Merimbula Old School Museum

‘Junior’ Mutineers Ambrotype

The Story

Location of Object:

Merimbula Old School Museum, Main Street, Merimbula, NSW, 2548

Accessibility of Object:

This object belongs to the Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Inc., the organisationresponsible for managing the Merimbula Old School Museum.

The museum is open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday between 1.30 pm - 4.00 pm and at other times by arrangement.

In line with standard best practice long term preservation procedures, the museum maintains a regular rotating exhibition schedule, so there can be no guarantee that the item featured in this dossier will be on public display at any given time.

History and Provenance of Object:

This framed ambrotype photograph of four of the mutineers from the American whaling ship Junior was presented to Constable Adam Ballantine of the Twofold Bay Police in recognition of his “…tact and gallantry…” in arresting the group.

The Junior departed New Bedford (USA) in July 1857 on a quest for commercially valuable whale oil and baleen. They were about six months into a voyage that could be expected to last up to three or four years when simmering resentment on board the ship boiled over into mutiny.

Erupting in the early hours of Christmas Day, 1857, five of the ship’s thirty-strong party revolted against conditions on board, waking the remainder of the crew with the announcement that they had taken control of the vessel. Ringleader Cyrus Plummer shot the Captain with a whaling gun before seizing him by the hair and hacking at the injured man with a hatchet. He only abandoned his attack when the axe stuck between his victim’s ribs. John Hall similarly shot the mate with a whaling gun; while Cornelius Burns ran a boarding knife through the third mate several times. Although his victim was already dead, Richard Cartha continued to savagely stab at the mate before firing a pistol through his breast then finally hacking his head off with a boat spade.

Despite being shot while in bed, Chief Officer Nelson managed to escape to the lower hold where, for five days, he evaded detection. Eventually, however, without food or water and barely able to stand unassisted, he was finally forced out of hiding. There he was confronted by the bloodthirsty Cartha who struck him on the shoulder with a hatchet before cocking a pistol and threatening to shoot him.

Like many shipboard whaling ventures, the Junior’s crew apparently had much to complain about. Life on board a 19th century whaling ship was, at the very least, harsh and trying. Crew members faced months, sometimes years, at sea, isolated from almost any contact except between those on the vessel. Rations ranged from unpleasant to downright revolting, but undertaking their physically demanding workload, the men had little choice but to eat the greasy pork, hard biscuits and cockroach laden molasses. And with crew members paid a “lay” or share of the profits depending on his status on the ship, ordinary crew might only earn US$25 for several years’ work. On occasion, he may even return to port at the end of the voyage in debt to the ship owners. Punishments for disobeying orders or otherwise displeasing the Captain or Mate could result in the offender being put in irons or flogged with a “cat-o-nine-tails”. Conditions on ship board whalers were undoubtedly harsh – homesick, living in cramped, unsanitary conditions and poorly fed, crew members were routinely beaten and overworked, a situation that not surprisingly sometimes led to rebelliousness.

From all reports, the conditions on board the Junior were no different. According to contemporary accounts, the mutineers had been driven to their murderous rampage as a result of the harsh treatment metered out by Captain Mellen and other officers on board the whaler. Chief Officer Provost acknowledged that there had been a complaint made to the Captain about ill treatment of the crew and admitted that he himself had cuffed and struck crew members.

Sergeant Devonald of the Sydney Police reported that “During the passage [from Twofold Bay], Plumer [sic] asked me how far hearsay evidence would go against him…He said that being in irons there was not so bad as being on the old ship as there he had to take six hours every day at the mast-head, and was sworn at if he turned his eyes on the deck…”

Seaman Henry Mason reported that on one occasion the Mate had pulled the mutineer Carthadown on the rack where he had proceeded to strike him about twenty times; while on another, a crew member by the name of Hutchins, had been struck and kicked by the mate for carrying orders out too slowly. On yet another instance, a crew member named Byrnes had been hit and kicked for failing to lower one of the boats to the satisfaction of the Mate.

