The arrival of part of Admiral Duncan’s Yarmouth based fleet at The Nore gave a new boost the morale of the mutineers which had been battered by the change of attitude of the people of Sheerness towards them and the defection of several ships to the government, (that story is detailed here).
While their morale may have improved their situation had not. They were cut off from shore, denied supplies, and the government refused to enter into further negotiations with them. Some unnamed genius came up with the idea that two could play at that game and conceived the idea of a blockade of the Thames and, therefore, of London. Accordingly, on the evening of May 31, Richard Parker presented himself at the home of the port commissioner at Sheerness and announced that London was under blockade.
At first, it seemed like this was mere bluster but on June 2 HMS Swan, sloop, began intercepting inbound merchantmen and detaining them. The traffic soon outpaced the capabilities of a single ship and HMS Brilliant (28), HMS Standard (64), and HMS Inspector (16) were called upon to lend a helping hand.
Parker and the mutineers desperately needed a bring the mutiny to an end and this move seems calculated to do just that.
At the same time the government was moving in something of a blind panic of its own. At Pitt’s behest, Parliament passed an act on June 1 which established death as the penalty for anyone who incite soldiers or sailors to mutiny or disobedience. It was followed in short order by another bill which forbade trade with the mutineers. Most importantly, though, the blockade changed the entire climate of opinion in England.
The Spithead mutineers had been assiduous in asserting their readiness to return to duty if the French sailed and had kept frigates and smaller ships out of the mutiny and at their duty protecting convoys. These actions, coupled with the justness of their demands, won the sympathy of the public and prevented the government from taking punitive actions. The blockade of London broke that trust and now the public was not sure The Nore mutineers remained loyal to the nation. This, in turn, gave the government much more leeway in dealing with them and much less incentive to come to a negotiated settlement.
Rumors began to swirl of ominous meetings between delegates and unnamed, though presumably nefarious, persons. Parker was required to repeatedly declare that the mutineers were not in league with French revolutionaries.
On June 6th, Captain William Carnegie, 7th Earl of Northesk, of HMS Monmouth received an order to go on board HMS Sandwich and receive orders from the delegates. Northesk was a highly regarded captain, an accomplished mariner as well as an advocate for his sailors.
To the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Northesk
I am commanded by the Delegates of the Fleet to inform your Lordship that you are requested to repair on board the Sandwich to receive your instructions. A barge will attend your Lordship, and every mark of respect paid your Lordship could wish for.
Northesk, anxious to bring the mutiny to a close, did as requested. After an examination of his record as captain, the delegates presented him with a petition they wished to lay before the King. The objected strongly to the being characterized as rebels and reiterated their loyalty to the Crown. At the same time the petition presented an ultimatum:
[…]Outlaws are contradicted, till we have all our Grievances redress’d and till we have the same supply from and communications as usual with the shore, we shall consider ourselves masters of Nore Shipping. We have already determined how to act, and should be extremely sorry we should be forced to repose in another country, which must evidently be the case if we are denounced as Outlaws in our own.
And with respect to our own Grievances, we shall allow 54 hours from 8 o’clock on Wednesday June the 7th 1797 to know Your Majesty’s final Answer. […]
Rational men would have immediately seen that pledging loyalty while simultaneously issuing an ultimatum and threatening to take the fleet in to French or Dutch ports would hardly receive a dispassionate hearing within the government but rational men were no longer in charge. The quarantine of the mutinous fleet began to have dire consequences. By the first week of June, some of the ships were running short of potable water and sent messages to other vessels requesting resupply. On June 5th, a tender carrying about 60 sick and injured sailors from the fleet was turned back from the hospital ship at Sheerness and told to take the men back to their ships. Adding insult to injury their pockets were stuffed with pamphlets encouraging the mutineers to capitulate.
Lord Northesk dutifully bore the petition to London and argued their case before the King but to no avail. Captain Knight of HMS Montague was delegated by the Crown to return the complete and utter refusal to the fleet. Lord Northesk resigned from the Navy.
