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Looking for Trouble

Being Some Real Stories from the Life of a Master Adventurer

by Captain George B. Boynton

Editor's Note—Captain George B. Boynton is not the creation of a writer's imagination. His exploits have many times been fictionized, but the man himself is real and still living, though now settled in quiet city life after half a century of thrilling activity. Even yet more than one foreign Power takes pains to keep carefully informed of his exact whereabouts, for he has been one of those who, as revolutionist, filibuster, blockade-runner, counselor of South American dictators, soldier of fortune, has a hundred times shown himself an elusive element to be reckoned with in the great game of world-politics. He has served, all told, under eighteen flags—in Europe, the West Indies, the Caribbean, North and South America, the China seas—everywhere and anywhere that mankind was at war and there was promise of excitement and adventure. His life has furnished much material for fiction, but now, for the first time, Captain Boynton tells his own story, its truth attested alike by internal evidence and affidavit, and fiction pales beside it. For several months Adventure will publish adventures, each complete in itself, from the career of this Master Adventurer.


AFTER settling up with Nickell on the Don Carlos expedition I devoted myself for a few months to legitimate commerce, dividing my time between London and Paris, where I opened a branch of my mercantile and shipping house at 30 rue Vivienne. Just before the Franco-Prussian war began I bought three cargoes of wines at Bordeaux, sent them to London, and sold them later at a good profit.

During the brief war, which ended in the capitulation of the French at Sedan, September 1, 1870, I had three ships busy with honest cargoes, but I did not get a chance to do any contraband running until just before its close.

The Austrian army was then being rearmed with an improved rifle, and thousands of the old guns were stored in the arsenal at Vienna. Nickell had bought a lot of them at a bargain, but Austria would not release them without a guarantee that they would not be used against Germany. I was led to believe I could sell five thousand of these rifles to the Committee of Safety at Bordeaux, so I bought that number from Nickell and, with an order for their delivery, went to Triest in my-little steamer, the Leckwith. Charles Lever, the novelist, was then the British consul at Triest, where he died a year or two later.

On the pretense that the arms were for Japan and that I would be able to establish that fact within a few days, I secured the removal of the guns from Vienna to the Triest arsenal, a few hundred yards from the dock. However, to get them over that short distance and then to get away with them was a problem that puzzled me.

I was mulling over it one day in a café when a maudlin young Englishman, who was sitting at the table with me, pulled out a passport, all plastered with red seals and wax in the old Continental fashion. The instant I saw it an inspiration seized me. I became the most jovial of companions and plied the Englishman with wine until he fell sound asleep.

Then I took the passport from his pocket and hustled off to the arsenal. I had been assiduously cultivating the officers there and was delighted to find in charge of the guard the young lieutenant with whom I was best acquainted. I told him I would have the order for the release of the rifles within an hour and proceeded to celebrate by getting him into the same state in which I had found the convenient Englishman.

I sent word to Lorensen, sailing master of the Leckwith, to get up a full head of steam, and engaged a dozen big wagons to be at the arsenal in an hour. I arrived with the wagons, waved the gaudy passport in front of the young officer's face and, without trying to read it, he told me to go ahead. We made quick work of getting the boxed arms to the ship and under her hatches, for the guard was changed at four o'clock and my sleepy young friend would be succeeded by an officer who was sober and in his right mind.

We were not quite fast enough, however, for, just as we were pulling out, the new officer of the guard came running down the dock, shouting that he wanted to seethe order for the release of the arms. As he was well out of arm's reach I made a fussy effort to hand him the passport. Then I opened it out and showed it to him, all the while explaining that it was all right.

He went away shaking his head, and I anticipated trouble at the fort at the entrance to the harbor, at the head of the Adriatic, as the channel through which we had to run was narrow. The -fort occupied a commanding position and had high walls from the water's edge, with a free bastion high up.

Sure enough, a shot whizzed across our bows. Immediately I swung the ship in, and before they saw I was not going to come to anchor, as they had supposed, we were so close under the walls that they could not bring their guns to bear on us.

It was only a very few minutes, however, until they could reach us with their seaward guns and they let go at us without any delay. The second shot took a bite out of the mainmast, and it looked as though they had found our range and would smash us in a jiffy, but the brave little ship was tearing through the water at her top speed and, as she was going directly away from them, was hard to hit. Shells splashed uncomfortably close to us for a few minutes, but, save for one shot that carried away some of the gingerbread work on the stern, we were not struck again, and were soon out of reach of anything like accurate aim.

The arms were rushed to Bordeaux and turned over to the Committee of Safety only a few days before the Battle of Sedan. I was sufficiently enthusiastic in the cause of France to land them without a proper guarantee of payment, and, in fact, they never were paid for. Everything was turmoil, so after waiting a few days I placed the bill for the arms with an attorney and hurried on to London, en route for Venezuela, where I expected to find more excitement. I placed the Leckwith and my ships in the hands of Nickell & Co. for charter and took the first steamer for New York.


THE first word that reached me on my arrival in New York near the end of September, 1870, was that my wife, who had sailed ahead of me, was seriously ill at her old home in Illinois. I went to her at once and remained at her side until the end, three weeks later.

When I returned to New York after the funeral I was greatly depressed and was in a mood for anything that offered excitement. A few days later I met Frank (Francis Lay) Norton. Knowing each other by reputation, we soon became friends. Later we became partners in some of the most gloriously exciting exploits in which I have been fortunate enough to participate. Norton was a natural born pirate, and he looked the part. He was then about forty years old, five feet eight inches tall, thin and wiry, and possessed of remarkable strength. His eyes, hair, beard and mustache were as bl...

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