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“The Delegates,” Duncan wrote to Spencer on the 8th, “seem strict disciplinarians, and if we was to adopt some of their regulations it would not be amiss.” Yet at about this time, sure symptom that all was not well, the Delegates awarded punishment not merely for drunkenness – the chief crime in the early days – but for failing to support the mutiny wholeheartedly. Most of the “criming” was now for “perjury,” which meant faithlessness to the sweeping oath taken, or for speaking disrespectfully of the Delegates. If the charge was proved, the delinquent was subjected to ducking—an ordeal which could be very severe, the victim being weighted and plunged again and again into the sea until he was nearly drowned. Four seamen of the Ardent were severely flogged for disrespect. More significant still, an impulse towards wanton violence began to animate some of the seamen. Many officers were tarred and feathered, rowed through the Fleet, and then sent up the river to be dumped ignominiously at Gravesend. That the same uncomfortable disgrace befell the surgeon of one of the ships was, however, even at the time considered a piece of “wild justice,” for he had been lying in his cabin for five weeks—drunk. On the Monmouth, a midshipman, the second master, and some other petty officers were tried for conspiracy, the midshipman being sentenced to two dozen lashes, the remainder to three. Since the second master was ill, he received only four lashes—but he had one side of his head shaved; a sergeant of marines was bereft of his hair besides receiving the lashes. All were put on shore after they had undergone their punishment.

A good deal of furtive plotting must have gone on at this time, a flitting of silent figures from deck to deck, a discreet knocking at officers’ cabin doors, whispering of heads in close confabulation in dark corners of the orlop. The men were getting hungry, water was running ominously short. On the flagship herself the provisions were no more than a little biscuit and junk; her water was putrid, and so rigidly doled out that two sentries had to keep continual watch over it. Nothing of good augury was happening to offset this state of doubt and discomfort, and it was morally impossible to sail away. Would it not, the sailors must have thought, be better to risk whatever punishment might be forthcoming if they surrendered now, than to wait till all pardon was withheld, and they were starved into submission?

On all the ships the officers were alert for a change of feeling; and at about three o’clock on the afternoon of the 9th, Lieutenant Robb, who was in charge of the Leopard, her captain having been sent on shore, decided that the change was marked enough for him to act. Seizing an opportunity when the Delegates were out of the ship, he gathered together in the ward-room the officers, petty officers and marines, with a few seamen he could rely on, and then and there primed, loaded, and manned the aftermost guns, which he ordered to be turned forward. Then, bursting open the ward-room door, thus unmasking his battery which now commanded the main deck, he and his party, well armed, flung themselves upon the surprised seamen, drove them together, and called upon them to surrender. In the immediate tumult which ensued all over the ship a small band led by an officer scuttled down to the lower deck, seized the foremost guns, which were pointed aft, and put them out of action by pouring vinegar into the vents; and at the same time a third detachment promptly swarmed aloft and loosened the topsails, which they sheeted home in no time. As soon as this was done, the officer who had disabled the lowerdeck guns cut the cable, which he had rushed up from below to stand by, alert for the crucial moment. All was over in a flash; the struggle had been short and decisive, but not without damage: seven men were wounded, one of them, a midshipman, mortally—and the ship was making sail up-stream.

Almost immediately the rest of the Fleet was alive to what was going on, and with hardly an interval the Repulse followed the example of the Leopard, there, too, the Delegates being conveniently out of the way. The other ships at once began to open fire on the escaping traitors. The Leopard, however, got away without harm, though when she ran into the left bank of the river near Leigh she was still within range of the Fleet, and was under a “smart fire” for some time. Luckily it was not long before she was floated off, and she made her way to the Lower Hope by nightfall, where Lieutenant Robb put eighteen of the leading mutineers in irons. The Repulse was not so lucky, for by the time she had got under way, countermeasures were being taken against the deserters. Parker at once had himself rowed from the Sandwich in a boat from the Ardent, and as he went was cheered by the men, himself crying back in answer that he “was going on board the Director to get a spring on her cable, and would send her and them [the Repulse and her crew] to the devil.” It seemed as though he well might, since by this time the Repulse was aground, as her pilot had foreseen she would be; he had in vain told her loyal crew, impatient to get away, that the tide did not serve. Parker flew on board the Director, to find that her crew had already got a spring on her cable so as to bring her guns to bear on the stranded ship. But then, the guns laid, ready for destruction, a sense of his responsibility for life and death came acutely upon him. He ordered all hands to be called, and when his order was disregarded he shouted out as loud as he could, addressing anyone within reach of his voice, beseeching them to consider what a dreadful thing it would be for one brother to fire upon another. He begged for a boat in which to bear a flag of truce to the Repulse, an action which he was sure would save an effusion of blood: he did not mind, he declared, what happened to himself, even if he lost his life, so long as he could save so many others’.

