The Gale at The Nore. Part 5. Climax.

HMS Clyde escapes from the mutinous fleet at The Nore

HMS Clyde escapes from the mutinous fleet at The Nore

When we last visited the mutiny at The Nore, the Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty had departed their conference with the mutineers disappointed. Their offer, to apply the same conditions as those received by the mutineers at Spithead and to offer them a royal pardon, was rejected by the delegates.

It was now obvious that lines were being firmly drawn. On the one hand the controlling forces behind the mutiny at The Nore, and those forces weren’t necessarily the delegates themselves, were unwilling to settle for less than their demands — and their actions actually lead one to believe that no concessions by the government were going to end the mutiny but rather the demands represented a ever moving set of goal posts — and the government did not feel that it could given into mutineers so soon after caving to the Spithead mutiny.

Lord Spencer felt confident, despite the breakdown in negotiations, that things were finally going his way. He knew from his visit to The Nore that at least five and most likely seven ships were on the cusp of swearing allegiance to the government. Now he was told that HMS Serapis (44), HMS Pylades (16), and Captain William Bligh’s HMS Director (64) were ready to desert the mutiny. The militia regiments whose sympathies to the mutineers were in question had been replaced with staunchly loyal units. Even though no violence had erupted, Spencer was now viewing the mutiny as a rebellion rather than a labor dispute.

But all was not well.

A message had been sent to Admiral Duncan, then blockading the Dutch ports, asking if he could, if necessary, bring the North Sea fleet into action to crush the mutiny. Duncan responded the he would try to do so if ordered but he couldn’t guarantee his fleet would carry out the orders.

Spencer also began ratcheting up the pressure. On May 30 he issued an order to the victualing office in Sheerness directing that no further stores of any type be sent aboard the mutinous ships. Sir Charles Grey, the commander of troops at Sheerness, placed the barracks and parade ground used by the troops as well as the dockyard and any part of the shoreline off limits to the mutineers.

Grey, apparently for the first time, conducted a thorough inspection of the fortifications guarding Sheerness with a view to stopping any sortie by the fleet while in a state of mutiny. His findings were appalling. The mortar had rotted from the brick fortifications at Sheerness and the walls were held up by gravity alone in many places. The outlying forts did not even have cannon. If the fleet decided to defect to France, as many in the government feared was imminent, there was nothing England could do to prevent it.

All of this did not pass unnoticed among the mutineers and their solidarity began to erode. Armed boats now rowed around the suspect ships at night to prevent them from weighing anchor.

Now the Admiralty engaged in a high stakes game. The frigates Clyde and San Fiorenzo were ordered to leave Sheerness for Harwich to take on board the newlywed Duke of Wuerttemburg and his bride. Despite the rather confidential nature of the orders, soon the crew of Director heard of the departure and wanted to join. The captains of the two frigates consulted with the Admiralty and it was felt that there was too great a chance of Director not obeying the sailing order, so the two frigates were ordered to proceed alone.

In the early morning hours of May 30th, Clyde cut her cables and drifted on the tide. Her delegates were all aboard Sandwich and no one raised an alarm. As soon as sails were hoisted, however, the mutinous ships noticed and several discharged broadsides. These were more shouts of anger than anything else as no attempt was made to aim at the departing frigate.

San Fiorenzo made her dash to freedom at noon. As the crews were all piped to the midday meal, her cable was cut. However, it was cut too soon and San Fiorenzo was pointing in the wrong direction and she had to run the gauntlet through the anchored fleet under fire. Though no one was hurt she had her sails and rigging badly cut up. On her way to sea she passed three ships of the line and four or five smaller ships on their way to the Nore. Unsure if they were joining the mutiny or about the suppress it, the San Fiorenzo’s manned the rigging and cheered.She made her way to Portsmouth, capturing a French privateer en route.

This was a blow to the mutiny which overshadowed the defection of HMS Espion and HMS Niger to the government and their use for harbor defense. Grey had set to work with commendable speed and soon had batteries covering Sheerness manned day and night. The prohibition against delegates from the fleet coming ashore was made absolute and some who challenged the ban were detained. Women and children were ordered evacuated from Sheerness and other civilians were encouraged to leave unless their presence was necessary. Rifts were becoming evident in the ranks of the mutineers also.

Above all, the fact that two frigates had deserted the mutiny without a hint of their intentions being brought to the attention of even the delegates from their own ships made it very clear that those leading the mutiny were losing control rapidly.

Just as the morale reached low ebb, as San Fiorenzo sailed out of sight, three ships of the line were spotted sailing up river to The Nore. At first the mutineers must have thought they were sent to put down the mutiny. As they came closer it was apparent they were flying the red flag. The mutiny had spread to Admiral Duncan’s fleet.

Though the North Sea fleet had been hit with some incidents of mass insubordination, by and large it was Duncan’s oversized person and personality which had effectively kept the fleet loyal to the government.

