Article MT183

Ballads of The Great Mutiny of 1797

In British Naval history there has always been a wealth of ballads and songs to tell of the exciting happenings of the times.  Whether the event was Drake's victory over the Spanish Armada, the Shannon's victory over the Chesapeake in the British-American War of 1812-1815, the Battle of Trafalgar, or the sinking of the Graf Spee in the Second World War, a song was bound to be written about it.  The story lines were not always accurate, the melodies were usually borrowed from well-known tunes and the meter was often not rigidly maintained throughout the song.  The ballads were motivated by thoughts of patriotism, a need to influence public opinion, or to pass away time aboard ship.  Songs were written by professional songwriters who had never been to sea, by truly old salts, by stage actors or by groups of men in the foc'sl between the cramped gunnery decks.  At best, the songs represent the feelings of the author and provide us with insight to the true feelings of the times.  At worst they are the propaganda songs written by the likes of Charles Dibdin, who was George the Third's cheerleader.

An excellent example of how ballads and broadsides were used to interpret historic events is the incredible story of the Great Mutiny of the British Navy of 1797.  The Great Mutiny was unique because it involved most of the British Navy.  The ten ballads given here express a wide range of perceptions and emotional reactions to what was happening.  The ballads are drawn from several sources but certainly do not represent the entire gamut of possible ballads on the Great Mutiny.

The following ballad tells about a little known naval encounter off the coast of France.  Two British Frigates, the thirty-six gun Amazon and the forty-six gun Indefatigable engaged a seventy-four gun French ship of the line, the Droits de l' Homme.  This ballad, The Amazon Frigate, gives an understanding of the backdrop of events that shaped the times leading up to the Great Mutiny:

The Amazon Frigate1

1.  Come all you British seamen bold, that plow the raging main,
Come listen to my tragedy while I relate the same;
'Tis what we underwent all on the raging main.
Bold Reynolds was our commander in the ship called the Amazon.

2.  On the thirtieth of December in Falmouth as we lay
Our orders came on board our anchors for to weigh;
So "Heave Away!" our captain, cried, "we have no time to spare:
We'll set our canvas to the breeze and through the ocean steer."

3.  Our anchors weighed our sails were set, our ship she seemed to fly;
It was the Indefatigable, that bore us company.
We must bid adieu to our sweethearts because we must cross the main,
Hoping in a short time after to see them all again.

4.  We steered our course to southward as far as Cape Finistere,
Cruising the seas for several days, and nothing could find there,
Till, running down the coast of Spain, three merchant men we took,
And sent them home to England while we for more did look.

5.  But in bearing up for England an American ship we see,
That gave us good intelligence the French was at sea.
The weather it was thick, and under an easy sail,
The wind it blew north-northeast and it blew a briskish gale.

6.  On the 28th of January a man sung from aloft
That he spied a lofty man-of-war at a distance three leagues off.
She's a very lofty ship the truth we will declare;
She crowded all sails she could, expecting to get clear.

7.  But we were at the heels of her, and night coming on,
At six o'clock that very night the bloody fight begun.
With broadside to broadside we played them two to one,
Till the blood out of the scupper holes in a gore did run.

8.  Both round grape and double-head we poured in so fast
That at eight o'clock that very night down came her mizzenmast. 
We engaged them five glasses as close as we could lay,
While great guns, small arms, and cutlasses most sweetly did they play.

9.  The Frenchmen all for quarters aloud to us did cry;
Their colors struck no more could fight for love or liberty.
But the remnant of their shattered crew they unto us tell
That out of fifteen hundred men eight hundred of them fell.

10.  The ship was called the Droits de l' Homme; from Brest she lately came,
With guns mounted ninety-eight on board and fifteen hundred men.
Her intention was for Ireland her troops all there to land,
But bold Pellew and his ship's crew did stop their war-like band.

11.  T'was early the next morning the land it did appear,
And they were so disabled from it they could not get clear;
And we were so disabled we could not veer nor tack,
But down alongside our enemy we soon became a wreck.

