The End

The ill-starred man exalted to the nominal leadership of a mass of people, with whom indeed he sympathised up to a point, but whose extreme elements he was forced to obey, found himself more and more a wisp tossed about on the surface of other people’s tumultuous, uncertain and even conflicting passions. On the ships around him desperate ad ion was being suggested by those who thought any fate preferable to surrender: better, some fell, to die under the guns of Gravesend than to submit, and were opposed by others, less forward perhaps in the mutiny, and therefore with less to fear, who advised quietly sailing into Sheerness. For a day or two a struggle of flags went on, sometimes the red predominating, sometimes the blue or white, while occasionally the Union colours were noticed by the watchers on either shore. Would Parker escape? they wondered. But he did not bolt, either because he was baffled in his attempts, or resigned to his fate: it is even possible that he thought he might be able to clear himself.

Even in the early days, as we have seen, the Sandwich was by no means solid in support of the mutiny; others besides Parker may have thought there was too much talk of hanging. Perhaps if the Sandwich had not been the flagship of the mutineers—-as well as of the authorities – she might have yielded sooner than the 12th, on which day, so to speak, she began to surrender, for she released her officers, hitherto confined. The next day, however, the crew repented of this step and once more shut the officers up; but Parker himself let them out again on the 13th, though he forbade them to talk with the people. Then, on a suggestion of Parker’s, while the committeemen were holding a conference in the ward-room, a number of petty officers went on shore with Lieutenant Mott to fetch further copies of the King’s proclamation of pardon to all those—ringleaders excepted—who would give themselves up. Then Parker, mustering the crew, asked them whether they would prefer to continue under his orders, or return under the command of the officers. The men, sick of the whole business, and hungry as well, cried out almost unanimously, “To the officers,” loudly incited by Black Jack Campbell, who, having been flogged under Parker’s rule, saw no special benefit in it. Davis, however, the “much trusted” mutineer captain of the Sandwich, supported by one other, objected “ The ships astern will fire on us”; but he was ignored. Some of the Delegates then attempted to hoist a boat to escape in, and were prevented by the rest of the crew, but Parker does not seem to have been among those who wished to run away. On the contrary, he led the three cheers which set the stamp of approval on the seamen’s choice; and when Lieutenant Flat! demanded the keys of the magazine and small arms, he handed them over, saying, “I give up the charge of the ship to you.”

The officers at once decided to run the vessel into Sheerness, but when they gave orders to cast off, Parker ran up to Flatt, crying, “If you offer to unmoor, the ships astern will fire on us.” He was still in terror of the paramount Inflexible, whose attitude was threatening enough, as was that of the Montague. Flatt bluntly answered that he did not care a rap if they did fire, and ordered the fore-sails to be loosed. The deflated president, again unstable at a crisis, could not make up his mind as to how he should behave. First he asked Flatt to confine him; but when that officer told him he would order him to a cabin and put two sentinels over him, he refused to go, and insisted on helping to man the capstan. Once the ship was under weigh, Flatt consulted with Mott as to whether they should seize Parker on the spot, or wait till they got to Sheerness. Agreeing on immediate action, they went up to him on the quarter-deck. Mott caught hold of him by the collar, Parker offering no resistance, and sent him to a lieutenant’s cabin, over which he set a guard of two trustworthy men.

It was now Tuesday evening, and the ship, owing to weather conditions, could not make Sheerness that night; it was not until three o’clock the next morning that she drifted in to port, and then Flatt went to Parker’s cabin to put him in irons. At about half-past six the Admiral’s boat, commanded by the coxswain, and carrying a picket guard of the West York Militia, rowed out to the ship, an action which for some obscure reason was considered “ pregnant with danger,” some doubt—though how there could have been a doubt it is hard to see—still existing in the minds of the authorities as to what the attitude of the Sandwich was. The officers were in evidence waiting to receive the boat, but otherwise the decks were almost deserted, and significantly silent. As soon as Parker heard the boat, which he knew must be coming for him, he asked for a guard of four seamen, for he was conscious that many of the sailors were now incensed against him, and would hurt him if they could. He was learning the bitter lesson that success alone, and not good intentions, however clearly they may shine in action, can earn the gratitude of human beings. No doubt he felt the lesson acutely. After all, it was his neck that was in danger, not theirs. “Remember,” he was to write a few days after,

