Jul 02

Mutiny in Durban Harbour

Courtesy of Adrian Rowe

Mutiny in Durban Harbour SS Jeypore

SS Jeypore

I was recently asked by Bill Bizley if I knew anything about an incident which occurred in Durban Harbour in mid 1942.  The inquirer, Martin Rowles, who lives in the U.K. had been told the story by his grandfather, Thomas Buck, who was in service aboard the merchant ship, S.S. Jeypore, a Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Co. (P & O) steam ship of G.R.T. 5,318 tons.

Thomas was serving as a seaman gunner and joined the S.S. Jeypore in January 1942 just before his 20th birthday, having been on a gunnery course in Wales. The request proved to be a challenge and an email to The National Archives at Kew produced copies of a set of Shipping Movement cards showing the movements of S.S. Jeypore from 1939 until she was torpedoed and sunk on 3 November 1942.  From the cards it was confirmed that S.S. Jeypore arrived in Durban on 20 June 1942 from Aden.

S.S. Jeypore

The story is now continued by Seaman Gunner Thomas Buck R.N. “I was aboard the Jeypore and one of 10 gunners (4 Royal Navy, 4 Royal Artillery and 2 Merchant Navy).  We left the Middle East bound for Chittagong, or so we thought, but on arrival at Durban our destination had been changed.  This was not accepted by the crew of Lascars [Indian sailors] as they had finished their contract at this time and a change of crew was due to take place.  They immediately went on strike and threatened to leave the ship.  The Master of the ship, Captain Thomas Stevens, had the task of explaining this to the crew and asked them to wait until he had the chance to talk to the Admiralty before acting.  He told his 1st Officer to explain this to the other officers and the gun crews, and our orders were, on no account was anyone allowed to leave the ship.  For a period of time this was obeyed but we didn’t know that they were preparing for a battle, making weapons of sharpened bamboo sticks to force us to let them leave. 

Then all hell broke out, they all came out together, placed bags of flour or rice on the deck to hide behind and there were just 8 of us lining the deck, which was about 3 foot high and we were in the thick of it.  I stopped a blow on the head, which was cut but not serious enough to stop me and the fighting lasted for some time, until one of the Officers, who were on the upper deck, told the 2 other gunners to get a Marlin gun [machine gun] and fire into the stack of bags of flour or rice that were on the hatch on the lower deck.  This was carried out and had an immediate impact.  They all ran for cover.  Then the Police arrived on the scene in force and arrested all the crew. 

None of the crew showed any sign of injury.  We were all later summoned to attend court, but I was the only casualty who went in.  Some of the crew turned up in bandages saying they had been injured, but the prosecuting lawyer had the bandages removed to reveal no injuries!  After a lot of talking it was all settled in a very short time with all of the crew being sent to prison. All this trouble, as far as we were all concerned, gave us a lovely time in Durban, God’s gift to paradise.  It’s a wonderful place and I shall never forget the hospitality.”

Danny McNamarra, George Cocoran(seated) & Thomas Buck

Danny McNamarra, George Cocoran(seated) & Thomas Buck

Two articles appeared in The Natal Mercury, the first on 8 July 1942 headed “Lascar Crew In Durban Court” and stated that “Forty nine Lascars, members of the crew of a ship in Durban Harbour were charged before Mr H.L.F.G. Albers, the Durban Magistrate, yesterday, with refusing to do their work, alternatively, combining with one another to disobey a lawful command.  They pleaded not guilty and were defended by Mr Reg. Cooper. The Master of the ship said that at Suez all the accused told him they would not proceed beyond Durban and that they wanted to go back to India.

He explained that their agreements would not have expired by then.  They were told they would have to proceed. Outside Durban harbour, the men again asked to be paid off in the harbour. He replied that they would have to wait until they got into port and he consulted his agents.  On July 4 he again had trouble with them. The Master spoke to the cook and the baker and told them they would have to continue their work.  He went ashore to his agents.  Before doing so he instructed the chief officer to allow no one to leave the ship before his return and to use force if necessary to keep them aboard. 

On his return he found the accused had been taken into custody by the South African Police.  He also found machine guns had been mounted. The Master spoke of difficulties which arose in relation to foodstuffs.  The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.” In The Natal Mercury on 9 July 1942 it was reported that the trial was concluded and all the crew were found guilty “Each was sentenced to four weeks’ hard labour suspended on condition of continuing work until the expiration of their articles in September. The ‘not guilty’ plea was amended to guilty for refusing to do their work.  Mr J.S. Henning accepted the plea and closed his case.” According to Thomas Buck, a new crew was taken aboard, so it must be assumed that those who had been found guilty went to jail. 

The S.S. Jeypore sailed from Durban on 6 August after an extended stay in “paradise”!  They arrived in Trinidad a month later, from there on to Cuba and north to New York.  They then proceeded north to Halifax, Nova Scotia from where they became part of Convoy SC107 which was used as a decoy to draw German U-boats away from a ‘fast’ troop convoy which was heading for the north African Mediterranean landings. 

S.S. Jeypore was torpedoed and sunk on 3 November 1942 with the loss of one life.

