With Richard Parker’s surrender and imprisonment, the inevitable retribution began. The British Navy had a tradition of leniency towards certain kinds of mutiny but by the same token ruthlessly suppressed mutinies which struck at the authority of the captain. The Nore mutiny clearly fell into the latter category and the mutineers, by their blockade of the Thames, had forfeited any claim to being considered loyal subjects, a theme, we will recall which was relentlessly repeated by Valentine Joyce and the Spithead mutineers.
The sailors involved in the mutiny were under no illusions about what was coming.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading
Personnel is policy. This is just as true in mutiny as it is in business and government. Where the Spithead Mutiny was led by experienced and accomplished seamen, the mutiny at The Nore was led by an embittered quota man: Richard Parker.
Parker is a character swathed in legend. What we know for a fact is that he was baptized at St. Mary Major, Exeter, on April 24, 1767, and his father was a prosperous baker in Exeter.
The Dictionary of National Biography states:
He entered the navy as a midshipman in a frigate cruising in the Soundings, and is stated to have been acting-lieutenant at the close of the American war. He is also said to have returned home with a considerable share of prize-money, which he spent riotously to have conceived himself ill treated by his captain, and to have sent him a challenge, which the captain promised to answer with his cane.
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.
If you were an observer at the gala celebrating the end to the Spithead mutiny you might have noticed this scene:
At about eight the high and mighty were ready, and all made for the Ally Port once more, near which a curious incident occurred. It was noticed that Joyce was accosted by four men in plain clothes, with whom he talked a little, and then took along with him into his boat.
These men were elected delegates from the North Sea Fleet based at The Nore. Mutiny had broken out and they were now trying to coordinate their actions with that of the Channel Fleet. Wisely, Joyce would have none of it.
Visit all our posts on the Spithead Mutiny and the mutiny at The Nore.
One of the bugbears afflicting the British government during the Spithead mutiny was the notion that the mutiny was actually operating under the control of either the French revolutionary regime, the United Irishmen, or some similar seditious element. The idea that the men could be reacting to a history of being the victims of officially condoned brutality and sharp financial dealings on the part of the government had a great deal of trouble registering with the Admiralty’s collective brain even after commanders in the Channel Fleet voiced sympathy with some of the demands.
Wild rumors flourished. Valentine Joyce, a Jerseyman raised in Portsmouth, was portrayed as a failed Belfast tobacconist. Thomas Grenville, brother of the Marquess of Buckingham, wrote:
I cannot help fearing the evil is…deeply rooted in the influence of Jacobin emissaries and the Corresponding Society.
I am more and more convinced that Jacobin management and influence is at the bottom of this evil.
Now the dalliance of Parliament and the blinding stupidity of the Admiralty combined into what was a potentially deadly set of circumstances. Bridport had heard French fleet was out on May 3, but the winds were not favorable for the Channel Fleet to sail until May 7. Because the Seamen’s Bill had not passed Commons and the Fleet now knew of the Admiralty order to suppress all dissent, he knew fleet would not move. So he did the prudent thing and he didn’t order it to sortie.
The Fleet delegates now moved to force action. Sometime during the night of May 6-7 the delegates decided to remove all unpopular officers as a way of demonstrating their resolve and to remove potential flashpoints of violence. They also suspected that the Admiralty would attempt to deal with the mutiny ship by ship. To prevent this from happening all the ships in the mutiny were ordered to move to St. Helens where they could be sequestered from Admiralty agents and kept out of range of the militia congregating in Portsmouth.
Around 9 am the delegates began moving from ship to ship passing the word. Some officers were removed with every courtesy. Others were unceremoniously bundled ashore.
When faced with the resolve of the Fleet, Spencer folded like a cheap suit.
He arrived in London at 9 am on April 22 and by 5 pm he had hammered out an agreement to meet the terms of the men at Spithead and was enroute to an audience with King George III on the subject of a royal proclamation of pardon. At 9 pm the pardon was signed and on its way to the printers. The copies of the pardon were delivered to Spithead early on April 23.
At 11 am the proclamation was delivered to the captains of the ships at Spithead and read to the crews. Aboard Royal George the men cheered and Lord Bridport’s flag was again raised over his flagship. Queen Charlotte, mindful of the fate of the Culloden mutineers, was skeptical. Questions were raised as to the authenticity of the pardon and the delegates eventually demanded to see the original bearing the king’s seal and signature. Eventually everyone was satisfied that a deal had been struck.
Queen Charlotte struck the red flag. One by one other ships followed suit, leaving Spithead for St Helens to await a suitable wind to set sail, until only Ramilles, Marlborough, Minotaur, and Nymphe held out over the fate of some of the officers assigned to those ships. The driving issue in two of these ships, Marlborough and Nymphe, was the removal of the captains of those ships who were in the habit of belaboring seamen with their speaking trumpets.
All seemed well. Unfortunately, then, as now, the culture within bureaucracies seems to have “do nothing” as its default setting rather than “do something.”
On April 22, Spencer notified the Privy Council that he had agreed to the increase of pay and provisions. The Privy Council did what any bureaucracy would do in dire circumstances; it formed a committee to study the agreement. The committee reported back on May 3 and Pitt brought the legislative package to the House of Commons on May 8 thereby winning at least an Honorable Mention in any “Too Little, Too Late” contest.