But he was not in control of the Fleet; he was not even listened to: he was refused the boat and the flag of truce. He then asked that the Director should be taken alongside the heeling vessel, but he could hardly have hoped that anyone would pay him any attention. It is not certain whether up to that point the Director had fired at all, though other ships seem to have done so. But now, when the Repulse fired a gun from the larboard side of the quarter-deck, Parker’s first impulsive emotion to send the deserting ship to hell was released. “They have returned fire,” he yelled, and ordered the Director to shoot. That command at least was obeyed. He then  had himself taken to the Monmouth, where his excitement seems to have made him frantic: if he could not lead the men where he wanted them to go, at least he would prove himself willing to lead them along the path of their own choice. Was he not their elected champion? He behaved frenziedly, and himself worked at the guns of the Monmouth: he thrust a bar into one of the muzzles as well as the cannon-ball, as if one missile would not be enough; and when a seaman tried to stop him from doing so, he hurled him back with a blow on the chest. All the unbalanced side of his nature came uppermost. According to the evidence of one of the sailors at his trial.

He ordered Vance [the mutineer captain] to get our stream cables up, and to bend to our stream anchor. Vance said he could not do it. “Why, damn it,” replied the prisoner, slip your bowers and go alongside the Repulse, and send her to hell where she belongs, and show her no quarter m the least.” He then said … he would go on board one of the other ships belonging to the fleet, and despatch her after the Leopard to send the Leopard to hell likewise.

For over an hour and twenty minutes every ship in the Fleet winch could bring her guns to bear on the “poor devoted Repulse” blazed away at her as she lay aground. Her men worked furiously to lighten her: “the water in the hold was started, the casks stove, and a strong party sent to the pumps.” At last, as the tide rose, she floated, and as she did, Parker shook his fist at her and shouted, “Damn her, she’s off! ” It was not until all was over, and the ships had escaped, that he retired to the Sandwich.

The sulphurous affair had been watched with intense anxiety from Sheerness, which was in a state of siege, cowering in expectation of the attack which the seamen’s petition to the King had seemed to threaten. The battering of the Repulse seemed terrible, but in actual fact she had not been very seriously damaged: the only casualty was to a lieutenant, whose leg was shot away. The hull was practically unscathed, though the rigging was very much cut about. It seems as though the mutineers had deliberately aimed high. This is certainly true of those in the Agamemnon, which had wished to follow the Leopard, but had been restrained by fear of the Montague, whose guns, they were asked to notice, were pointing into her. Brenton, who had as near as a touch shot one of the Delegates from the latter ship, but had just managed to control his foolhardy impulse, was actually aloft cutting loose the topsails, sure that the ship was deserting, when the crew decided after all not to slip the cable, but to fire guns at the Repulse in sign of adherence to the mutiny. It was all a feint, however, for they asked the officers to lay the guns, knowing they would be careful to aim wide of the mark.

As soon as he had anchored, the commander of the Leopard sent an account to the Admiralty:

H.M.S. Leopard at the Lower Hope,

9 June 1797.

It is with the greatest pleasure I have to acquaint you for their Lordship’s information of the arrival at this place of H.M.S. Leopard left under my command. You will be pleased to state to their Lordships that having good reason to suppose that the greater part of the crew deluded into a state of mutiny were willing to return to their allegiance and accept H.M.’s most gracious pardon, could their honest intentions be brought into action by a well concerted plan, I seized therefore on the opportunity which occurred this evening of the Delegates being out of the ship, and having previously armed the marines, petty officers and everybody in whom confidence and dependence could be placed, and being ably assisted and supported by the Lieutenants and other officers of the ship, the hands were turned up, and my intentions made known and insisted upon. A party held out and opposed us; I am sorry to say that in the scuffle seven men were wounded. The whole, however, were soon reduced to order. The cables were cut, and notwithstanding a continued fire from the neighbouring ships, we carried her in safety to this place. I am happy to add that our good example was soon followed by H.M.S. Repulse, which we have reason to suppose got safe into Sheerness harbour. But for further particulars I must refer their Lordships to Lieut. Ellis whom I have judged necessary to send express with this account. 