Seaman Owen Duffy reported that he had heard the Mate threaten to “lick” the men; that others on board had heard the Mate threaten to shoot crew members; that he said he would “…kill one half of the men before he had done with them…”; and that “…all hands were at one time inclined to leave the ship…”

Mahoel Lavrador, a Portuguese boy, noted that during the four months he had been on board, the Chief Officer had twice flogged him, and seemed to strike anyone whenever he liked. Others insisted that Provost had discussed taking the ship to some port and selling her, because, he said, he would get nothing for his time if he did not. Chief Officer Provost was described as “…an exceptionally cruel man…”

It was highlighted that the food was of a very inferior quality and not only were the men ill- treated, but also underfed; while a media report noted that "The treatment of the sailors attributed to the mate is...not at all uncommon..." commenting that "How it comes to pass that people...should look with tolerance on the custom of beating, pounding, and a mystery not readily solved."

By the time Chief Officer Nelson was forced to show himself, the rebellious crew members had come to realise the error of their haste – none of the five had either the knowledge or the experience necessary to navigate the ship they had so rashly seized control of. So, after placating Cartha, Plummer struck a deal to spare Nelson’s life on the condition that he take the vessel as close as possible to Cape Howe to allow the group to make their escape. With little choice but to agree to their demands, Nelson manoeuvred the ship to within twenty miles of the coastline. There the five mutineers along with five other crew members escaped in two open whaleboats, pilfering anything of value that they could load into the vessels.

Prior to taking their departure, on Plummer’s orders the five mutineers each put their signature to a strange entry in the ship’s log which read in part: “This is to certify that we, Cyrus Plummer, John Hall, Richard Cartha, Cornelius Burns and William Herbert did, on the night of the 25th of December last take the ship Junior, and that all others on the ship are quite innocent of the deed… We have taken two boats and ten men, and everything that we wanted. We did not put Mr. Nelson in irons on account of his being wounded, but we kept a strict watch over him all the time. We particularly wish to say that all others on the ship but we aforesaid men are quite innocent of any part in the affair…” It was later claimed, however, that “…there was on the part of others of the crew a complicity after the fact, amounting not only to moral but legal participation in the offences committed by the first mutineers.”

Plummer’s choice of destination from which to make their escape from the Junior may have been no accident. Four-and-a-half years earlier, the American steamer Monumental City, enroute from Melbourne to Sydney, ran aground on Tallaberga Island near Mallacoota. Among those on board was a seaman by the name of Plummer who swam ashore through the foaming waves to secure the hawser, enabling the fifty-four survivors to reach safety. As a result of his daring actions, a group of Sydney citizens joined together to present him with 35 sovereigns and a silver medal for his bravery. A portrait of the hero was also published in a Sydney newspaper. Although there is some uncertainty as to whether this was the same man as the Plummer on board the Junior, it was claimed after the uprising that the published portrait that enabled the Chief Officer to identify him.

The group had originally intended to land on Ninety Mile Beach, but this proved more difficult than anticipated and only one of the boats managed the feat. The other with its four occupants was forced to continue on to Merimbula. There, although news of the tragic events on board the Junior had yet to reach the isolated outpost, the arrival of the men in their strange mode of transport with an arsenal of firearms “…much alarmed…” the residents, who sent to Eden for police assistance. Sub-collector of customs Mr. Keon armed his crew and pulled around to Merimbula in a boat while Police Magistrate Murray, along with Chief Constable Walker and J. H. Thomas travelled on horseback to investigate.

Before any of them could reach the village, however, Constables Adam Ballantine and John Martin of the Pambula Police joined forces with other local residents to secure the whaleboat & place the four suspects in cuffs. Firearms of all description were found in the whaleboat, along with powder and shot, spirits and tobacco. When questioned, the men claimed that they were simply a group of Americans travelling from Melbourne to Sydney and had only put in to replenish their water supply. Finding their story difficult to believe, however, they were escorted by road to Eden while their boat and its contents were towed by the Customs vessel coastwise to be detained at Twofold Bay.

