A First-Hand Account of the Mutiny at the Nore

Richard Parker About to be Hanged, artist unknown. From the Newgate Calendar. Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

From the Sheerness Guardian, June 12th, 1869

The following interesting account of the Mutiny at the Nore was written by an eye-witness of the events described, then a workman in the Sheerness Dockyard. We have been permitted to publish it by the kindness of Mr. Thomas Bastard, who possesses the original M.S., the writer being Mr. Bastard’s father.

The account has not only the merit of being genuine matter of fact narration, but it displays, in several passages, “touches of nature,” which will enable the reader, seventy-two years after the event, to place himself, with a small exercise of imagination, in the position of the writer, when, from hour to hour, the dweller in Sheerness listened for the “alarm,” and the common fear was that the mutineers would storm the fort and destroy the town.

What ever the real danger was, the fear of some “deeds of violence” towards the inhabitants was, at the time, evidently a very lively feeling of impending evil.

Another value this narrative has is the fact that the writer saw the events of the time from another point of view, from that occupied by Captain Cunningham, of whose full and precise history we completed the publication last week. Captain Cunningham appears to attribute the mutiny to over indulgence of the men, and ignores or undervalues the grievances which certainly did exist in the then treatment of the navy.

Mr. Bastard, without at all showing sympathy with the cause of the mutineers, by some of the facts he sets down, maybe considered to admit that the discontent of which Parker made capital was not an entirely unreasonable feeling. Bad as the course taken by the mutineers was, it was not an “effect” without “cause,” and Captain Cunningham’s suggested influence of “foreigners” and the “corresponding societies” were not the only causes.

The numerous reforms of the last seventy years, and the improved circumstances surrounding our “Hearts of Oak” of the present day, have happily made the state of navel affairs which obtained before the mutiny, “a matter of history,” and nothing more.

May 12th, 1797.- Loving brother and sister, we are happy the hear of the welfare of yourselves and family, and I am to announce that these few lines leave us all in as good a state of health as possibly we could wish to be, considering the distress of mind we have laboured under from the 12th of May to the present time, June 14th, when things begin to wear a more favourable aspect.

Dear Brother, I cannot help hinting to you that the poorest person in the place could find asylum, but your sister and family. I may say with safety there were not twenty women left in the place. We had the good fortune to have a friend at Rochester, who sent for my wife and family, and all that she could pack up, that is all the linen and wearing apparel. She was gone eighteen days, and during the time of her being away we were much in doubt of their besieging the place.

I now proceed to give you a short sketch of the proceedings of the mutineers, as near the truth as I could possibly get at it, as for newspaper accounts you must not credit them.

On the 12th May, 1797, I was on board the Sandwich when the mutiny broke out. I saw them point guns that were on the forecastle aft, towards the captain’s cabin, with intent to fire on the officers, in case they attempted to appose them. The next thing they did was to reeve the yard ropes, with a view to hang any of the officers who might attempt to stay their career.

In the evening they chose delegates, and formed a committee to investigate any business that the delegates proposed to them. However, whatever the delegates proposed the committee agreed to. A signal was then hoisted on board the Sandwhich, she being the Admirals ship, for the other delegates to come on board. Mr. Parker, who was chosen admiral, used to repeat whatever positions he had determined on, and these were generally agreed to without a dissentient voice.

First I should have told you how they treated their officers on board the Sandwich. When they had formed their committee, they went on to the , and told the captain that he might keep his cabin. They then called the first lieutenant and told him they wanted no more of his services there was a boat, or if he would step on the forecastle, there was a rope, whichever he pleased.

Meaning to hang him, for as I before mentioned, the ropes were reeved on the yards for the express purpose of hanging any of the officers who might attempt to oppose them, or any of the men who might revolt from their cause. They were all bound upon oath to be true one to the other. The next demand they made was for the keys of the magazine and spirit store-room. The same thing was done in every ship throughout the fleet. The fleet at that time consisted of the following ships:

Iris32Le Epsion24St. Fiorenzo36
On May 31st the following ships joined:
On June 5th the following also joined:

On the 13th May all the delegates came on shore, with a large red flag flying. In that manner they paraded the Blue Houses and Garrison, with a band of music and their colours flying every day.

On the 14th May they went to the sick quarters to enquire how the sick were treated. (The sick quarters were in the buildings known as the “Old Swan,” which were pulled down before Albion Place was built, part of the site of which was occupied by these buildings.)

Hearing some complaints from the sick they so hurt a Mr. Saffery, their doctor, by interrogating him, that he cut his throat. (The actual fact was, that Mr. Saffery was so alarmed by the threats of the mutineers, that he was thrown into a fever, during one of the paroxysms of which, not being watched, he committed suicide.)

On the same day (14th) the whole body of delegates went up to the harbour to inspect the UnionSpanker, and Grand hospital ships.

They much approved of the treatment on board the Union and Grand. Onboard the Spanker they did not approve of the treatment of the men, and thereupon ordered the steward and butcher of the ship to be severely ducked, from thence to be taken to the Sandwich and there to be flogged. The conduct of the butcher proved to be so bad that they nearly drowned him. The steward they had down and severely ducked him, and afterwards left him to the mercy of the ship’s company.