Mutiny broke out in Duncan’s fleet on May 26. On May 24th seventeen delegates seized the cutter HMS Cygnet, to take a message of solidarity to the North Sea fleet at Yarmouth. He had been warned about the mission of Cygnet and had detailed HMS Vestal (28) and the hired lugger Hope and hired cutter Rose to intercept Cygnet before she could rendezvous with his fleet.

On the morning of the 26th cheering was heard coming from HMS Lion (64) and a boat was seen to be dispatched from Lion to HMS Standard (64). The men from Lion were not allowed on board, but the men of Standard disobeyed orders to hoist their own boats aboard. The men from Lion next tried to approach HMS Belliqueux (64) and HMS Glatton (64). They were rebuffed by the crews of both and rather harshly by the crew of Sir Henry Trollope’s Glatton.

Duncan called all captains aboard his flagship to find out where he stood and was told that all ships would obey his orders, except HMS Nassau (64) which refused to sail until the sailors had been paid. The men from Lion and Standard sent a apology to Duncan for their conduct but Duncan viewed their loyalty, in an circumstances short of a sortie by the Franco-Dutch fleet, as problematic. Standard, in particular, had a troubled history. On May 5, the crew had taken over the ship and trained cannon on officer’s country over the issue of pay in arrears. To gain control of the fleet he ordered all ships to sail at 5am on May 27.

When time came to sail, HMS Montague (74) joined Nassau in refusing to sail until pay was brought up to date. HMS Repulse (64) initially refused to weigh anchor and it was only after a prolonged negotiation by her captain that she set sail.

Even as the fleet moved into Yarmouth Roads in preparation for going to sea, the unease continued. At four in the afternoon there was a burst of cheering from HMS Venerable (74), a sign which in the past had presaged mutiny, which resulted in the marine detachment clapping six presumed ringleaders in irons. It was in this atmosphere that he received the Admiralty letter asking him if his fleet could be relied upon to suppress the mutiny. His demurral was completely understandable.

As 7pm the situation became dramatically worse. The crew of the Belliqueux demanded to be allowed to send boats to the Lion and when Duncan made the signal to stand out to sea, Belliqueux responded with a signal for “disability.” There was some good news that evening. The patrol he had sent to intercept Cygnet returned in possession of Cygnet and with the delegates in chains aboard Hope.

Sunrise on the 29th revealed that Lion and Standard had departed the squadron during the night and Montague, which had refused to sail the day before, was seen on the horizon on a course for The Nore. Now Standard, Lion, Nassau, and Belliqueux were lying in Yarmouth flying the red flag of mutiny. Duncan gave the order to set sail and his fleet reluctantly obeyed. As he headed east towards the Dutch coast, one by one his ships turned back to port. He was eventually left with HMS Venerable, HMS Adamant (50), HMS Trent (36), and HMS Circe (28).

On June 1 he arrived off Texel and for three days blockaded 14 ships of the line and 8 frigates in the face of a favorable wind for them to sortie. To do so he used the now famous ruse of having his four ships imitate the actions of the Inshore Squadron of a larger fleet and send regular flag signals to that imaginary fleet lurking over the horizon.

Glatton deserted Duncan in early afternoon and headed for The Downs instead of Yarmouth. After a few days she returned to the fleet off Texel.

Duncan’s fleet was now largely gathered in Yarmouth and joined the mutiny by electing delegates and moving to The Nore. It was Montague, Standard, Lion, and some assorted smaller ships the San Fiorenzo had cheered on its way out.

But now the atmospherics had changed. The fleet had abandoned its post off Texel placing the nation in jeopardy. This was no longer an arguably justified request for redress of grievances, this was rebellion and treason.

Visit all our posts on the Spithead Mutiny and the mutiny at The Nore.


Filed under Age of Sail, Mutiny, Naval Life

8 responses to “The Gale at The Nore. Part 5. Climax.

  1. MrPhil

    Thanks for writing this stuff up – I find it fascinating.

  2. Pingback: The Gale at The Nore. Part 6. Mutiny FAIL. « Age Of Sail

  3. Kevin friend

    Could this be the first union movement very recored

  4. Martin

    This is terrific stuff. I’m interested in HMS Montague. Any idea when this ship was built? While searching fruitlessly for an HMS Lizard from 1749 I found a reference to HMS Montague being scrapped in 1749, but would this have been a differenbt Montague? Thanks.

    • billcrews

      There have been several HMS Montagues (alternatively spelled HMS Montagu). The history of the one involved in the mutiny can be found here

      • Martin

        Ah, thanks, Bill. Definitely not the same HMS Montague, then.
        I now suspect there is a date error in my original source. If the Montague I’m after *is* the one that was broken up in 1749 this solves my HMS Lizard problem simultaneously, since the only Lizard I could find (apart from a captured French Lezard many years too late for my purposes) was wrecked in 1748. Thanks again,

  5. billcrews

    you may want to check the Brian Lavery references in this Wikipedia article

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