Despite the suspicions of local law enforcement officials, word of the events on the Juniorhad yet to reach the district, so the four men were discharged, but only on the condition that they returned to the lock up to sleep every evening – a stipulation that they all surprisingly abided by. They nonetheless made themselves quite comfortable, living recklessly despite the fact that news of their actions could at any moment come to light. Plummer, who had adopted the alias of Captain Wilson, was something of a ladies man and was even, it was rumoured, on the eve of marrying a local girl when he was returned to custody.

When news of their murderous rampage finally reached the area, the four men made off into the surrounding bushland. Plummer, Ricke and Stanley were all quickly apprehended by local police who gave them into the custody of metropolitan Police Sergeant Thomas Devonald on 20 January. Remanded to Sydney, they were brought before the Water Police Court whereChief Officer Nelson identified the trio. After Cartha was captured by a local publican, he too was transported to Sydney to join his accomplices. Finally, Brooks, Sampson, Canal and Herbert, four of the group who had managed to land on Ninety Mile Beach, were also arrested and transferred from Melbourne to Sydney’s Darlinghurst Gaol.

After a trial that attracted considerable public attention, the group were extradited to the United States, where, it was hoped “…justice will overtake the guilty…” The Junior, fitted out as a floating gaol for the journey, departed Sydney in April 1858, by which time all but two of the crew members had been captured.

Once back on home soil, the men faced an American court where, after an eight month trial, all were found guilty and, with the exception of Plummer, given life terms. The ring leader was handed a death sentence, but this too was eventually commuted to life. The eventual fate of the mutineers remains obscure - few records remains to show what the ultimate outcome was.

Constable Adam Ballantine’s role in the capture of the mutineers did not go unnoticed. A local newspaper correspondent reported in July 1858 that “Mr. Walker, Chief Constable, got up at the Court House door, after the business of the court was over, an extensive subscription for the purpose of purchasing a colodion [sic] representation of the four mutineers secured at Merrimbula [sic] some time since, by Ballantyne [sic], the constable. The object of purchasing the likeness was to make a present to Ballantyne [sic] of the same for his undoubted tact and gallantry in effecting the above praiseworthy action, the Government having presented him with – nothing…” He was presented with the ambrotype of the group, taken behind the Eden lock up and signed by some of the district’s foremost citizens: “A photograph of Plumer [sic], Ricke, Cartha, & Stanley, four of the mutineers off the ship Junior, presented to Constable Ballantine of the Eden Police force by the undersigned, as a slight acknowledgement of his courage & proficiency as an officer in the apprehension at Merimbula on the 9th January 1858.” A local newspaper, reporting on the incident half a century later, described him as “…a man of great courage…”

Although few ambrotypes from the 1850s have survived in Australia, one reason that the Junior mutineers example has may be that it spent almost its entire life in the one house. After its presentation, Constable Ballantine would have taken the image home to his cottage at the foot of the Roan Horse Hill at South Pambula. After he passed away in 1882, that property passed to Emma Jane George (nee Wright, Adam’s unofficially “adopted” daughter). She and her husband Matthew Henry George lived in the cottage with their children, and the eldest, Agnes Maria Hughes (nee George), remained resident there until her death in 1979. It was from her that the ambrotype was secured and came into the museum’s possession.


Before the option of paper-printed photographs, the earliest such images were made on plates of silver-plated copper, glass or black-lacquered iron and were known respectively as daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tin-types. Each was made by exposing a plate covered in a light sensitive silver emulsion.

Initially known as a collodion positive, the ambrotype was developed by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer who first made the process public in 1851. Three years later American James Ambrose Cutting took out several patents relating to the process. Although what became known as an “ambrotype” originally referred to a particular variant of the colloidal process, the term came to be generally applied to all collodion glass images.

Based in the wet plate collodion process, the groundbreaking new method enabled an underexposed negative image to adhere to glass, resulting in clear, highly detailed representation. Once placed against a dark backing such as black velvet, a layer of black varnish or dark reddish-coloured glass, the image appeared as a positive.

The collodion emulsion was usually protected by a layer of varnish and a glass cover and much like its forerunner the daguerreotype, the finished item was usually supplied within a gilded, plush velvet lined, leather embossed presentation case. These frequently demonstrated a high level of craftsmanship, finish and design, the casing and sealing forming an important part of the overall object. Ambrotypes were also sometimes hand-tinted.