12.  So now the Indefatigable is bound for England's shore
To let our suffering country now the Amazon's no more.
Still, we'll drink to George our King; We'll convince him of the same,
That British tars forever more rule lords of the main.
The dates and the size of the French ship among other things are wrong in this ballad.  The engagement actually occurred on the 13th of January and the Droits de l' Homme had only seventy-four guns rather than the ninety-eight referred to in verse 10.2  Another big error in this ballad is the claim in verse 12 that "British tars rule lords of the main".  At this moment in history nothing could have been further from the truth.  The British Navy had retreated from the Mediterranean.  Spain had not only ended its treaty with Great Britain, but had formed an alliance with the French Republic.  The Irish patriot, Wolfe Tone, along with Thomas Paine, had talked the victorious young French General, Lazare Louis Hoche, into mounting a 14,750 man Armee Francaise en Irlande that sailed from Brest on 16 December; 1796.  The fleet was comprised of seventeen sail of the line, fourteen frigates, some smaller ships and transports.  Their plan was to land in Bantry Bay and there join up with the Irish, who were on the verge of rebellion.  Sir Edward Pellew; in the Indefatigable, sent word to the blockade fleet under Admiral Colpoys that the French were out to sea; in spite of the warning, Colpoy let them slip by.  Had it not been for an especially severe storm, the French would have landed, and the course of history would have been greatly changed.  Instead, the storm split up the convoy.  No landings were made, and one by one, the French vessels limped home or were lost at sea.  The Droits de l' Homme had taken a British ship, the Cumberland, with soldiers heading home on leave, and was holding them prisoner in the cable tier when they encountered the Amazon and the Indefatigable.  By the end of the battle both the Droits de l' Homme and the Amazon went aground.  The English prisoners included some women and children.  Attempts to put them ashore in small boats met with disaster, and all perished.  The French crew suffered great losses and many died from drinking salt water after being stranded in the breaking up hulk for four days.3

A few weeks later, 22 February, 1797, a much smaller French force under the command of a former United States officer, William Tate, from North Carolina, did land at Fishguard in Wales.  This expedition was as unproductive as the previous one.  The Tate expedition received no support from the local people and they soon gave up without firing a shot.4  Invasion pressures continued throughout most of 1797.  An invasion force was being assembled at the Dutch Texel and the threat of their sailing was present for the duration of the Navy's period of mutiny that year.

Adding to the Admiralty’s problems with potential invasions was the total unrest of the sailors.  The next ballad, found in the papers of the Repulse, understates the case, but hints at what was brewing in the minds of the common sailor:

Whilst Landsmen Wander5

1.  Whilst landsmen wander tho' controlled
And boast the rights of freemen,
Oh! view the tender's loathsome hole
Where droop your injured seamen.
Dragged by Oppression's savage grasp,
From every dear connection,
Midst putrid air, oh, see them gasp,
Oh! mark their deep dejection.

         Blush then, oh blush, ye pension host
         Who wallow in profusion,
         For our foul cell proves all your boast
         To be but mad delusion.

2.  If liberty be ours, oh say
Why are not all protected?
Why is the hand of ruffian sway
Gains't seamen thus directed?
Is this your proof of British rights?
Is this rewarding bravery?
Oh shame to boast your tars exploits,
Then doom those tars to slavery.

3.  When just returned from noxious skies
On winter's raging ocean,
To land the sunburnt seaman flies,
Impelled by strong emotion.
His much loved mate, his children dear,
Around him cling delighted,
But lo the impressing fiends appear,
And every joy is blighted.

4.  Thus from each soft endearment torn,
Behold the seaman languish,
His wife and children left forlorn,
The prey of bitter anguish.
Reft of those arms whose vigorous strength
Their shield from want defended,
They droop and all their woes at length
Are in a workhouse ended.

