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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the crucial figures in British naval history at the time of the mutinies at Spithead and The Nore was Admiral Adam Duncan. Often history has a way of inserting the right man at the right place at the right time and Admiral Duncan can be single handedly credited with keeping the Dutch fleet in port while the British government flailed about trying to resolve the mutinies. Continue reading