Unlike the daguerreotype, however, sitters were not required to sit still for as long; and the development process was more reliable. Nonetheless each print was still a unique, one-off that could only be duplicated by using a camera to copy it.

Quickly gaining popularity, by the end of the 1850s, the technique had all but replaced its predecessor the daguerreotype; but by the mid-1860s, it too was giving way to its successor, the tin-type.

Although it is uncertain exactly who introduced the technique into Australia, the boom created by the 1850s gold discoveries in Victoria and New South Wales ensured that the colonies were very quick to take up new photographic processes like the ambrotype. However, because of restrictions on plate and camera sizes, large format ambrotypes were uncommon. And although millions were produced worldwide and many thousands in Australia, remarkably few examples of ambrotypes have survived.

Fabric, design, manufacture and condition:

Unusually large wet collodion positive glass plate photograph known as an ambrotype. Image depicts four men seated in front of a stone wall. The whole is mounted in a wooden frame with gold edging.


Photographer Smith (Christian name currently [2019] unknown). Further research into the photographer is warranted.

Used by:

Constable Adam Ballantine; Emma Jane and Matthew Henry George; Agnes Maria Hughes; Merimbula – Imlay Historical Society Inc.; Merimbula Old School Museum.


It is highly likely that the image was originally mounted in a metal frame and presented in a protective leather case.


Inscribed by hand on reverse: “A photograph of Plumer [sic], Ricke, Cartha, & Stanley, four of the mutineers off the ship Junior, presented to Constable Ballantine of the Eden Police force by the undersigned, as a slight acknowledgement of his courage & proficiency as an officer in the apprehension at Merimbula on the 9th January 1858.” Also features the names of numerous local residents.

Production date:


Comparative Examples:

Although a small number of ambrotypes exist in public cultural collections across Australia, these are predominantly small in size, and generally depict individuals, couples or family groups.

Works depicting/highlighting this object:

Historic photographs of this object:

Historic photographs associated with this object:

2 x portraits of Adam Ballantine – in private ownership.

The particular significance of this Object:

The Junior mutineers ambrotype is a rare, important and highly evocative part of the Merimbula – Imlay Historical Society Inc.’s collection.

Like many areas of Australia, particularly in the wake of the 1850s gold discoveries, law and lawlessness played an integral part in the story of what was then known as the Twofold Bay district. The isolation and seclusion of the region did little to shield the population from crime, and in fact sometimes even aided those intent on breaking the law. Such was the case in 1858 when a group of four mutineers landed in Merimbula after wreaking havoc on board the American whaling ship Junior. Nonetheless, despite the remoteness of the district, local police secured the men, who were ultimately transported first to Sydney and then America for trial. The image is thus a rare and historically significant tangible reminder of the practice of law and order in the district during the 19th century; and of the often unusual events with which local representatives of the law were confronted.

The product of a process that produced unique one-off images, the image is a rare, tangible reminder of the events linked to the Junior mutiny and its close association with the local district. This value is enhanced as an important tangible link to the presence and contribution of Constable Adam Ballantine, an early member of the Twofold Bay police force.

The Junior mutineers’ image is an aesthetically and technically valuable illustration of photography and photographic techniques in 19th century Australia. It is an excellent representative illustration of a once common but now rare surviving example of an ambrotype, a rarity that is added to by its unusual large format. Although probably now missing its original casing and mount, it is nonetheless in good condition and retains many of its characteristic design elements . It also provides a valuable illustration of male clothing and fashions during the mid-1850s.

Indicative of the economic importance of the whaling industry worldwide during the 19thcentury, it provides valuable links with shipboard whaling, as well as the living conditions, employment and work practices on those vessels. Also associated with 19th century journeys, it provides opportunities to link with and explore international transport and trade routes during the colonial era, connecting the local region with global industry and trade networks.

With a clear line of ownership since it was first presented to Constable Ballantine, it is an excellently provenanced example of its type with distinctive links to Australian and south east NSW society in the mid-19th century.