This reticent report of a daring action must have filled Spencer with joy. That two ships of prime importance, the first of fifty, the second of sixty-four guns, both of the Yarmouth squadron, had returned to duty in spite of dangerous opposition showed plainly enough that the mutiny was tottering. There would be no need to strike; he had only to wait.

Yet there was one man at least who was not of this opinion. Fretted by inaction, he proposed with his own hand to aim a thrust at the monster he considered as the head and fount of all the disgraceful trouble. This was Captain J. W. T. Dixon of the Gorgon, at Woolwich, a ship whose officers were so stern for duty that a few weeks later the crew mutinied and were eager to hang two of them. Dixon made the incredible suggestion to Spencer, that if the First Lord could smuggle him aboard the Sandwich, he would take it upon himself to murder Parker! This infamous notion was on a far lower level ethically than anything the mutineers had put forward in their most distracted moments; but Dixon wrote that “he had so completely made up his mind to the result of the assassination, that his Lordship could be assured that he would be happy in performing that which appeared to him of such public advantage! ” Spencer, scribbling notes for the answer to such a degrading proposal, replied with a biting irony which it is to be feared passed by the crazy mind of the recipient:

Private, 10th June.

Say that I give him great credit for his very spirited offer, but that I trust it will not be necessary to have recourse to so very desperate a measure on this occasion.

Spencer, whatever his faults may have been, was after all a worthy child of the finest traditions both of family and of the service.

But if time was in favour of the authorities, it was clear to the Delegates that it was definitely against themselves. The Fleet was breaking up. That the store-ship Serapis should have slipped out of their clutches a few days earlier did not portend much, for she had not joined the mutiny, but had been captured and forced to adhere; that some merchant ships still held up by the blockade should have bettered the occasion of the fracas on the 9th to weigh anchor and slip through, was only to be expected; but that two of their main supports from the North Sea Fleet should have turned their coats was only too mournfully significant. And at about midnight of the 9th the Ardent also had stolen away to Sheerness, exchanging a few desultory shots with the Monmouth. Whatever was to be done must be done at once, and the only thing to do was to see if they could not at the eleventh hour get some sort of favourable terms in exchange for submission. Accordingly, on the 10th, Parker wrote to Captain Knight, whom the Delegates felt they could trust:

Sir,

I am commanded by the Delegates of the Fleet to inform you that you are authorised to proceed to London and to represent to our most Gracious Sovereign, that the Seamen of the Fleet at the Nore are determined on receiving his most Gracious pardon to return to their duty with this pioviso that no officers sent from the ships be returned without the consent of the ship’s company, and that they will trust to our most Gracious Sovereign for redressing our grievances in the way most agreeable to His Majesty.

I remain. Sir,

Your most humble servant,

Richard Parker,

President

Knight was perfectly ready to undertake this new commission; it was no fun being on board ship, and no doubt he would be able to claim expenses from the Admiralty, as he had for his previous trip, to the tune of £11 15s. But before leaving he was presented with a document:

Sir,

We the ships’ company named in the margin [all the ships are named, including the Sandwich] take the liberty of laying our present grte\ ances before $ou being resohed to invest you with full power to have our unhappy affairs settled being determined not to lay here any longer and have our enemies prejudice oui beloved King and Country. We now being willing at any time to meet our enemies, and there is no doubt if ever we do fall in with an enemy to our loving King and Country there is no doubt but we will let them know that we are Englishmen and men which are true to our Country.

(i) That His Majesty will be please to give an indemnification for all offences past signed by His Majesty.

(ii) That all Wages and Bounty now due may be paid up as usual (m) The Montagu to be repaired or docked unless the Dutch fleet are at sea (iv) That all the ships’ company wherever they are with the officers now on board may be kept together and not separated.

We wish the officers that are offensive to us may be sent elsewhere to serve. We pray that all people of our ships that may be taken up on suspicion of being traitors may have the same indulgence granted as we have.

