The arrival of part of Admiral Duncan’s Yarmouth based fleet at The Nore gave a new boost the morale of the mutineers which had been battered by the change of attitude of the people of Sheerness towards them and the defection of several ships to the government, (that story is detailed here).
While their morale may have improved their situation had not. They were cut off from shore, denied supplies, and the government refused to enter into further negotiations with them. Some unnamed genius came up with the idea that two could play at that game and conceived the idea of a blockade of the Thames and, therefore, of London. Accordingly, on the evening of May 31, Richard Parker presented himself at the home of the port commissioner at Sheerness and announced that London was under blockade.
At first, it seemed like this was mere bluster but on June 2 HMS Swan, sloop, began intercepting inbound merchantmen and detaining them. The traffic soon outpaced the capabilities of a single ship and HMS Brilliant (28), HMS Standard (64), and HMS Inspector (16) were called upon to lend a helping hand.
Parker and the mutineers desperately needed a bring the mutiny to an end and this move seems calculated to do just that.
HMS Clyde escapes from the mutinous fleet at The Nore
When we last visited the mutiny at The Nore, the Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty had departed their conference with the mutineers disappointed. Their offer, to apply the same conditions as those received by the mutineers at Spithead and to offer them a royal pardon, was rejected by the delegates.
It was now obvious that lines were being firmly drawn. On the one hand the controlling forces behind the mutiny at The Nore, and those forces weren’t necessarily the delegates themselves, were unwilling to settle for less than their demands — and their actions actually lead one to believe that no concessions by the government were going to end the mutiny but rather the demands represented a ever moving set of goal posts — and the government did not feel that it could given into mutineers so soon after caving to the Spithead mutiny.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a victim of adult onset attention deficit disorder. Right now I have three (the Nore Mutiny, Hoste’s Adriatic campaign, and the Mauritius Campaign), maybe four (the Battle of Copenhagen), series of posts started and incomplete.
I’m returning to the Gale at the Nore series and will attempt to bring this series to closure over the course of the upcoming week.
When we last visited the happenings at the Nore, the mutiny was foundering. The mutineers at Spithead had settled their grievances and returned to duty. The mutineers at the Nore were late on the scene and for reasons as much of pride as anything else refused to accept the Spithead terms and held out for still more concessions by the government.
Having settled the Spithead mutiny without bringing the Channel Fleet to its knees, the Admiralty entered into negotiations with the Nore mutineers. The first round on negotiations, those carried out by Admiral Buckner, failed miserably with Buckner being rudely received aboard HMS Sandwich and HMS Inflexible threatening to fire into Sandwich if his terms were accepted.
Personnel is policy. This is just as true in mutiny as it is in business and government. Where the Spithead Mutiny was led by experienced and accomplished seamen, the mutiny at The Nore was led by an embittered quota man: Richard Parker.
Parker is a character swathed in legend. What we know for a fact is that he was baptized at St. Mary Major, Exeter, on April 24, 1767, and his father was a prosperous baker in Exeter.
The Dictionary of National Biography states:
He entered the navy as a midshipman in a frigate cruising in the Soundings, and is stated to have been acting-lieutenant at the close of the American war. He is also said to have returned home with a considerable share of prize-money, which he spent riotously to have conceived himself ill treated by his captain, and to have sent him a challenge, which the captain promised to answer with his cane.
Yet something had to be done. The Lydia had supplied him with two hundred able-bodied seamen (his placard said nothing of the fact that they had been compulsorily transferred without a chance of setting foot on English soil after a commission of two years’ duration) but to complete his crew he needed another fifty seamen and two hundred landsmen and boys. The guardship had found him none at all. Failure to complete his crew might mean loss of his command, and from that would result unemployment and half-pay — eight shillings a day — for the rest of his life.
One of the underlying themes of most novels set during the Age of Sail is the difficulty of manning a ship of the era. Those familiar with C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower will recall the sleepless nights Captain Hornblower spent worrying about his ability to man HMS Sutherland (quoted above) because he knew if he could not man her, Admiralty would give her to someone who could. Continue reading
I stumbled across this transcription of the 1811 pamphlet titled A Narrative of Joshua Davis at the Navy’s online library. The subtitle slash promotional blurb reads:
An American citizen,who was pressed and served on board six ships of the British navy, he was in seven engagements, once wounded, five times confined in irons, and obtained his liberty by desertion. the whole being an interesting and faithful narrative of the discipline, various practices and treatment of pressed seamen in the British navy. And containing information that never was before presented to the American people.