The Jeypore (Master Thomas Stevens) was the ship of the convoy commodore Vice-Admiral B.C. Watson, CB, DSO, RN. One crew member was lost. The master, the commodore, six naval staff members, 74 crew members and eight gunners were picked up by the American naval tugs Uncas and Pessacus, transferred to the British rescue ship Stockport (Master Ernest Fea, OBE) and landed at Reykjavik on 8 November.
Jeypore Sunk


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  1. Angus Webster

    My late father David Webster was a marine engineer on Jeypore from October 1939 to January 1941. He was then transferred to Ile de France which was run by P&O during the war. He spent most of WW2 on Ile de France. Other ships he served on during WW2 were Strathmore, Monowai and Maloja. After the capitulation of Germany he was sent to Flensburg to get the SS Potsdam, an NDL liner and return her to the UK as war reparations where she was renamed Empire Fowey. His last ship was Stratheden until October 1948 after which he emigrated to Australia and worked as a mechanical engineer at the Zinc Corporation Mine in Broken Hill until his retirement in 1974. He died in 1994 aged 82 years.
    In my archives I have a photo of the crew of Jeypore all correctly seated on deck.

  2. Marie Hennessey

    Hi, It has been a year since I last posted, I wanted to thank you again for publishing this article. Sadly my granddad Thomas Buck passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 93. As I said I wanted to thank you; Granddad was always proud of his war stories and he was thrilled to learn that the wider audience wanted to hear them too. Our granddad, a war hero, our hero RIP Thomas Buck x

  3. Adrian Rowe

    Dear Stephen, Tina & Marie
    It is very gratifying to see your comments relating to the article which I compiled for our local Heritage Society newsletter.
    It is people like Tom, George & Danny who are well-deserving of our pride.
    all the best

  4. Stephen Hunt

    At a recent family event I overheard other family members mention my uncle and reference to the
    S.S. Jeypore When I returned home I Googled it and read, with pride your fascinating record of events about my ‘Uncle Tom’ and his service in the Royal Navy in WW2. I remember as a child him telling me about his time in the navy but I had absolutely no idea about the mutiny and that he spent time in the water after being torpedoed.

    The photo is the icing on the cake for me as I only have family photos. I couldn’t be more proud!

  5. ~Ed

    Thank you for your comment Tina, its good to hear that your father is in good health. Maybe I could persuade him to submit a personal account or biography that we can share with others regarding past episodes in our lives? Anyway, give it some thought,and please let us know, I will be only too happy to feature him as a guest blogger!

    Kind regards,
    Arthur (Ed)

  6. Tina Walters

    George Corcoran is my father and I was amazed to see the photo of him on your site. We actually have a copy of the photo. Dad is 94 and still doing well. He was telling me the story of the mutiny and the sinking of the SS Jeypore and when I was looking it up for him I found your site. Very moving. Thankyou for taking the time to put it there. Tina Walters

  7. Admin

    Hi Jonathan,

    Just to say your comment is greatly appreciated! If you have an article to submit on naval activity pertaining to South Africa or similar can I twist your arm to become a contributor ? As the website is “open source” oriented, I unfortunately cannot offer any remuneration at this stage but I could certainly add a link to any published work you may have and could also add you to our “rogues gallery” thus bringing you “fame” if not “fortune”

    Kind regards,
    Arthur Fregona

  8. Marie Hennessey

    Thomas buck is my grandad I found this whilst my son (Tom’s great grandson) was doing a project for wold war two. He wrote about the decoy convoy (as told to him by grandad) and wanted to see if there was a photo of the SS Jeypore… we have one better now; a photo of granddad in full uniform. Thank you

  9. Jonathan Hyslop

    Thanks, Arthur. People who want to see my work can look at my page on academia.edu:


    This includes a couple of articles on nautical subjects and hopefully more in that vein in the future. I am currently working on the social history of steam era shipping in Durban. Best,
    Jon Hyslop

  10. Admin

    Hi Jonathan,

    Just to say your comment is greatly appreciated! If you have an article to submit on naval activity pertaining to South Africa or similar can I twist your arm to become a contributor ? As the website is “open source” oriented, I unfortunately cannot offer any remuneration at this stage but I could certainly add a link to any published work you may have and could also add you to our “rogues gallery” thus bringing you “fame” if not “fortune”

    Kind regards,
    Arthur Fregona

  11. Jonathan Hyslop

    Very interesting. There was a great deal of industrial protest by Indian seamen in the early years of World War II. This was a relatively new departure, as British shipowners had previously seen “lascars” as more manageable than British sailors, and is probably connected to the rise of nationalism in India. In particular, there was a big wave of protests by Indian sailors in South Africa, Britain and Australasia in the first few weeks of the war in 1939, with quite a number of Indian sailors being jailed. How this wave of action spread around the world so quickly is an interesting question. Communists and Indian nationalists certainly played a role, as both were opposed to the war effort in the 1939 to mid-1941 period, but the lascars clearly had legitimate grounds for resenting the great inequalities in wages and conditions between them and British sailors. The British government put a lot of pressure on shipowners to make improvements in wages and working conditions after the 1939 events, because of the strategic danger that disruption of the shipping industry represented. Jonathan Hyslop Jonathan.Hyslop@up.ac.za

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