We pray most sincerely that the Marines may have such encouragement as will satisfy them. That all men who may have deserted His Majesty’s service prior to this date may be called m and pardoned.

The above delivered in presence of all the officers by the company of the Montagu requesting Captain Knight will speedily lay before His Most Gracious Majesty this humble request.

Dated on board the Montagu, the 10th of June 1797.

The Company of the Montagu.

To Captain John Knight.

Probably they hoped that a new asseveration of loyalty would help them; but at all events they would put it on record, for what wounded them most throughout the whole “unhappy affair” was the stigma of treachery fastened upon them. Their new terms, obviously, were the least they could not now demand, but beg for. They were again throwing themselves at their Sovereign’s feet, giving up every claim, asking merely for pardon, and that they might not have once more set over them officers who no doubt would be only too ready to wreak a horrible revenge upon them. One might think that the monarch might be moved by this appeal if it reached him, which most likely it never did; and in any case he was hardly in a mood to listen to pleas for kindness, even to this last piteous appeal. The moment Knight arrived in London with his message, a Cabinet council was held, and in the evening an Admiralty Board sat to consider the subject.

The events which took place inside the crumbling Fleet for the next two or three days were exciting enough: the mutiny was in dissolution, fierce arguments and struggles on every ship betrayed a mixture of panic and stubborn resolve. Buckner, intently on the watch, could see little and judge less; the fact that on the 1oth all the ships temporarily struck their red flags and hoisted either the blue “signal of agreeableness” or white ones merely indicated that the Fleet considered a truce to have been called for Knight to go on shore. On the other hand, the fact that trade was allowed to pass up the river unhindered was an encouraging sign. Buckner also gathered that the men of the Hound were trying to escape, and that thirty had been transferred to the Sandwich, where also violent dissensions amounting to “dreadful contests” were popularly reported to be taking place. On the Sunday, for some unknown reason, the flags throughout the Fleet were flown at half mast.

The Admiralty was jubilant; things were shaping well, and Duncan had been reinforced not only by some ships from the Channel Fleet, and Admiral Makharoff’s Russian squadron, but also by some of his own hitherto mutinous ships, such as the Glatton, which had never gone to the Nore. Convinced that some of the sailors would try to escape, they were on the look-out for deserters, and sent the following orders to Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley:

11 June 1797.

I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to signify their directions to you to repair to South End in Essex, where von will take the most effectual steps, in concert with the officer commanding H.M. military forces m that neighbourhood, for preventing the escape of any pait of the crews of the said ships (i.e. at the Isore) which their Lordships have reason to think will be attempted, and to follow such further orders as they may judge it necessary to furnish you with… It is only necessary for me to add,” that m any communications which may take place, no encouragement is at any time to be given them that any proposition short of unconditional submission can be listened to by their Lordships.

E.N. [Nepean].

The last sentence reflected the answer to the message carried by Knight, an answer which Buckner was ordered to convey to the crew of the Montague, in a letter which Nepean set him on the same date by Knight, who returned to Sheerness that evening.

This reply was the final blow which shattered the organisation of the mutiny. So far as can be gathered, the Delegates now resolved to allow the officers to go on shore, to permit each ship to do as seemed best to it, and to let any further deserting ship go unmolested. But even now the matter hung in the balance. Thus on the morning of the 12th, although there were still twenty-two ships at the Nore, only two of them flew the red flag of defiance in the morning; but by three o’clock the number had been increased to eight, the remainder flying their proper colours. So it was reported that day by Sir Edward Knatchbull, with some command on shore, when he wrote to Mr. Speaker Addington (afterwards Lord Sidmouth) from the Headquarters at Faversham. At the same time he told the sad news that Pasley had had no luck, for only one runaway sailor had been captured. The worst feature of the situation for Knatchbull was that the revenue sailors (who were not fighting men, and had families to think of) showered such abuse on his troopers, that he could hardly keep them quiet under the fusillade of his vituperation! He had to see to it that the mate of the Active cutter was bound over to keep the peace, so deeply was the interference of soldiers in naval affairs resented.