An outstanding and rare part of Merimbula, Bega Valley Shire, New South Wales and Australian cultural heritage, the Junior mutineers ambrotype makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the history and heritage of the district. A powerful interpretative tool, it has much to offer in communicating a range of local themes and subjects including law and order; crime and punishment; the impact of lawlessness; labour, working and employment; rural, regional and international trade routes; transport technology; communications; local isolation in the colonial era; developing settlements, villages and towns; and the economy and economic influences.


Main theme:






Remembering and honouring the people of Bega Valley Shire

Other themes:














Law and order

Birth and Death


Economic survival in Bega Valley Shire

Communicating within the Shire and beyond

Living in Bega Valley Shire

Exploiting the aquatic resources of Bega Valley Shire

Building and industrial development within Bega Valley Shire

Technological innovation within Bega Valley Shire

Working in Bega Valley Shire

Keeping the peace in Bega Valley Shire

The phases of life in Bega Valley Shire

Thematic storylines:

Transport – Maritime


Rural and regional industries - sealing and whaling

Law and order

Law and order – Civic disobedience

The economy and economic influences

Labour, working and employment

Notable people and families

Geographically associated places / sites:

Associated / linked places / sites / items / people:

Former Eden Police Station – private ownership

Eden Court House

Old Pambula Courthouse and Police Station, Pambula

Ballantine’s cottage, South Pambula – private ownership

2 x photographic portraits, Adam Ballantine – private ownership

Constable Adam Ballantine’s hand cuffs – private ownership

Constable Adam Ballantine’s magistrate’s cuffs – private ownership

Constable Adam Ballantine’s police baton – private ownership

Bench of Magistrates, Pambula, Bench Book, 1858 – 1868 – private ownership

Pambula Police Station, charge book – private ownership

Heritage listings (statutory and non-statutory):

Further information:

Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Death on the “Junior” – A Saga of Early Merimbula, Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society, 1958.

Portrait of the Junior Mutineers, Museum of the South East,

Encyclopedia of South East History – Junior mutineers portrait

George, Angela, From Convict to Constable – The Life and Times of Adam Ballantine(unpublished manuscript)

Contributors to this ‘library’:

Angela George, Pat Raymond and Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Inc., March 2019.

Acknowledgements, Rights and Permissions:

Acknowledgement of Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Inc., Angela George and Pat Raymond.

© Angela George. All rights reserved.

References and bibliography:

AONSW, 4/5546, Reel 2680, Bench of Magistrates, Eden, Bench Book, 1854 -1857.

AONSW 8/3251 Reel 3043, Police: Register of Police Appointments (1857 – 1883).


Australasian Chronicle


Bega Gazette and Eden District or Southern Coast Advertiser

Candelo and Eden Union

Clarke, Patricia, A Colonial Woman – The Life and Times of Mary Braidwood Mowle, Allen and Unwin, 1986.


Currie, Stephen, Thar She Blows: American Whaling in the Nineteenth Century

Davies, A. and Stanbury, P., The Mechanical Eye in Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985


Hartford Weekly Times

Illawarra Mercury

Illustrated Sydney News

Life Aboard, New Bedford Whaling Museum,

Loney, Jack, Wreckers, Smugglers and Pirates in South Eastern Australian Waters, Marine History, 1989.

Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser

Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society Death on the “Junior” – A Saga of Early Merimbula, Merimbula-Imlay Historical Society, 1958.

Moreton Bay Courier

National Era

National Library of Australia, NLA MS 936 1/2, Perkins Papers

New York Tribune

Pambula Voice

Salt Lake Herald

Sydney Living Museums, Through a Glass Darkly,

Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser

Sydney Morning Herald

Twofold Bay and Maneroo Telegraph

Vineyard Gazette

Watson, Captain J. H. The Story of the ship “Junior”, in The Lone Hand, November 1917.

This Bega Shire Hidden Heritage project has been made possible by the NSW Government through its Heritage Near Me program.

Any further information relating to this object or to associated topics will be GREATLY welcomed and will be added to the above library of information. Please email your contribution to


Main Street Merimbula NSW 2548