Spithead and Nore mutinies
The Spithead and Nore mutinies were two major mutinies by sailors of the Royal Navy in 1797. They were the first outbreaks of a significant increase in maritime radicalism in the Atlantic World. Despite their temporal proximity, the mutinies differed in character: while the Spithead mutiny was essentially a strike action, articulating economic grievances, the Nore mutiny was more radical, articulating political ideals as well.
The mutinies were extremely concerning for Britain, because at the time the country was at war with Revolutionary France, and the Navy was the most significant component of the war effort. There were also concerns among the government that the mutinies might be part of wider attempts at revolutionary sedition instigated by societies such as the London Corresponding Society and the United Irishmen.
The mutiny at Spithead (an anchorage near Portsmouth) lasted from 16 April to 15 May 1797. Sailors on 16 ships in the Channel Fleet, commanded by Admiral Lord Bridport, protested against the living conditions aboard Royal Navy vessels and demanded a pay rise, better victualling, increased shore leave, and compensation for sickness and injury. On 26 April a supportive mutiny broke out on 15 ships in Plymouth, who sent delegates to Spithead to take part in negotiations.
Seamen's pay rates had been established in 1658, and because of the stability of wages and prices, they were still reasonable as recently as the 1756–1763 Seven Years' War; however, high inflation during the last decades of the 18th century had severely eroded the real value of the pay. In recent years, pay raises had also been granted to the army, militia, and naval officers. At the same time, the practice of coppering the submerged part of hulls, which had started in 1761, meant that British warships no longer had to return to port frequently to have their hulls scraped, and the additional time at sea significantly altered the rhythm and difficulty of seamen's work. The Royal Navy had not made adjustments for any of these changes, and was slow to understand their effects on its crews. Finally, the new wartime quota system meant that crews had many landsmen from inshore who did not mix well with the career seamen, leading to discontented ships' companies.
The mutineers were led by elected delegates and tried to negotiate with the Admiralty for two weeks, focusing their demands on better pay, the abolition of the 14-ounce "purser's pound" (the ship's purser was allowed to keep two ounces of every true pound—16 ounces—of meat as a perquisite), and the removal of a handful of unpopular officers; neither flogging nor impressment was mentioned in the mutineers' demands. The mutineers maintained regular naval routine and discipline aboard their ships (mostly with their regular officers), allowed some ships to leave for convoy escort duty or patrols, and promised to suspend the mutiny and go to sea immediately if French ships were spotted heading for English shores.
Because of mistrust, especially over pardons for the mutineers, the negotiations broke down, and minor incidents broke out, with several unpopular officers sent to shore and others treated with signs of deliberate disrespect. When the situation calmed, Admiral Lord Howe intervened to negotiate an agreement that saw a royal pardon for all crews, reassignment of some of the unpopular officers, a pay raise and abolition of the purser's pound. Afterwards, the mutiny was to become nicknamed the "breeze at Spithead".
Inspired by the example of their comrades at Spithead, the sailors at the Nore (an anchorage in the Thames Estuary) also mutinied, on 12 May 1797, when the crew of Sandwich seized control of the ship. Several other ships in the same location followed this example, though others slipped away and continued to slip away during the mutiny, despite gunfire from the ships that remained (which attempted to use force to hold the mutiny together). The mutineers had been unable to organise easily because the ships were scattered along the Nore (and were not all part of a unified fleet, as at Spithead), but quickly elected delegates for each ship.
Richard Parker was elected "President of the Delegates of the Fleet". According to him, he was nominated and elected without his knowledge. Parker was a former master's mate who was dis-rated and court-martialed in December 1793 and re-enlisted in the Navy as a seaman in early 1797, where he came to serve aboard the brig-sloop Hound. Demands were formulated and on 20 May 1797, a list of eight demands was presented to Admiral Charles Buckner, which mainly involved pardons, increased pay and modification of the Articles of War, eventually expanding to a demand that the King dissolve Parliament and make immediate peace with France. These demands infuriated the Admiralty, which offered nothing except a pardon (and the concessions already made at Spithead) in return for an immediate return to duty.
Captain Sir Erasmus Gower commissioned HMS Neptune (98 guns) in the upper Thames and put together a flotilla of fifty loyal ships to prevent the mutineers moving on the city of London. It was largely fear of this blockade moving down river which made the mutineers reconsider their actions and begin to waver.
