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.
Shortly before noon on December 3, 1793 the HMS Culloden (74), anchored at Spithead, began the process of unmooring and preparing for sea. Culloden was under orders to deploy to the Mediterranean but the crew was not happy.
Culloden came down the ramps in 1783 and was leaky under the best of circumstances. She had recently grounded causing the leaking to become more severe. Everyone anticipated that Culloden would be ordered into the docks for a refit but the captain, Thomas Troubridge ordered it to sea.
An order was given by the First Lieutenant during the process and it was spontaneously refused. The officers called the marine detachment to arms and armed themselves. The crew, except for 86 sailors and all but 6 marines who joined the mutiny, unshipped the ladders, cutting the lower decks off from the upper deck, they arranged their rolled hammocks in a barricade across the deck and turned two of the cannon aft and loaded them canister and grapeshot. They broke open the arms chests and distributed muskets, cutlasses, and boarding axes to the 250 Cullodens who had joined the mutiny. Many of the loyal seamen and petty officers were caught below decks with the mutineers and unable to resist the mutiny.
Troubridge had been on shore consulting with the Port Admiral and hurried back on board. Like many of the British Navy officers we run into during this era, he wasn’t the touchy-feely-I’m-okay-you’re-okay type. He expected to be obey and brooked nothing that could even vaguely be thought of as insubordination. His initial reaction was to demand the mutineers surrender or that he would order his marines to “swab out” the ship with bayonets.
Unsurprisingly, the mutineers demurred. The sent a message to Lord Bridport demanding:
[a] new ship, or the old one docked, or all the people at present between decks draughted on board of different ships, or as your lordship shall think proper ; and your lordship’s word and honour not to punish any man concerned in the present business, or to mention or remember it hereafter.
The mutiny dragged out with neither side willing to give in. Finally Bridport, Lord William Cornwallis, and Colpoys (whom we’ve introduced in part 5 of our Spithead Mutiny series) came aboard to try to convince the men to return to duty. Finally the rather eccentric Captain Thomas Pakenham prevailed upon the men to surrender which they did based on his promise that none of them would be punished. They did so on December 11.
Forgiveness notwithstanding, Troubridge immediately paraded the crew and had ten of the ringleaders placed in irons. They were court-martialed. Two men were acquitted but the remaining eight sentenced to hang. On January 13, 1794 three of the men were notified that they had received a reprieve but the other five were hanged from Culloden’s yards.