never to make yourself the busy body of the lower classes, for they are cowardly, selfish, and ungrateful; the least trifle will intimidate them, and him whom they have exalted one moment as their Demagogue, the next they will not scruple to exalt upon the gallows. I own it is with pain I make such a remark to you, but the truth demands it. I have experimentally proved it, and very soon am to be made the example of it.

In this mood Parker was taken in charge by a party of eight or ten militiamen; his hands were tied together behind his back, and, he was led very quietly to the waiting boat.

It was a curious freight that made swiftly for the expectant shore. In the forepart of the boat the militiamen sat with their loaded muskets held upright in their hands, and faced the stern in which sat, or rather lay, the now degraded president. He looked towards the bows; behind him was the coxswain with his knees upon his prisoner’s shoulders so that the latter seemed to be lying back between his legs, while, seated, a lieutenant of the flagship held a drawn sword above his head. These elaborate precautions were unnecessary; the man was bound and unarmed, and had no hope, no intention, of evading his fate. A seething crowd, in which civilians mingled sparsely with soldiers, waited on the landing-place, agog to see him; and as he was led past the top of the stairs they burst into hoots and hisses. Parker, who had so far been as calm and dignified as physical circumstances would allow, was cruelly put out by this hostile demonstration. “Don’t shoot me! ” he begged. “It is not my fault. I will clear myself.”

At the guard-house his pockets were searched, the officials’ only reward being a cold diary of events (they had hoped for evidence of sedition), and he was then thrust into one of the cells under the chapel of the garrison, a place some ten feet square, provided with thick iron doors. It was known as the “Black Hole,” since not the slightest ray of light could enter it. After a few hours he was taken to the Commissioner’s house to be examined by magistrates; but they did no more than prove identity, and make out a warrant to have him incarcerated in Maidstone gaol. Thus at about midday he was set in a post-chaise between two stout constables of Sheerness, his elbows tied together at the back with a rope. An escort of some twenty men of the West Yorks, headed by a subaltern, took the humiliated but outwardly serene prisoner “very slowly” to his final lodging on the land.

On the 15th, then, once the Sandwich had come in, only three ships—the Inflexible, Montague and. Belliqueux – remained at the Great Nore, but even they flew the Union instead of “the flag of contumacy. It was evident that they would have given in,

but with a creditable consistency and courage, [they] remonstrated against the punishment of their delegates, and refused to surrender, until they were assured of a general pardon; for, they argued, the criminal intention was common to all, but in extent and degree, although the necessity of the case obliged them to select the best m energy and intellect to give unity to their purpose, and effect to their designs.

Since this forgiveness was not forthcoming, some of the Delegates made up their minds to save their necks, as a few from other ships (notably, one suspects, the Swan) had already done. Three boat-loads of mutineers put off from the Inflexible and rowed to Faversham, where nearly twenty of them seized hold of a small ship called the Good Intent, sailed away for Calais, and landed there, honourably sending the boat back in charge of two boys. It was reported that some of the men of the Montague also were able to get away, and found refuge in Holland. Meanwhile at Sheerness, captains and subordinate officers went through the loyal vessels beating up for volunteers to man the gunboats, with which it was intended to attack the last refractory ships if they should not come in within the next two days. But the following day, the 16th, these three ships finally surrendered. On Friday morning the Montague sent her committee-men on shore, and as each ship gave herself up the Delegates were seized and imprisoned. In some cases parties of soldiers were sent on board to prevent any further outbreak. The great mutiny was ended at last.

