oliver Deveau and two others. All three were members of the Dei Gratia, the ship that had found the Mary Celeste drifting halfway between the Azores and the coast of Portugal with not a soul on board.

Oliver Deveau - 1st Mate of the Dei Gratia

Within two hours of dropping anchor the ship was placed under arrest by the President of the local Admiralty Court and a board of enquiry was set up in the Admiralty offices.

Top the Mary Celeste - bottom the Dei Gratia

The presiding judge was Sir James Cochrane who also happened to be the Chief Justice of Gibraltar – as mentioned previously.

The Chief Judge’s official residence in the middle of the aptly named Glen Rocky

The second most prominent member on the board was Horatio Jones Sprague, a wealthy local businessman and celebrated American consul to Gibraltar

Horatio Jones Sprague – American Consul at Gibraltar

The third was Frederick Solly-Flood, attorney general for Gibraltar – although in this case he is usually referred to by the longer and more impressive title of Advocate General for the Queen in Her Office of the Admiralty.

By 1872 Flood seems to have been determined to join the ranks of those colonial administrator whose bureaucratic arrogance was only outdone by their pomposity. He was convinced that the enquiry into the Mary Celeste was a heaven-sent opportunity to show off his skills as a lawyer.

The damage was done in instalments. His first accusation was that the original crew had gained access to the alcohol, drank large quantities of it and then murdered the captain – Benjamin Briggs – as well as his wife and his child both of whom the captain had taken on board with him. Wrong, as it was soon shown that the cargo consisted of denatured alcohol and that drinking it would have been far too unpleasant to allow anybody to get drunk on the stuff.

Benjamin Spooner Briggs his son Arthur and his wife Sarah

Flood then abandoned this line of questioning and brought out a second theory - Briggs and the Captain of the Dei Gratia – David Reed Morehouse - had conspired to share the salvage rights of the Mary Celeste. Briggs had murdered his crew and left with his wife and child to a prearranged destination. Morehouse then took the boat to Gibraltar in order to collect the salvage money. He would later meet up with Briggs to share their ill-gotten gains. It was a ridiculous theory. Briggs partly owned the Mary Celeste. A share of the salvage would have been less than his share of the boat.

Captain David Reed Morehouse Captain of the Dei Gratia

Unabashed Flood then came up with a third suggestion. Captain Morehouse had inveigled his way on board the Mary Celeste and had then murdered everybody on the ship. As part of his persistent attempts to accuse somebody of wrong-doing, Flood asked a local doctor J. Patron to investigate several suspicious stains found on the Mary Celeste. One set of stains were found on the blade of a sword. Unfortunately for Flood, Patron's analyses led him to conclude that whatever they were none of the stains were blood.

The “bloody” swords of the Mary Celeste

Unlike Flood, the American consul Sprague was convinced that Briggs was - or had been - an honest man. He requested that a US. Navy Captain be allowed to check the available facts and give his considered opinion.  He came to the useless conclusion that the Mary Celeste
 . . . had been abandoned by Master and crew in a moment of panic and for no sufficient reason.
The Admiralty Court - via its presiding Judge, Sir James Cochrane - quite rightly ignored Flood and cleared Morehouse and his men of any kind of involvement in the affair and granted salvage rights. But there was more to come. Solly-Flood was without doubt guilty of promoting the myth surrounding the disappearance of the crew of the Mary Celeste But he wasn't the only one.

The New York Times report on the enquiry into the Mary Celeste - Solly Flood's many insinuations were beginning to take hold outside Gibraltar

In 1884 a young pre-Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle wrote J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement, a fictionalised account of the disappearance of the Mary Celeste. It was published in the Cornhill Magazine and its main claim to fame is that it succeeded in perpetuating the confusing as to the real facts surrounding the case. For a start he changed the name of the ship to the Marie Celeste - which is actually the one many people use when referring to the both the boat and the mystery.

First page and an illustration from of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Cornhill Magazine story - J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement – The year, the name of the ship, the latitude and the name of the Gibraltar newspaper were all imagined by Conan Doyle and do not coincide with the real ones.

But that is in any case, another story. The real one is certainly more than enough to be going by.

Illustration from an Article in the November 1913 edition of the Strand Magazine.