On the 14th the ships of the fleet then in port all began to turn their officers on shore, some more and some less of them, accordingly as they were liked or disliked by the ship’s company.

The command of the ships then devolved on the delegates. They came on shore every day in a manner sufficiently threatening to try the stoutest hearts, armed as they all were with pistols and cutlasses.

About the 22nd, Admiral Buckner left shore to go to the Sandwich, all the delegates following him in boats to the number of twenty-three, to try and settle their grievances if possible, but did not succeed. On the 28th Lord Spencer (First Lord of the Admiralty), Lord Harden, and another lord came to Sheerness.

At eleven o’clock the next day they had a meeting with the delegates at the commissioner’s House but they could settle nothing.

About this time there were two thousand soldiers in the Garrison under Sir Charles Grey. On the 28th, about two o’clock in the afternoon, orders were given for the guns round the battery to be shotted and furnaces got ready to heat red hot balls. The inhabitants were in great anxiety of mind.

On the 30th, about two o’clock in the morning, nine or ten guns from the battery were fired on the Nancy , going out to the fleet, as all communication from the shore to the fleet was stopped. The distress and grief which fell upon the three or four thousand inhabitants it is beyond the reach of my pen to describe.

The 31st was a day ever to be remembered in Sheerness for the distress. Mothers were carrying their suckling children at their breasts, and the disconsolate husbands carrying their little property down to the Chatham boat. The women and children were flying from their homes, and but few women and children were to be seen at Sheerness.

I believe, about the 30th, in the evening, the Clyde frigate slipped her cable and came into the harbour, every man in the ship turned in favour of the King.

Next day, on the 31st about half past twelve o’clock, the St. Fiorenzo slipped her cable, and ran through the fleet receiving fire from what shall I call them- butchers, yes-not British seaman. But I am afraid they mean to lose the name British seaman. I believe we now had three thousand soldiers in our little dockyard. Their quarters were our boat and mast houses, the sail loft, mould-loft, look-out house and seasoning shed, in short, anywhere in the yard where we could put fifty men.

June 2nd.- The Garrison and the shipping in the harbour kept a very strict look-out, and would suffer nothing to pass by the fort, not even a fishing boat.

June 5th.- Between eleven and twelve o’clock at night the Serapis store ship, and a transport, slipped their cables, ran through the fleet, and came into the harbour. The drums beat to arms; what few women there were and the inhabitants were very much alarmed from the time of night. However, some hundreds of people gathered in the dockyard and on the battery, and gave three cheers as the slips past the fort, the crews answering them with loud cheers.

June 6th.- We are and have been for some days as we may say in a state of siege. On this day the delegates on board the Montegue ordered their midshipman to be severely ducked, then flogged and turned ashore. All their lieutenants they put on shore, and the doctor of the ship they tar and feathered, and then ordered him on shore.

June 7th.- The delegates of the Inflexible sent some of their lieutenants on shore; they flogged the sergeant of marines and another man; the sergeant’s head was first shave, and then both were sent ashore.

June 8th.- About five o’clock in the afternoon the Leopard (captain’s note: our horrible old Leopard?!) slipped her cables, and ran up the London river away from the fleet; they fired at her, but did no hurt. We are informed that the men onboard divided, and had a desperate engagement with one another, and that several were killed on both sides. At the same time the Repulse slipped her cable to run in, but a mile and a half from the fleet she got on shore, and lay there for upwards of an hour.

Several ships fired on her and she received, as was calculated two hundred shot, one of which cut off the second lieutenants leg.

It was miraculous that the ship was not destroyed, from the number of shot fired. This took place in the presence of some thousands of people, and had you been there you would have been troubled to get a place on the battery to get a site of the ship, although the batteries are so extensive.

About eleven o’clock the Ardent slipped her cable, when the Monmouth fired at her. The Ardent then ran up alongside the Monmouth, and poured a broadside at her, and then came into the harbour.

June 9th.- The wind strong from the East. About two hours before high water the whole fleet their topsails loose, and some guns were fired, which caused us to be very much alarmed. The drums beat to arms and both soldiers and sailors were at their quarters all in readiness for action.

June 10th.- Things appeared much more favourable. A great number of merchantmen got under weigh; it was supposed there were about one hundred and fifty sail that had been stopped by the fleet. That morning a great number of ships in the fleet did not hoist the red flag, but hoisted up the union jack instead.

June 11th.- nothing particular occurred, but the delegates and their president ordered a brig-cutter to be ready to take them onboard, that they might go round the fleet, as the sea often ran so high they could not go in an open boat. This scheme introduced a feeling of jelousy among the men on board the fleet, from their suspicion that the president and delegates meant to take the brig and make their escape to France, and from that day their influence began to decay rapidly. The brig mounted eighteen nine pounders.

Richard Parker hung on His Majesty’s ship Sandwich, at Blakstakes, on Friday, 29th June, at half past nine o’clock.

Brother, I will thank you when you have perused this journal to return it, as I have nothing to refer to. ****.

Re-typed verbatim by Vic Basten 30th September 2003. Courtesy of the Isle of Sheppey.

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