It is an interesting read and also gives a bit on insight into the bitterness felt by Americans towards the British over the practice of impressment right before the War of 1813.
I’ve dressed it up a bit and posted it at scribd.com.
When faced with the resolve of the Fleet, Spencer folded like a cheap suit.
He arrived in London at 9 am on April 22 and by 5 pm he had hammered out an agreement to meet the terms of the men at Spithead and was enroute to an audience with King George III on the subject of a royal proclamation of pardon. At 9 pm the pardon was signed and on its way to the printers. The copies of the pardon were delivered to Spithead early on April 23.
At 11 am the proclamation was delivered to the captains of the ships at Spithead and read to the crews. Aboard Royal George the men cheered and Lord Bridport’s flag was again raised over his flagship. Queen Charlotte, mindful of the fate of the Culloden mutineers, was skeptical. Questions were raised as to the authenticity of the pardon and the delegates eventually demanded to see the original bearing the king’s seal and signature. Eventually everyone was satisfied that a deal had been struck.
Queen Charlotte struck the red flag. One by one other ships followed suit, leaving Spithead for St Helens to await a suitable wind to set sail, until only Ramilles, Marlborough, Minotaur, and Nymphe held out over the fate of some of the officers assigned to those ships. The driving issue in two of these ships, Marlborough and Nymphe, was the removal of the captains of those ships who were in the habit of belaboring seamen with their speaking trumpets.
All seemed well. Unfortunately, then, as now, the culture within bureaucracies seems to have “do nothing” as its default setting rather than “do something.”
On April 22, Spencer notified the Privy Council that he had agreed to the increase of pay and provisions. The Privy Council did what any bureaucracy would do in dire circumstances; it formed a committee to study the agreement. The committee reported back on May 3 and Pitt brought the legislative package to the House of Commons on May 8 thereby winning at least an Honorable Mention in any “Too Little, Too Late” contest.
The Spithead Mutiny demonstrated a high level of centralized planning, iron discipline, and a shrewd understanding of the British public.
By keeping their demands small, e.g. a pay raise after 150 years without one, a chance to go ashore, better food, it was impossible to portray them as a radical element though Spencer, via the newspapers aligned with his party such as The Times, attempted to do so. The average working man could understand low pay, inadequate food, and being turned out by one’s employer when he was injured.
By professing to be prepared to fight the French at a moment’s notice it was impossible to lump them in with domestic revolutionaries or to paint them as tools of the French.
Their decision to limit the mutiny to ships of the line and insisting that frigates and sloops go about their business of protecting British commerce was nothing short of inspired. This demonstrated to the rising British middle class as nothing else could that their grievances were limited and they remained committed to the defense of the realm.
Indeed, on April 19 the mutiny took on a Gilbert and Sullivan air when the Prince of Wuerttemberg who was betrothed to Charlotte, Princess Royal, visited Portsmouth. Spencer and Bridport took him on a tour of the fleet and the sailors, ostensibly in a state of mutiny, turned out to cheer the royal couple. Continue reading
The Admiralty and the fleet delegates were now at a standoff. The delegates had presented a very respectful petition which had initially been ignored. When the Admiralty got around to addressing the petition they essentially ignored it. Now the delegates had refused to be dealt with by a bum’s rush.
Over dinner the Admiralty board members who were negotiating with the delegates came to the conclusion that the incipient mutiny was actually the doing of a small number of agitators and that most of the fleet remained obedient.They conceived the idea that the officers aboard all but a small number of recalcitrant ships could order their cables slipped and take their ships out of Spithead to St. Helens Roads. The worst offenders would remain at anchor and be dealt with at leisure.
A solution, perhaps the least preferred solution, but a solution nonetheless.
According to Brian Lavery in Nelson’s Navy, there were over a thousand instances of mutiny between 1793 and 1815. These involved the spectrum from one man to multiple men and instances where the mutineers got their demands as well as those who were court-martialed.
Mutiny was not an activity to be lightly undertaken. The captain of a ship was the representative of the Sovereign and for all intents and purposes held the power of life and death over his crew. Once a mutiny did break out, even if tightly disciplined and for all the right reason, the odds were overwhelming that, at a minimum, the ringleaders were going to be festooning yardarms throughout the fleet when it ended.
One of the reasons the Spithead Mutiny was more protracted than need be was the insistence by the mutineers upon a Royal Pardon for all involved. They had good reason.