The mutineers expanded their initial grievances and blockaded London, preventing merchant vessels from entering the port, and the principals made plans to sail their ships to France, alienating the regular English sailors and losing more and more ships as the mutiny progressed. On 5 June Parker issued an order that merchant ships be allowed to pass the blockade, and only Royal Navy victualling (i.e., supply) ships be detained; the ostensible reason provided in the order was that "the release of the merchant vessels would create a favourable impression on shore", although this decision may actually have been perhaps more due to the complexities involved in such a wide undertaking as interdicting all the merchant traffic on the busy Thames. After the successful resolution of the Spithead mutiny, the government and the Admiralty were not inclined to make further concessions, particularly as they felt some leaders of the Nore mutiny had political aims beyond improving pay and living conditions.
The mutineers were denied food and water, and when Parker hoisted the signal for the ships to sail to France, all of the remaining ships refused to follow.
Meanwhile, Captain Charles Cunningham of HMS Clyde, which was there for a refit, persuaded his crew to return to duty and slipped off to Sheerness. This was seen as a signal to others to do likewise, and eventually, most ships slipped their anchors and deserted (some under fire from the mutineers), and the mutiny failed. Parker was quickly convicted of treason and piracy and hanged from the yardarm of Sandwich, the vessel where the mutiny had started. In the reprisals which followed, 29 were hanged, 29 were imprisoned, and nine were flogged, while others were sentenced to transportation to Australia. One such was surgeon's mate William Redfern who became a respected surgeon and landowner in New South Wales. The majority of men involved in the mutiny were not punished at all, which was lenient by the standards of the time.
Mutinies and discontent following
In September 1797, the crew of Hermione mutinied in the West Indies, killing almost all the officers in revenge for a number of grievances including the throwing into the sea of the bodies of three men who had been killed in falling from the rigging in a desperate scramble to avoid flogging for being last man down on deck.The Hermione was taken by the crew to the Spanish port of La Guaira.
On 27 December, the crew of Marie Antoinette murdered their officers and took their ship into a French port in the West Indies.
In the years following Spithead and the Nore, there was a significant increase in mutinies among European navies and merchant companies, approximately 50%. Scholars have linked it to the radical political ideologies developing in the transnational space of the Atlantic World, as well as to the development of working class consciousness among sailors. Both explanations have been the subject of extensive academic investigation. Political analyses often emphasize the radical discourse and conduct of the Nore mutineers as evidence of their ideological motivation. Class analyses often emphasize the discipline and solely economic grievances of the Spithead mutineers as pointing to "class solidarity". Recent attempts have been made to unify these approaches under a framework of masculine identity, arguing that different interpretations of what it meant to be a man to the sailors were the cause of the political/ideological/economic differences between the two mutinies.
In the arts
- The father of the protagonist in Frederick Marryat's The King's Own (1830) was hanged for his part in the Nore mutiny.
- Herman Melville's novel Billy Budd (1924), and the 1951 opera based on it by Benjamin Britten, are set immediately after the main mutinies.
- The Floating Republic – An account of the Mutinies at Spithead and The Nore in 1797, by G. E. Manwaring and Bonamy Dobrée published by Frank Cass & Co. 1935 is a history of these mutinies. In 1982, BBC Radio 4's Saturday Night Theatre broadcast a dramatised account of the book called The Floating Republic.
- The 1962 film H.M.S. Defiant (released in the U.S. as Damn the Defiant!) and the 1958 novel Mutiny by Frank Tilsley is a fictional account of a ship's crew undertaking a mutiny at sea at the time of the Spithead mutiny, the result of which is part of the plot.
- Ramage and the Freebooters (1969) by British novelist Dudley Pope begins when Lieutenant Ramage is given command of a ship anchored at Spithead during the Mutiny, and must convince the crew to sail so that he may carry out his orders.
- The Men They Couldn't Hang, an English folk-punk group, commemorated the executed leaders of the mutiny in the ballad "The Colours" (1988).
- In William Kinsolving's 1996 novel Mister Christian, Fletcher Christian returns from the South Seas and witnesses the Nore mutiny.
- Much of the Dewey Lambdin 2000 novel A King's Captain is set during the Nore Mutiny as seen by the protagonist, Alan Lewrie.
- Mutiny (2004) by Julian Stockwin is a fictional account of the Nore mutiny.
- Frykman, Niklas (2013). "Connections Between Mutinies in European Navies". International Review of Social History. 58: 87–107.