5.  Mark then you minions of a court
Who prate at freedom's blessing,
Who every hell born-war support,
And vindicate impressing.
A time will come when things like you,
Mere baubles of creation,
No more will make mankind subdue
The work of devastation.
Anger over impressment and the newly enacted quota system, together with the long standing grievances of the seamen joined together to become the explosive emotional mixture that ignited the Mutiny which was to soon erupt throughout the fleet.  The Navy had not received a raise in pay for over a hundred years.  Most sailors had not been paid at all for the previous two years.  Desertions were so common that shore leaves had not been granted for the past few years.  Inhumane punishments, including flogging with the cat-o-nine tails, was dealt out by drunken, sadistic officers for the smallest offense.  Crooked merchants teamed up with navy Pursers to provide short weighted, poor quality provisions to increase their personal profits.

The need to maintain huge navies at this time was complicated by the losses due to disease and desertion.  It is estimated that of the 103,660 deaths recorded during the Napoleonic Wars, 82 per-cent died of disease, 12 per-cent by shipwreck or accident and only 6 per-cent by enemy action.  Additionally 113,273 men deserted.6

As few as 15 per cent of the sailors were volunteers.  Quota men comprised as much as 12 per cent.  These reluctant conscripts taken from the cities and towns all over Britain were often educated enough to be able to read the most popular book of the time.  They, like the French sailors at Brest and the Dutch at the Texel, spent hours between decks reading and discussing Tom Paine's The Rights of Man.  With this background, it was hardly surprising that ‘A Humble Petition’ begging for payment of back pay was drafted by the men at Spithead, the great Anchorage of the Channel Fleet just off Portsmouth.  The petitions were to be signed by March 7 from each of the ships at the anchorage and then returned to the committee on the Queen Charlott who would send them en masse to two of the Navy's best friends in high places.  One was to be sent to Admiral Howe, who was Commander at the naval battle of the Glorious First of June, 1794.  The second was to be sent to Charles James Fox, the liberal leader of the opposition to the ultra conservative Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger.

Several of the petitions were accidentally sent to Howe on March 1, so the plan for sending them all together was foiled.  Howe was at Bath trying to get relief from a painful bout of gout, and when he received the petitions, he saw that they had all been written by the same person.  He set them aside, attributing them to the work of a single crank.  Government agents intercepted the petitions to Fox so the loyal opposition never saw the petitions.  Several weeks later, Howe showed the petition to a member of the Admiralty Board, and a decision was made to send the fleet back to sea.  The Channel Fleet under Admiral Bridport had just returned from the channel on 31 March and the men wasted no time getting involved in the petition activity.  The Admiralty's order to sail was telegraphed to Bridport on 15 April, and he gave the order to sail that day.  They were convinced that they were not going to get a favorable reply to their humble petition.  The men had agreed that if there were no reply by 18 April they would seize control of the ships and present a stronger set of demands that would deal with a broader set of grievances.

The order to sail came by surprise, but somehow, one by one, the crews of all the ships refused the order, and the Mutiny began:

The Genius Of Britain7

1.  The genius of Britain went hovering round,
For she feared that fair Freedom was fled;
But she found to her joy that she was not quite gone,
But remained with the fleet at Spithead.
Rejoiced at the news to the Charlotte she flew,
Where fair freedom was heard sat enthroned:
They all manned the Yards as the goddess came in.
For Britain and Freedom they owned.

2.  The fleet hailed the goddess with three hearty cheers
As she stood on the charlotte's gangway,
She dropped a sad tear as she looked on her sons
Who so long neglected had lay;
She was led to the cabin fair freedom was there,
True loyalty sat by her side;
Britannia down in a transport of joy:
"All hail to my heroes she cried.

3.  Every ship in the line sent two seamen so brave,
Whom the goddess received with a smile:
They assured her that if they were treated like men
They would still guard her favorite isle.
"Go on my brave sons in the steps you now tread,
Be virtue your guide and your guard,
And god who rules over the land and the sea,
Will your honest endeavors reward."