As soon as the Sandwich had been brought to anchor, Mosse, who had been absent from her for the last few days, went on board to resume command; and shortly afterwards Buckner’s flag broke at the fore to the cheers of the seamen. While the prisons were gradually being filled to overflowing, till the Eolus hulk had to be requisitioned to house the surplus, every effort was made to bring things to normal; victualling was resumed without a hitch, and enquiries were pressed on. Lord Keith at once went on board the flagship to begin investigations, while two magistrates were sent down from London to help in the collection of evidence, and also to discover the secret causes of the trouble. They were to lay bare the link with Corresponding Societies and Jacobins. One of them was Aaron Graham of Hatton Garden. He was not at all pleased with this new commission, which he strongly suspected of being another wild goose chase. He had better things to do, and when the affair seemed to threaten his arrangements on the 16th, wrote to his office correspondent. King:

I shall go into the country for a day or two (as my hay wants cutting) unless you forbid me by a note this evening. If you really want me don’t mind my hay, but believe me always at moment’s notice,

Your faithful humble servant,

A. Graham.

Alas for his hay; it went uncut, at least for the time being, for on that day he and Daniel Williams, magistrate at Lambeth, appeared at Sheemess, and it was they who went through Parker’s preliminary examination.

The authorities rushed forward the trial of the chief fiend, as they thought him, and on the 19th issued the order for his court martial, appointing Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley to be President of the Court. Nepean, in a letter which does not read very pleasantly, egged him indecently on to convict the accused:

You may prove almost anything you like against him, for he has been guilty of everything that’s bad. Admiral Buckner will be a material evidence to state the proceedings which took place on his visit to the Sandwich, and which, indeed, of itself appears to be enough to dispose of a dozen scoundrels of Parker’s description,

and it is to be feared that Nepean missed the rebuke neatly implied in a letter which Pasley wrote him after the trial:’

My dear Sir,

The conviction of the villain Parker must have been so very dear to you at the Admiralty that the place and time of his execution might have been previously settled.

At all events, the Court, with Pasley as President, and Mosse as prosecutor, sat on the 22nd in full pomp on board the Neptune in Long Reach.

The result was a foregone conclusion. As Parker wrote in his last missive: “I have reason to think the Civil Power would have acquitted me, but by the Articles of War my destruction was irremidiable [sic]”; but it is doubtful if even the most humane civil court could have pronounced a sentence less than that of death. For weeks Parker had been the ostensible head of a mutiny which had threatened the country’s ruin, and during which many acts deserving of death, even under the civil code, had been committed. As anybody who has ever sat on a court martial knows, such tribunals are scrupulously fair, and this one was no exception. Not only was Parker allowed to call what witnesses he pleased, the Court even insisted on his bringing in Northesk and Knight to witness in favour of his character, and of his courteous behaviour to them: he was advised to withdraw a question damaging to him, even after the answer had been given; he was allowed extra time to prepare his defence.

Throughout his trial he faced his accusers collected and dignified, foreseeing the end, unfolding his defence in a speech which did not lack the eloquence of simplicity:

As I have been at sea from my youth, to the knowledge of one of the honourable members of this court, I hope nothing can be expected from me but plain facts. I cannot be expected to dress up my defence m that pompous language which a lawyer might have done could I have procured a lawyer’s constant attendance.

In the first place I have to return thanks to this honourable Corn! for the great indulgence allowed me by giving me a sufficient time to defend myself against the heavy charges brought against me. Nothing but a consciousness of the integrity of my intentions, and a knowledge that I only entered into it after it had commenced, with a view to endeavouring to stop the fatal spirit I saw too predominant in the Fleet, could have supported me during the examination of so many witnesses against me. . , I may be asked how I was the person pitched on. The answer is that the Delegates of the Fleet insisted, and as an individual, in the state the Fleet was m, it was impossible for me to refuse their commands, but I again solemnly declare that I knew nothing of the Mutiny until it broke out… . Conscious that I have prevented a number of evil consequences which would have insued, at the frequent hazard ofmy life, I can wait with calmness the decision of this honourable Court.