- Council of Delegates at Spithead "From the Delegates to the Admiralty" in The Naval Mutinies of 1797 ed. Conrad Gill (Manchester University Press, 1913), 362-363.
- Coats, Ann Veronica (2011). The Naval Mutinies of 1797. pp. 2, 45.
- Earl Spencer "Spencer's Diary, 18 April 1797" in The Naval Mutinies of 1797 ed. Conrad Gill (Manchester University Press, 1913), 364.
- Earl Spencer "Spencer's Diary, 21 April 1797" in The Naval Mutinies of 1797 ed. Conrad Gill (Manchester University Press, 1913), 366-367
- NG staff 1999.
- Richard Parker, "The Dying Declaration of the late unfortunate Richard Parker, written two days previous to his execution, in a letter to a person he had known from his earliest infancy" in The Floating Republic: An Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797 ed. G. E. Manwaring & Bonamy Dobree (Harcourt Brace and Co. 1935),273–276
- Neale 1842, pp. 272–275.
- Bates, Ian M. Champion of the Quarterdeck: Admiral Sir Erasmus Gower (1742-1814) (First ed.). Sage Old Books. p. 231. ISBN 9780958702126.
- Bates, Ian M. Champion of the Quarterdeck: Admiral Sir Erasmus Gower (1742–1814) (First ed.). Sage Old Books. pp. 231–243. ISBN 9780958702126.
- Gill 1913, p. 182.
- Gill 1913, p. 184.
- "Cunningham and HMS clyde". collections.rmg.co.uk. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
- Bates, Ian M. Champion of the Quarterdeck: Admiral Sir Erasmus Gower (1742–1814) (First ed.). Sage Old Books. p. 242. ISBN 9780958702126.
- Coats, Ann Veronica (2011). The Naval Mutinies of 1797. p. 158.
- 1000s Of Museums Online 2015.
- Tracy 2006, p. 294.
- Clowes 1897, p. 549.
- Thompson, EP (1963). The Making of the English Working Class. Gollancz. pp. 183–184.
- Redeker, Marcus (1987). Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Cambridge University Press.
- Glasco, Jeffery (2004). "The Seaman Feels Himself a Man". International Labor and Working Class History. 66: 40–56.
- "Nore mutiny : The Nore", 1000s Of Museums Online, 2015, retrieved 10 July 2015
- CE staff (2009), "Mutiny", The Columbia Encyclopedia (Sixth ed.), New York: Columbia University Press
- Clowes, William (1897), The Royal Navy. A History from the Earliest Times to 1900, 4, p. 549
- Gill, Conrad (1913), The Naval Mutinies of 1797, Manchester University Press
- NG staff (1999), "Royal Navy Mutinies at the Nore and Spithead: Demands made by Mutineers", Napoleonic Guide, retrieved 10 July 2015
- Roberts, Jason (2007), A Sense of the World : How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, New York, NY: Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-00-716106-9
- Tracy, Nicholas (2006), Who's Who in Nelson's Navy: 200 Naval Heroes, London: Greenhill Books/Chatham Publishing, ISBN 1-86176-244-5
- Neale, William Johnson (1842), History of the Mutiny at Spithead and the Nore: With an Enquiry Into Its Origin and Treatment, and Suggestions for the Prevention of Future Discontent in the Royal Navy, T. Tegg
- Manwaring, G.E.; Dobrée, Bonamy (1987) , The Floating Republic: An Account Of The Mutinies At Spithead And The Nore In 1797, London: Cresset Library, ISBN 0-09173-154-2 — 1st pub, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company 1935
- Dugan, James (1967) , The Great Mutiny (New American Library (paperback) ed.), G. P. Putnam's Sons
- The Historical Society of Hele's School Exeter (1950), "Richard Parker", Born in Exeter, Exeter: A. Wheaton & Company
- Schneer, Jonathan (2006), The Thames : England's River (Paperback ed.), London: Abacus, ISBN 0349119295
- Woodman, Richard (2005), A Brief History of Mutiny (1st Carroll & Graf ed.), New York: Carroll & Graf, ISBN 0-7867-1567-7
- Research guide B8: The Spithead and Nore mutinies of 1797 (from the Royal Museums Greenwich)
- https://www.americanantiquarian.org/thomasballads/items/show/148 Lines composed on the death of Parker, who was hung at the yard arm for mutiny in England.