4.  The Genius of Ireland came in with her harp,
She saluted fair freedom with tears,
They manned the yards to welcome her over,
And every ship gave three cheers,
Success to the seventeen united bright stars,
Let their praise echo round every shore,
And the fiftieth of April will ne'er be forgot
Till Britannia and freedom's no more.
At this point there was no turning back.  It was now two days before the appointed time for the planned mutiny to begin.  Ships crews were to wait for a signal from the Queen Charlotte.  A single cannon shot followed by the raising of the Blood Red Flag would be the sign to commence.  Instead the action began quietly on each ship with boats launched from the Queen Charlotte and the Royal George circulating the fleet.  In the boat from the Royal George was Valentine Joyce, the principal leader of the seamen.  The boats hailed each ship's crew, advised them that all officers were permitted to remain on board and the men were to obey all orders except an order to sail until the grievances were met.  Each ship was then asked to send two delegates to a meeting that evening on board the Charlotte.

Delegates from sixteen ships signed the original, unanswered, single-issue petition.  Agreement was reached on three rules of conduct: all orders of the Spithead Parliament were to be in writing; officers could be expelled from ships for extreme cruelty, provided there were signed charges; and all seamen were to swear an oath to be true to their cause.  Ropes were hung from blocks at the end of yardarms, as was the practice for hangings, to remind the crews that discipline must remain intact.  The ropes were thus the sign that the Spithead ship was a part of the action.

Learning of the mutiny via the Spithead telegraph, the Admiralty held council on that Easter evening.  By late the next afternoon, a delegation of the Lords of the Admiralty left by stage for Plymouth to meet with the delegates.  They arrived on Tuesday, promptly delivered a proclamation to the fleet calling for the sailors to make known their wants in a more appropriate manner and then they would be given due consideration.  The delegates expanded their petition to include complaints over food shortages and quality, over poor medical care, over the denial of shore leave, and over the stoppage of pay to wounded seamen.  The Admiralty refused to respond to the new petition but did agree to a small raise in pay.

After much maneuvering on both sides, verbal assent was given by the Admirals to sponsor an Act of Parliament to raise the pay and to increase provisions.  A Royal pardon for the participating sailors were obtained and were shown to the negotiators.  Thinking that they had accomplished all they could, they agreed to set sail on April 24, under Admiral Bridport against the French, Spanish and Dutch fleets who the Admiralty claimed had left port to invade Britain.8

The next broadside exhibits a more sarcastic view of the events, but reflects the public opinion that though repressed, the people would continue to work for freedom:

The Floating Parliament9

1.  I'm just from Portsmouth come to town,
Where such a rumpus ne'er was known.
for the tars were up and their captains down:
'Twas a very pretty piece of fun:
For they vowed that he who danger braves
Should scud in freedom or the waves,
That sailors should no more be slaves,
They'd all sing,

         Fal la la la la ,fal la la la la lay.

2, The captains then all shook with fear,
Quaked such a loud complaint to hear,
For well they knew the facts were clear
And sailors scorn to flinch,
Then from each ship was sent a boat
In spite of the captain's fine lace coat
and a free convention formed afloat,
Where they sang,

3.  To Whitehall then the news was sent
About this naval parliament,
And our five sea lords to council went,
All trembling with dismay.
But oh 'twould have made a dead man laugh
To see how busy was the telegraph
While signals flew about like chaff,
And Jack sang,

4.  Then off went Spencer's noble Lord
And promised on his sacred word
And as he hoped he'd shun the cord
That all should be redressed.
My lord says Jack though so brisk you skip
You know not the stem from the stern of a ship,
So pray take to London another trip
While we sing,

5.  Then a gracious proclamation came
From the wisest head piece in the land
And promised though Jack was to blame,
He'd freely be forgiven.
Damn me says jack, if I care a pin,
To leave good work half done's a sin;
And we'll go through now we're fairly in,
Then we will sing,

6.  Dismayed now the lords changed their course
In vain was trickery or force
And lest the business might grow worse,
They humbly acquiesced.
Then Jack with joy the news received,
Though fearful yet of being deceived,
And though he scarce their words believed,
Yet they sang,

7.  Now Jack no more a tyrant's slave,
Proudly ploughs the briny wave,
And teaches Britains that the brave,
May, if they will, be free.
For heaven will prosper their intent
And soon will come the blessed event
When, like the floating Parliament,
We'll all sing,
The last verse of this song reveals that regardless of the anti-subversive measures of Pitt, the voice of reform has not been silenced.  Tom Paine's, Rights of Man continued to be a best seller.

