Like the mutiny at Spithead, the Nore mutiny was born of anger and frustration on the part of the common sailor. There were significant differences in the make up of the fleets at those two locations. That in turn led to different leadership and that leadership led to tragically different outcomes.
Where Spithead was the home to the Channel Fleet, The Nore was the home of the North Sea fleet under Admiral Adam Duncan. The Channel Fleet regularly stayed at Spithead because if they were caught at sea in adverse weather conditions they could be driven completely up the Channel and leave England vulnerable to a cross Channel attack, in the worst case, or allow the French fleet to sortie. So while frigates screened the major French ports with some reinforcing ships of the line, most of the fleet was best deployed by being at anchor.
The North Sea fleet presented a different set of facts. Admiral Duncan’s North Sea fleet was constantly at sea and split between The Nore, the anchorage at Great Yarmouth, and on station off Texel. The duty was arduous and Duncan’s ships were old. Some of them nearly 30 years old at the time of the Battle of Camperdown, later in 1797.
Most importantly, Admiral Duncan was kept at sea and unable to exert the same influence over either his men, or his officers, as Bridport at Spithead.
While, as we’ve noted, the men leading the mutiny at Spithead were experienced seamen who knew their way around the navy and limited their demands to basic improvements in working conditions, the men who organized the mutiny at The Nore were heavily influenced by pressed men and men provided under the Quota Act.
Ground zero for the mutiny was HMS Sandwich. Sandwich came down the ramp at the Royal Navy Dockyard at Chatham in 1759. She was Rodney’s flagship at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent but by the time she was converted to a floating battery in 1780 she was worn out and beyond the point of economical repair. In 1790 she was converted to a combination flag ship for the port admiral, depot, and receiving ship. While afloat her complement was 750 men. Now she had a permanent complement of 400 and held 1200 additional men as “supernumeraries.” These were sailors whose ship had paid off as well as volunteers and pressed men who were awaiting assignment to a man o’ war.
The events taking in Spithead resonated with the men packed aboard Sandwich as well as with the other ships at The Nore. As we’ve seen, the mutiny had spread to Duncan’s fleet at sea and was only suppressed by his powerful presence. As the mutiny at Spithead moved to a successful resolution, grievances amplified at The Nore. There was little apparent formal contact between the two fleets because two days after the Seamen’s Bill was given the Royal Assent, and three days before the men of the Channel Fleet carried Lord Howe through the streets on their shoulders, the men of Sandwich used the absence of their captain to be a member of a court martial as the cover to launch the mutiny.
Like at Spithead, the manned the rigging and gave three cheers. Unpopular officers were sent ashore and boats were dispatched to other ships at the anchorage carrying the orders to do the same. By evening the thirteen frigates or ships of the line at The Nore, except the frigate HMS San Fiorenzo, were under control of the mutineers.