The men of the Channel Fleet waited patiently throughout the month of March and into April for a response to the appeals for higher wages they had addressed to Lord Howe. By early April, though, it became apparent that no redress was planned and their man-to-man request of a flag officer they held in high esteem had been dismissed without an answer.
From the Royal Sovereign to the rest of the Channel Fleet:
15th April 1797
I am happy to hear of your honourables courage towards redress. We are carrying on the business with the greatest expedition. We flatter ourselves with the hopes that we shall obtain our wishes, for they had better to to war with the whole Globe, then with their own subjects. We mean the day the petitions go to London to take charge of the ships until we have a proper answer from government. The signal will be first made by the Queen Charlotte. The first signal is the Union Jack at the main with two guns fired: this is for taking charge… The second signal is a red flag at the mizzen topmast head, and two guns: this is to send a speaker from every ship. The petitions is to be ready to go on Monday if possible. You must send them and your letters to Mr. Pink, the Bear and Ragged Staff, as that is our post office. Direct one petition to Evan Nepean, Secretary to the Admiralty. The other to Honourable Charles James Fox, South Street, Grosvenor Square.
Success to the proceedings.
Word was beginning to seep out.
Two days before the Royal Sovereign issued instructions on how to and when to take command of the Channel Fleet, Admiral Lord Bridport reported to Lord Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty that “disagreeable combinations were forming among the ships at Spithead on [the subject of a pay increase].”
Spencer, of course, knew of the situation because of the letters he’d received from Lord Howe and replied to Bridport:
Some time ago Lord Howe transmitted to Lord Hugh Seymour several letters (in number eleven) purporting to come from the crews of the ships mentioned in the enclosed list… Lord Howe of course took no other notice of them…
On Easter Sunday, April 16, Bridport received orders from the Admiralty for the Channel Fleet to sortie. Bridport ordered Admiral Gardner’s squadron to immediately move from the anchorage at Spithead to St. Helens Roads. The hand of the fleet was forced. If they let Gardner’s squadron sail, their plan was impossible to carry out.
All eyes were focused on Gardner’s flagship, Royal Sovereign, where no effort was being made to get underway but one could see officers gesticulating. Suddenly, the crew of Queen Charlotte manned the shrouds and gave three cheers. This was repeated throughout the fleet.
The Spithead Mutiny was underway.