The fleet sailed, but held down by unfavorable winds only got as far as St Helens, a sheltered anchorage off the Isle of White.  While tied down at St Helens, the fleet learned of Parliament's lack of progress with the act to implement the agreed upon changes.  By the time the wind finally changed on May 7, the ropes were replaced on the yards to three resounding cheers.  The fleet returned to Spithead and to further negotiations.

The following song is recorded in correspondence from Admiral Bridport dated 1798 and adequately tells the optimistic side of the story of Spithead:

The Seventeen Bright Stars10

1.  Come all you bold Britons to the seas do belong,
Of the seventeen bright stars I will sing you a song.
On the 15th of April, at Spithead we lay,
Lord Bridport he hove out a signal to weigh:
But we one and all refused to obey.

2.  The reason unto you I now will relate:
We resolved to refuse the pursers short weight;
Our humble petition to Lord Howe we sent,
That he to the Admiralty write to present
Our provisions and wages that they might augment.

3.  But soon, to our grief as you shall understand,
They refused to comply with our humble demand:
Although to the army they granted more pay,
While we sons of Neptune neglected did lay.
But the 15th of April soon roused them straight way.

4.  Then each son of Neptune took their oath without dread
Until redress was obtained not to sail from Spithead;
Two tars from each ship of the line did appear
On board the Queen Charlotte without dread or fear,
While the ships manned their yards with a thundering loud cheer.

5.  Billy Pitt and Dundas soon heard of the news.
They fell in a rage and the tars did abuse;
They sent for Lord Spencer and unto him did say:
"For Portsmouth my Lord, and make no delay,
For the mutinous tars refuse to obey".

6.  Lord Spencer unto us these words did express:
"Your grievance my lads will soon be redress;
Full provision we have granted and a shilling in pay"
We trusted their honor, and our anchors did weigh,
But the wind coming west, at St.  Helens we did lay.

7.  Now Providence resolved we should not be oppressed,
For a fortnight or more kept the wind at southwest;
During which time to our great surprise,
The act was not passed to grant us supplies,
But Bedford and Clarence did open our eyes.

8.  When we found from their promise they meant for to run,
We resolved to force them before we had done.
When the signal was made for sea to repair,
We then did refuse with another load cheer,
Which made our proud rulers to shake and to fear.

9.  The murdering Colpoys Vice admiral of the blue,
Gave order to fire on the London ship's crew;
While the enemy of Britain was ploughing the sea,
He like a base coward, let them get away
When the French and their transports sailed for Bantry Bay.

10.  But at length from our King Lord Howe he was sent
To redress our grievance to our full content;
We received the old hero with joy as our friend,
And the act being past we will cheerfully sing
"Confusion to France and long live our King!"

11.  Now my brave boys down channel we steer
"Long with brave Bridport in search of Monsieur.
May heaven but grant what we crave for a boon
That these boasting invaders may out to us come,
And the tune that we will play them is the "First of June".

12.  So now I must finish these lines that I have penned,
I hope no true Britain at them may be offended,
But remember the 15th of April I pray,
And our wives and children keep a holiday,
For what April began we may finish in May.