He pleaded consistently that he had done all he could to prevent excesses; without him, and some of the other Delegates, he declared, there would have been a bloody descent upon the land: he had been compelled to act as the real instigators of the mutiny (the escaped men of the Inflexible?) had ordered him to act. No doubt he overstated his case when he said he had become president only to bring the mutiny to an end. Yet it is probable that he thought that with a moderate leader a solution similar to the one at Spithead might have been reached: that would indeed be to bring the mutiny to an end; but after the fruitless visit of the Board it was too late to resign. In any case the witnesses he called did not clear him of participating in the bombardment of the Repulse. Something of what he said was true; but even if all of it had been truth sworn and attested, his position at the head of the mutiny made his sentence indeed “irremidiable.” On hearing it he remained perfectly composed, saying only to an astonished Court:

I have heard your sentence—I shall submit to it without a struggle—I feel thus because I am sensible of the rectitude of my intentions. Whatever offences may have been committed, I hope my life will be the only sacrifice. I trust it will be thought a sufficient atonement. Pardon, I beseech you, the other men; they will return with alacrity to their duty.

For the last time Parker preached moderation, and once more without result.

Pasley, not alone among members of the Court, wished him to be hung in chains as a more horrible example; and the King, whom Parker’s wife, summoned in haste from Scotland, had uselessly petitioned on the 23rd, agreed with this grisly point of view:

The offence of which Richard Parker has been convicted [he wrote to Spencer on the 27th] is of so heinous and dangerous a nature that I can scarcely suppose there can be any legal objection, after confirming the sentence for his being hanged, to order his body to be hung in chains on the most conspicuous land in sight of the ships at the Nore. Earl Spencer has therefore very properly directed the legality of hanging the body in chains to be enquired into, and if it can be done is to order it to be effected.

Whether it was found that the proceeding would be illegal, or that it was feared the step might provoke fresh murmurings among the sailors, or inspire a riot on land, the mutineers were spared the sight of their dead leader rotting in the wind.

At six o’clock on the morning of the 30th, Parker was awakened from a peaceful sleep on the Sandwich, where he had passed the night. After the barber had attended him, by his request, he dressed himself in a suit of mourning which he had been given by a friend, the waistcoat only being lacking; and having made a good breakfast, he drew up a will, leaving his wife the reversion of a small estate he said he was heir to. To those around him he declared himself deeply sorry that he had brought the country to the verge of calamity by fomenting the mutiny, but again insisted that he had had no connection whatever with any seditious persons, and once more maintained that but for him the ships would have been taken into enemy ports. He seems to have forgotten his own order to sail—which had been ignored.

At half-past eight he was told that the chaplain of the Sandwich, the stout-hearted Hatherall, was ready to pray with him on the quarter-deck, where he went at once, bareheaded. Just for an instant, when he arrived there, he lost his colour, but soon recovered, and bowed to the officers. Being given a chair, he sat down, and let his eye travel calmly over the marines under arms encircling the deck, beyond to the ships thronged with sailors paraded to see him die, and perhaps to the Isle of Grain, where a scaffolding had been put up so that the civilian population should not be denied the pleasure of witnessing his end. After a few minutes he got up, told Hatherall he was ready, and asked him to read, besides the two psalms the chaplain had chosen, the 51st, which begins, “Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness; according to the multitude of thy mercies, do away mine offences.” He recited each alternate verse in a clear, steady voice. While he was still praying, the nine o’clock half-hour warning gun was fired from the Espion, but he gave no sign of emotion on hearing it.

