From the beginning the mutiny at The Nore had a more pronounced element of mob rule than did the mutiny at Spithead.
As we mentioned in the first installment on The Nore mutiny, the mutineers took advantage of the court martial of a Captain Savage for the loss of his ship. When the court martial reconvened the next day, the mutineers sent a boat to HMS San Fiorenzo, under Captain Harry Burrard Neale, which had not returned the cheers of the mutineers as she came into The Nore on the previous day. They demanded that San Fiorenzo provide two delegates to the mutiny and that San Fiornezo cheer Inflexible when she moved farther out into the anchorage.
Captain Neale took a boat to report this activity to the officers at the court martial and he was followed closely by the delegates in their boat. When the delegates entered the court martial they were told by the officers they had no business there and to leave. Chastened they did so.
HMS Inflexible, in the mean time, had begun her move with guns run out. The crew of San Fiorenzo still refused to cheer and Inflexible fire a single gun which cut a foot rope under San Fiorenzo’s bowsprit. The crew decided that discretion was the better part of valor and cheered.
The delegates spent the day formulating rules for governing the fleet during the mutiny. All decisions had to be unanimously approved by the delegates, something that would place many of their necks in the halter in a few weeks, and unpopular officers were to be sent ashore. Discipline was maintained, some men were flogged for drunkenness and neglect of duty but the officers do not seem to have been molested.
A midshipman on Repulse was confined to his cabin for 24 hours for kicking a sailor and had to ask the sailor’s pardon. Aboard Prosperine, a particularly unpopular boatswain was tried and sentenced to death. The sentence was not carried out:
He was disfigured with a large swab tied upon each shoulder, a rope round his neck, and his hands tied behind him: in this state he was placed in a boat, and rowed round the Fleet, with a drummer by his side, occasionally beating the “Rogue’s March,” the usual accompaniment of flogging through the fleet; he was then landed at Sheerness and marched through the Dock Yard and Garrison, guarded by a party of Mutineers; and when they considered him sufficiently punished and degraded, they let him loose without further molestation.
On occasion, one is shocked at how little the gentlemen who occupied the quarterdeck really understood about the culture and values of the “jolly tars” who manned the ships. Considering midshipmen were in close contact with common sailors from the time they stepped foot on board ship until they were promoted to the wardroom it is inexplicable that the demands that were made by the fleet at Spithead were not treated as self-evident. At The Nore, the mutineers maintained solidarity through the simple device of administering an oath of allegiance to each member of each ship. The officers thought this was hokum but it proved to be surprisingly effective.
On the 19th, two of the representatives returned from their visit to Spithead with news that the government had met the fleets demands. The men at The Nore were now confronted with a dilemma. It was the classic case of being all dressed up with no place to go.
While Richard Parker might have been an accidental participant in the mutiny, and later claimed that he was driven by the Delegates rather than leading them, he now carried out a campaign against the Spithead agreement. He claimed the pay adjustment was only good for one year (it wasn’t). But the real traction he got was on the issue of the replacement of unpopular officers. At the vortex of this issue was HMS Director and its commander, Captain William Bligh of HMS Bounty fame.
Admiral Buckner had announced that he intended to come aboard HMS Sandwich on May 19 to read the terms of the Spithead agreement and notify the sailors of the King’s Pardon. Parker and the delegates knew they had to act fast to create an additional set of facts, otherwise the mutiny was at and end. While asking Buckner to delay his arrival until 2pm they started sending unpopular officers ashore, as this letter from Captain Bligh shows:
19th May 1797
You will please to inform my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that this morning about nine o’clock, soon after the return of the delegates from Spithead, they came on board and declared to me they had seen Earl Howe, who told them all officers were to be removed from their ships who they disapproved of; they were in consequence directed to inform me in the name of the ship’s company that I was to quit the command of the ship and for it to devolve on the first Lieutenant, who they in the same breath ordered to supercede me.
Before Buckner could take a boat to his flagship, Parker and a deputation of delegates called on him at his quarters in Sheerness and presented him with additional demands. Buckner tried to reason with them, probably pointing out the improbability of the Admiralty giving additional ground from the standpoint of maintaining discipline, but to no avail.
The next morning, May 20th, Buckner did go out to Sandwich. He was heartened when HMS Clyde, which along with San Fiorenzo, has stayed out of the mutiny, cheered him. But confusion reigned onboard Sandwich. Parker was not present and the delegates could not agree on how to receive Buckner. In the end he came on board as a private citizen. Many of the sailors on Sandwich wanted to restore Buckner to command but many others did not. The aptly named HMS Inflexible, which we will see provided the most recalcitrant delegates in the fleet, sent word that if Sandwich accepted Buckner’s terms, Inflexible would come alongside and sink her.
Instead of seeing the end to a mutiny set off in sympathy to the Spithead mutiny, Buckner was sent ashore with the mutiny in full flower and with an additional list of demands.