While the government has been rather open about quarantining the mutineers from contact with the shore, it remained very worried that the mutineers would ultimately attempt to take the fleet into enemy ports rather than surrender. To that end Trinity House was ordered to begin removing the buoys and other navigation aids marking the safe channels at the Nore. On June 8 Trinity House announced:
His Majesty having thought fit, by his order in council, to direct the buoys in the several channels to be removed, and the beacons to be cut down:
Notice is hereby given that the several buoys in the North, Nab, and Queen’s Channels are removed, and the beacons cut down accordingly: and further notice will be given as soon as it is judged proper to replace the same.
Working surreptitiously during the day as well as at night all buoys and lights had been removed or destroyed by June 9. The sole remaining navigational aid was the Nore lightship and she had survived only because she was anchored under the guns of Sandwich. The mutineers were outraged and threatened to hang the first senior member, termed an “Elder Brother,” of Trinity House to fall into their grasp.
Such an opportunity shortly came their way, for shortly after the announcement by Trinity House an Elder Brother, a Captain Calvert, was taken as his yacht was returning from a summer pleasure trip. As proved in most cases, the bark of the mutineers was much worse than their bite. He was brought aboard Sandwich but his manner impressed the mutineers and they released him on the condition that he tell them what public opinion was. Calvert, honestly, told them that the country was against them.
As Calvert was leaving he was approached by a group of masters who had been delegated to help sail the ships out of the Nore. They asked Calvert what they should do. He told them that if they piloted the ships they would be hanged. This was underscored later in the day when Captain Knight of Montague brought aboard not only the King’s refusal of their petition but the proclamation outlawing the mutineers.
The mutiny began to collapse. As Parker went from ship to ship to make his case for continuing the mutiny he was met with jeers and catcalls. Aboard HMS Ardent he was accused of using the mutiny to enrich himself. All hope of a negotiated agreement ended, Parker resolved to take the fleet into Texel. On the morning of Friday, June 9, Parker ordered the signal made for the fleet to sail. None of the other ships made any movement to follow the order.
Officers in the fleet were keenly alert to the change of tenor. On the afternoon of June 9 the officers and loyal petty officers and marines on HMS Leopard (50) took her back from the mutineers. A meeting of delegates had taken the leadership of the mutineers from the ship. Lieutenant Joseph Robb organized the loyal crew in the wardroom area of the main deck to load several guns and aim them down the length of the deck. Then on signal he had the canvas and deal wall setting off the wardroom struck and called upon the mutineers to surrender. Meanwhile, another officer led a small group to the lower gun deck where they poured vinegar into the vents of all the guns then cut the anchor cables while a third party made sail.
Almost immediately a similar scene took place aboard HMS Repulse (64). Leopard made good her escape but Repulse came under fire by the mutinous fleet and then, as the tide was out, ran aground. For nearly an hour and a half Repulse withstood the fire of the fleet before the tide came in an she floated free. For all the cannonade, Repulse suffered only one casualty, a lieutenant whose leg was shot away.
Late that night HMS Ardent slipped away exchanging a few shots with Monmouth.
Parker’s desperation became more apparent. On June 10th he again called upon Montague’s Captain Knight to take a message to the King. Now he only demanded a pardon for the mutineers and that the most disagreeable officers be dismissed from their ships. As Knight was departing Montague, his crew presented him with a petition which undercut Parker’s position.
They didn’t even demand a pardon or the removal of offensive officers. They only asked that the King give consideration to granting those requests. The Thames was immediately reopened to commercial traffic.
Of course, now that the government had the mutineers on the ropes it had very little incentive to negotiate and no response was forthcoming. No one knows what transpired in the fleet during the next two days. To observers it seemed like ships were torn in loyalties, first hoisting the Union Jack and then the red flag of mutiny. One after another the ships gave up.
On the 13th, Parker handed the keys of the magazine of HMS Sandwich to Third Lieutenant Nicholas Flatt and the mutiny was effectively ended. Only Inflexible, Montague, and Belliqueux remained outside the control of the government and even they flew the Union Jack. On June 15, they folded and the mutiny was over.
The government was not inclined towards generosity and the stage was set for retribution.