When the prayers were finished he asked if he might have a glass of white wine, which was immediately given him, upon which he drank “first to the salvation of my soul, and next to the forgiveness of all my enemies.” The gesture was perhaps a trifle theatrical, but it is easier to die if you can act a part to yourself. He then asked Mosse if he would shake hands – a symbol of mutual forgiveness, or of human fellow-feeling—which the captain of the Sandwich did not refuse; and Parker’s arms now being bound, a solemn procession moved from the quarter-deck to the forecastle. As he went up the scaffold he asked Mosse if he might be allowed to speak, adding hastily as he saw a look of hesitation on his captain’s face, I am not going, sir, to address the ship’s company. I wish only to declare that I acknowledge the justice of the sentence under which I suffer, and I hope that my death may be deemed a sufficient atonement, and save the lives of others.” He then asked for a minute in which to collect himself, saying after a moment, “I am ready. The halter was adjusted round his neck, and as soon as the cap was drawn over his face he walked firmly to the end of the scaffold, where, dropping the handkerchief, he thrust his hands swiftly into his coat pockets. As he jumped off, the bow-gun fired, and the reeve-rope catching him, he was swung slowly up to the yarn-arm. He died almost at once. After hanging an hour, his body was brought down, a death mask was taken, and he was carried to the graveyard on shore. His wife, who that morning had made desperate efforts to get to the Sandwich, came during the night to remove the body, which she had buried a few days later in the ground of St. Mary Matfellon, Whitechapel.

Parker’s prayer that he might be the only man to suffer was disregarded. Courts sat for weeks, during which over four hundred men were tried, of whom fifty-nine were condemned to death, though only twenty-nine were actually executed, among them, of course, Gregory and Hockless. Nine were ordered to be flogged, while twenty-nine were condemned to various terms of imprisonment. many of them finding their way to the Marshalsea and the Cold Baths Field Prison, Clerkenwell. Even among the prisons of those days, before Howard’s reforms had gone very far, the latter had an unsavoury reputation. “It is stated that certain of the prisoners … obtained some paper, but as they had no other writing materials, they had to use skewers as pens, and tobacco juice or blood as ink, in order to inform their friends of their condition,” and some years later Southey considered that it exceeded hell itself as a place of punishment. The site has since been occupied by the General Post Office, and tactfully renamed Mount Pleasant!

The rest of the sailors, apart from who were imprisoned in the Eagle hulk at Chatham and were pardoned after the battle of Camperdown, returned to their duty with that alacrity which Parker had foretold. On 23rd June Keith and Buckner had struck their flags, the former to go back to London on the way to a command in the Channel Fleet, the latter to sink into an obscure retirement. The pestilentially rotting Sandwich was broken up as being too foul for human habitation, and the rest of the Fleet put to sea, where on 11th October they exhibited their unimpaired fighting spirit by winning the glorious, bitterly contested victory of Camperdown. Seven of the mutinous ships took part in this battle, which is noted for its fury. The Ardent “lost her captain … as well as more than a third of her whole ship’s company, [and] proved herself in the fight second to none, even without her captain.” She had more casualties than any other ship, the Belliqueux being third on the roll, while the Director, Montague, Isis Monmouth and Lancaster also took part. The stain was washed out.

On 30th October the Fleet, gaily dressed, with all its flags and pennons streaming in the wind, was once more arrayed at the Nore, on this occasion impatiently awaiting its Sovereign. He was to review the ships, for he was eager to show his love for those men whom, not so very many weeks ago, he had wished to see ignobly starved into submission. The King embarked at Greenwich early in the morning, but unluckily it was so rough that his yacht could not get farther down the river than Gravesend. Although seriously incommoded, being, in fact, thrown out of bed by the violence of the waves, his first thought was for his sailors. “Do not consider my person,” he begged Captain Trollope, whom he had just knighted, “but consider, if I cannot get to the Nore, the disappointment of those brave fellows, whom I long to thank for defending me, protecting my people, and preserving my country.” If he, or his ministers, had thought of the seamen in those terms a few weeks earlier; there need have been no hint of the alarming, blood-expiated, issueless, mutiny at the Nore.