13.  Drink a health to Lord Howe in a full flowing glass,
Confusion to Pitt, likewise to Dundas.
The seventeen Bright stars in a bumper shall roar,
Their praises shall sound from shore unto shore,
And they shall never be forgot until Britains no more.
Verse 7 tells of the involvement of Lord Bedford and Lord Clarence in their futile attempts to get Spencer to proceed with the acts to implement the Admiralty's promises.  Newspaper reports of the debates in the House of Lords enabled the sailors to learn of the broken promises.  When the sailors refused to sail from St Helens, Vice Admiral Colpoys ordered the marines to open fire on the sailors, but the marines refused the order in solidarity with the sailors.  Verse 11 reminds us that the sailors remained loyal to the crown and to the protection of Britain from French invasion.

This time the sailors' favorite Admiral, Black Dick Howe, was sent to negotiate with the men.  All the grievances were heard including those against the cruel officers.  A list of approximately 75 of the most abusive officers, with Admiral Colpoys at the top, was presented to Howe.  In the meantime, the fleet at Plymouth joined with the men at Portsmouth and sent delegations and petitions of support.

Howe proceeded with open negotiations with the men.  While this went on, Bridport was receiving urgent messages from the Admiralty to set sail, because their intelligence had told them that the French fleet had set sail for Ireland from Brest.  It was not, however, until Sunday May 14 that agreement was finally reached to remove some 114 officers and the remaining issues were resolved.  The next day a major celebration of unity in the fleet was held with Lord and Lady Howe as the guests of honor.11  The press lauded the outcome and a popular broadside on the subject was widely distributed:

British Tars Rewarded12

1.  The tars of old England have long toiled in vain,
From the time of King Charles down to this present reign,
But their royal master their wages doth raise,
So join, British sailors, in King George's praise.

2.  The fleet of Lord Bridport, the terror of France,
Petitioned the throne that their pay might advance,
Their petition was granted each petition redressed,
In the heart of each seaman great George he is blessed.

3.  No longer neglected no longer forlorn,
Brave seamen will wander, dejected our scorn;
Their petitions are granted, each grievance made known,
Soon met with redress at the foot of the throne.

4.  Cheer cheer British seamen, your sails now unfurl,
Against our proud foes soon defiance we'll hurl,
Our toils are rewarded advanced is our pay,
Success to those seamen whom gained us the day.

5.  Adieu pretty Nancy of Portsmouth, adieu,
When your William is absent, I pray then be true,
To fight for our King, and our country we go,
Our toils are rewarded we'll face the proud foe.

6.  Fare well to our children, farewell dearest wives,
We don't leave you distressed, though we venture our lives,
Our pay is advanced which you shall receive,
Then dry up each tear, girls, and cease for to grieve.

7.  Then my boys hoist your sails, to old England adieu.
No longer oppressed, to you will prove true,
You shall find that a tar is both grateful and brave,
We'll die but our King and our country we'll save
8.  Three cheers lads, three cheers lads, we lose sight of land,
In defense of our country we'll join heart and hand,
And when we return boys, we'll drink, dance and sing,
With wives and with sweethearts, so God save the King.
This celebratory song seems to have been written by one of the crown's paid authors.  It is impossible to imagine that the tars of the now educated fleet could believe that everything was completely resolved.

Four sailors had arrived in Portsmouth, in time for the celebration with Lord Howe.  They were from the Nore, the Kentish anchorage at the confluence of the mouth of the rivers Thames and Medway.  The Nore is just off the naval town of Sheerness on the Island of Sheppey.  The visitors brought tidings from their brother seamen and assurance that they joined with the men at Spithead and at Plymouth in seeking redress of their grievances.  They had agreed to commence their petition on May 12 and had raised twenty pounds from the men to pay the transport of their delegation to Spithead.

The next two ballads are from the papers of the sixty-four-gun man of war, Repulse that had arrived at the Nore from Yarmouth during the last few days of the mutiny.  The ballads were later used as evidence against the mutineers and were each entitled An Insidious Song13:

All Hail Brother Seamen14

1.  All hail, brother seamen that ploughs on the main,
Likewise to well wishers of seamen of fame,
May providence watch over brave British tars,
And guide them with care from the dangers of wars.

