I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a victim of adult onset attention deficit disorder. Right now I have three (the Nore Mutiny, Hoste’s Adriatic campaign, and the Mauritius Campaign), maybe four (the Battle of Copenhagen), series of posts started and incomplete.
I’m returning to the Gale at the Nore series and will attempt to bring this series to closure over the course of the upcoming week.
When we last visited the happenings at the Nore, the mutiny was foundering. The mutineers at Spithead had settled their grievances and returned to duty. The mutineers at the Nore were late on the scene and for reasons as much of pride as anything else refused to accept the Spithead terms and held out for still more concessions by the government.
Having settled the Spithead mutiny without bringing the Channel Fleet to its knees, the Admiralty entered into negotiations with the Nore mutineers. The first round on negotiations, those carried out by Admiral Buckner, failed miserably with Buckner being rudely received aboard HMS Sandwich and HMS Inflexible threatening to fire into Sandwich if his terms were accepted.
There was, however, blame enough to go around. Buckner’s attitude was one of demanding the mutineers acquiesce rather than searching for an agreeable compromise. How much of this was a result of the brief he was given by the Admiralty and how much of it was driven by a clash of personalities is a matter of conjecture.
Buckner’s visit resulted in the mutineers presenting him with a document containing eight demands:
Article 1st.–That every indulgence granted to the fleet at Portsmouth be granted to his Majesty’s subjects serving in the fleet at the Nore, and on places adjacent.
Article 2nd.–That every man, upon a ship’s coming into harbour shall have liberty (a certain number at a time, so as not to injure the ship’s duty) to go and see their friends and families; a convenient time to be allowed to each man.
Article 3rd.–That all ships before they go to sea, shall be paid all arrears of wages down to six months, according to the old rules.
Article 4th.–That no officer that has been turned out of any of his Majesty’s ships shall be employed in the same ship again, without the consent of the ship’s company.
Article 5th.–That when any of his Majesty’s ships shall be paid that may have been some time in commission, if there are any pressed men on board that may not be in the regular course of payment, they shall receive two months advance to furnish them with necessities.
Article 6th.–That an indemnification be made any men who run, and may now be in his Majesty’s naval service, and that they shall not be liable to be taken up as deserters.
Article 7th.–That a more equal distribution be made of prize money to the crews of his Majesty’s ships and vessels of war.
Article 8th.–That the articles of war, as now enforced, require farious alteration, several of which to be expunged therefrom, and if more moderate ones were held forth to seamen in general, it would be the means of taking off that terror and prejudice against his Majesty’s service, on that account too frequently imbibed by seamen, from entering voluntarily into the service.
The idea that the men at the Nore were going to go away vanished. Buckner gave a favorable opinion of only one article, the 5th, and suggested to the Admiralty that no more recruits be sent aboard Sandwich, sort of a stunning to think that new men were still being sent aboard a ship in a state of mutiny, and that no more ships be allowed to anchor at the Nore.
Admiralty was incensed at the response from the mutineers and directed Buckner to refuse all articles but the first. Buckner rewrote the preemptive dismissal he received in more diplomatic terms but the outcome was unchanged. The self styled President of the Delegates of the Fleet, Richard Parker, attempted to defuse the situation by asking that the Lords of Admiralty sit down with the delegates and discuss a solution rather than negotiate by letter. In the meantime, Buckner’s flag had been struck and the red flag hoisted in its place. By mischance, these events coincided with the arrival of two regiments of militia at Sheerness.
One of the key features of the Nore mutiny which led, ultimately to its collapse, was the extent to which the leaders of the mutiny succeeded in remaining unknown. Unlike a Spithead where the leaders were seasoned sailors who had been promoted under the system they rebelled against, the leaders at the Nore were much more figureheads subject to the whims of those who elected them. This situation made it impossible for the fleet delegates to cut deals with the representatives of the government simply because they did not have the authority over the men they ostensibly represented.
Now the mutineers copied the methods of their brethren at Spithead. They ordered all the ships moored at anchorages at Little Nore and Sheerness to consolidate at the Great Nore anchorage. HMS Clyde (38) remained loyal to its captain and refused to move until HMS Inflexible (64) threatened to fire upon her. At this threat, Clyde moved to Great Nore but the captain and master contrived to anchor on the outside of the gaggle of ships there so they could escape if the chance presented itself.
The government was angry over the recalcitrance of the mutineers but it was also fearful. The mutineers held their meetings in taverns in Sheerness and were present ashore in substantial numbers. More troubling was their good relations with the militia troops. Compounding this fear was the anxiety created by the officers put ashore by their men bombarding Parliament with letters demanding action.
Whatever authority or influence Buckner may have held with the mutineers had eroded under the pressure of the situation. When two drunken marines were arrested by civil authorities and transferred to the custody of the Port Admiral, Parker demand their release and Buckner acquiesced. When the storeship HMS Serapis arrived at Great Nore, Buckner was ordered by the delegates to send a tender to remove the sick and prisoners.
Delegates from the fleet ranged up the Thames seeking to subvert ships not yet a part of the mutiny. The newly commissioned HMS Lancaster (64) joined the mutiny but was unable to move down river to join the fleet. HMS Naiad (38), also just launched, refused to join.
Additional difficulties cropped up. On May 26, Lord Spencer received word from the Lord Chancellor that the royal pardon issued on behalf of the Spithead mutineers would not cover those at the Nore as it only pardoned offenses committed before the pardon was issued. A new pardon was prepared for royal assent. And despite Lord Spencer’s antipathy towards the thought of negotiating face to face with the delegates, the cabinet ordered the Lords of Admiralty to do just that.
On May 28, Spencer, Lord Arden, and the Sea Lord, Admiral William Young, arrived in Sheerness. Several ships in the fleet, HMS San Fiorenzo, HMS Clyde, and five others, all hoisted the Admiralty flag. The visiting Lords took this sign of dissension in the fleet as their cue to hang tough.
The two sides talked past each other all day and all that resulted was an offer of a royal pardon. This offer was read aboard the ships of the fleet the next morning. San Fiorenzo and Clyde both ran up the white flag symbolizing their acceptance of the terms. They were threatened by other ships, primarily HMS Inflexible, with being taken under fire and the captains of both decided to not provoke a bloody shootout. Aboard the five smaller ships (Iris (32), Brilliant (28), Grampus (50), Espion (18), and Niger (33)) that had welcomed the Lords Commissioner the previous day, the crews were divided with ultimately the mutineers winning out.
The delegates gathered in a Sheerness pub to discuss what response to send to Spencer. They were unanimous. His offer was refused. A letter stating that the fleet had voted to continue the mutiny was sent to the Lords Commissioner and the delegates departed Sheerness. For the first time they marched under a red banner.