The Breeze at Spithead, Part 1.

We posted yesterday that we would start a series of posts on the mutinies of the Royal Navy at Spithead and The Nore. We will be using G. E. Mainwaring’s The Floating Republic: an account of the mutinies at Spithead and The Nore in 1797 as our primary source with some commentary when Mainwaring seems to run far afield.

By the time of the Spithead and Nore mutines, the war against Revolutionary France was not going well. Britain’s Continental allies had been driven from the field and though the British navy had been victorious, it was now on the defensive. It could not operate in the Mediterranean and was pinned down blockading French and Dutch ports to prevent an invasion of Great Britain.

Britain was in the throes of social ferment itself. The war had caused inflation to make life difficult on most everyone. Tenant farmers were being driven off the land and into cities and emerging factories by the Inclosure Acts. The British ruling class was in constant fear of Republicanism being imported from France.

Though the navy was successful, it was also demoralized. The wages of sailors had not changed since last raised by the Commonwealth in 1652. Captains were de facto unconstrained in their authority to punish sailors, despite regulations to the contrary. Pay was far in arrears, sometimes sailors were not paid until the end of commission, about three years. There was a perception, both rightly and wrongly, that they were being systematically cheated in the issuance of rations. Sailors who were sick or wounded had their pay stopped when they were in the sickbay or hospital. Disabled sailors had a pension rate that had been inflated into nothingness.

The sailors made five requests.

1. An increase in wages.

2. That no flour be issued when a ship is in any port and that vegetables be provided.

3. That the sick aboard ship be better attended to and provided with medicines, etc.

4. That reasonable shore leave be permitted.

5. That sick and wounded men receive full pay until they returned to duty or were discharged.

That this “job action” was a surprise speaks to the lack of comprehension of even concerned senior officers of the true state of grievance within the ranks of the common sailor. Lord Howe, who was highly regarded by the sailors as an officer sympathetic to their plight, received several letters articulating the demands. He ignored them.

On April 16, 1797 Lord Bridport ordered the Channel Fleet to sortie and it refused. The mutiny was on.

Visit all our posts on the Spithead Mutiny and the mutiny at The Nore.


Filed under Age of Sail, Mutiny, Naval Life

3 responses to “The Breeze at Spithead, Part 1.

  1. Pingback: The Breeze at Spithead: Valentine Joyce « Age Of Sail

  2. Pingback: The Breeze at Spithead, Part 3. “…say nothing, do nothing, and hope that nothing would happen” « Age Of Sail

  3. Pingback: The Breeze At Spithead. Part 9. The Grand Finale. « Age Of Sail

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