A note Knatchbull made in giving a list of the ships flying the red flag – “Belliqueux and Director moored on the bow of the Sandwich to sink her if occasion requires” —is significant of the rent state of the Fleet. Parker was evidently arguing for surrender, but those who opposed it were not going to allow the Sandwich, the centre of what remained of their organisation, to topple the whole structure down by going over to the enemy. Yet bit by bit, openly or furtively, the array of mutinous ships of war dwindled away. On the night of Monday-Tuesday the Standard slipped her cable and made up-river, whereupon her leading Delegate, Wallace, a man of some education, shot himself to escape his fate. She was followed by the Agamemnon, Nassau, Vestal and Isis, which, having springs on their cables, made their way out from the middle of the Fleet; and by one o’clock on the 13th all were anchored opposite Block House Fort near Gravesend. The Montague, Lion and Director were expected to follow.

But the change over on these ships had not taken place without vigorous, and sometimes dangerous, opposition from those who were still loyal to the ideas for which the sailors had mutinied. A battle which must have been typical of many others bloodied the decks of the Swan sloop, once so hotly mutinous that she had been nicknamed “the little Inflexible” to show her honourable likeness to the big ship where the trouble was chiefly fomented. On Monday, the 12th, some of the Delegates went on board her to find out what the feelings of the men were, and mustered them, together with the master and the surgeon, so as to ask those who wished to adhere to “the Sailors’ Cause” to go to the starboard side of the quarter-deck. To their horror, when the master and surgeon promptly moved over to the opposite side, they  were followed by more than half the crew; whereupon the Delegates and their supporters immediately rushed below, collected weapons, and leaped back on deck to drive their weaker brethren into the boats, some being slightly wounded during the tussle.

The ejected part of the crew then made for the Isis, which had struck the red flag and was going up the Thames; but when they climbed on board they found the officers and men furiously contesting the command of the ship. The men were victorious, and forced the officers with their small party to retreat to the poop, where they made another determined stand, to be eventually dislodged and compelled to slide down the stern-ladders into the boats. Even so they did not manage to get away, for they were fired upon, recaptured, and hauled on board, where some of them were put in irons. Many were wounded in this affray, and three—a midshipman, a gunner’s mate, and an ordinary seaman—were killed. But the next day feeling had once again veered, perhaps because of the rumour that Sir Erasmus Gower was about to attack. The men resigned the ship into the hands of the captain, who was on board, and the Isis, as we have seen, meekly followed the surrendering flotilla to Gravesend.

It was now transparently clear to everyone that the mutiny was, to all purposes good or bad, at an end; and the most fiery leaders, accepting the fact, decided to make their escape. As early as the 11th a large boat-load of seamen, under full sail, had been chased by a revenue cutter, but had had the heels of her and got away. Thus on the 12th the authorities sent a ship to cruise off the mouth of the Thames to capture any men who might try to escape by sea; and on the 14th, hearing that Parker was on board a Danish vessel, or alternatively was intending to slip away with other ringleaders in the Pylades, the Duke of Portland, as Secretary of State, publicly offered a reward of £500 “to any person or persons who shall apprehend, or cause to be apprehended, the said Richard Parker.” “ Richard Parker,” the office added under Portland’s signature,

is about thirty years of age; wears his own hair, which is black, untied, though not cropt; about five feet nine or ten inches high, has rather a prominent nose, dark eyes and complexion, and thin visage; is generally slovenly dressed in a plain blue half-worn coat,’ and a whitish or light-coloured waistcoat, and half-boots .

 Would he be caught? Had he escaped? It would be impossible to answer the question until the Sandwich came in.

But so far the Sandwich had not come in. Soon she would be almost alone, for ship after ship was leaving her to an ever more solitary ingloriousness. On the same day that the Standard and the other ships sailed up to Gravesend, the Grampus sent a message on shore asking her captain to resume command. Still the Sandwich did not move, though she sent a flag of truce to Sheerness begging Buckner to come on board, which he refused to do. In the afternoon the Champion sailed in under the guns of the fort, and in the evening the redoubtable Monmouth bore down from the Nore. But she was so feared, so little faith was put in her good intention, that every preparation was made to subdue her by force. The guns of the fort were manned and primed, ready to open, while the Ardent drew up on the opposite side to be able to catch her between two fires. She had, however, come to surrender; yet it was with difficulty that the men of the Repulse, remembering the gruelling they had had on the night of their escape, could be restrained from going to take their revenge. Still the Sandwich did not come in, though under cover of darkness the Brilliant and some others joined the repentant ships snuggling close under the protecting fortress of Sheerness.

But in the meanwhile what was happening to Richard Parker?