2.  Good providence long looked with pity at last
For to see honest Jack so shamefully thrashed,
But still held his arm for to let Jack subdue
The pride of those masters whose hearts were not true.

3, At Spithead Jack from a long silence was roused,
Which waked other brothers who did not refuse
To assist in the plan that good providence taught,
In the hearts of brave seamen, that had long been forgot.

4.  Old Neptune made haste to the Nore he did come,
To waken his sons who had slept for too long.
His thundering loud voice made us start with surprise,
To hear his sweet words, and he bid us arise.

5.  "Your brothers" says he ,"are all firmly resolved,
To banish all tyrants that long did uphold,
Their cruel intention to scourge when they please,
Such a set of brace villains you must instantly seize."

6.  "So away tell your brothers near Yarmouth they lie,
To embark in the cause they will never deny.
Their hearts are all good, they're like lions I say,
I've furnished their minds and they all will obey."

7.  "And when they arrive which I trust they soon will,
Be steady and cautious let wrangling lay still,
And love one another my favour you'll keep,
Success to King George and his glorious fleet."
Two of the Nore delegates returned from Spithead on May 18 to bring the news of the settlement.  The papers containing the pardon were read to the delegates but were only greeted with jeers.  The newly appointed chief spokesman of the fleet at the Nore, Richard Parker, allegedly said, "You've brought three pennyworth of ballads for our twenty pounds." Apparently the men of the fleet at the Nore were not told of the settlement at Spithead at this time, but still believed they were acting in solidarity with them.

Like at Spithead a list of grievances was drafted at the Nore.  The 8 articles in their petition included all of the items that the Admiralty had refused to discuss at Spithead.  Included, among other things, were the demand for shore leave, the stipulation that no officer expelled from a ship for bad conduct be returned for service on another ship, more equitable distribution of prize money, and all things granted to the fleet at Spithead.

The demands were strengthened when on May 19th delegates of 12 ships from the fleet at Yarmouth joined the delegates of 20 ships at the Nore in signing the petition.  The second ballad from the Repulse tells of the feelings of the men at this time:

The Muses Friendly Aid15

1.  The Muse's friendly aid I must invite,
Likewise a pen that's taught itself how to write,
No wit I boast, but am by fancy led
To search the deep caverns of my hollow head,
If attic rhyme, Apollo there has stored,
I'll here deposit all my favorite hoard.

2.  In days of yore when rich and poor agreed,
Poor served the rich and rich the poor relieved.
No despotic tyrants then the womb produced
But mutual all, each loved, and none abused,
But now how dreadful is the scene reversed,
We're blest with birth, but with oppression cursed.

3.  The theme I treat on is our Royal tars,
Whose God-like spirit rival even Mars,
From their supineness now their souls are roused
To rod and yoke no longer are exposed.
But all alike, each swears he will be true,
And tyrants ne'er their former course renew.

4.  At Spithead first their noble blood was fired;
Each loved his King, but one and all aspired;
To serve each other was their full intent,
And if insulted were on mischief bent,
But still their country's cause they would maintain,
Against the rebels, or the powers of Spain.

5.  Then at the Nore the lions boldly roused,
Their brethren's cause at Spithead they espoused.
Each swore alike to King he would be true,
But one and all the tyrants would subdue,
Their gallant hearts the chains of bondage broke
Not to revolt, but to evade the yoke.

6.  In Yarmouth next old Neptune reared his head,
Awake my sons the watery monarch said,
The torpid vapors from your souls remove
Inspire yourselves with true fraternal love.
Unto the Nore repair without delay,
Then join your brothers with a loud huzza.

7.  The worthy god's advice the heroes took,
Each broke his chains and off the panic shook
Unto the Nore their gallant ships they steered,
Whilst brethren cheered them as each ship appeared.
Oh Britains free, usurp no tyrants sway,
Protect your tars, and then they'll you obey.
The demands were sent to the Admiralty who responded that the agreement at Spithead was enough and they had no intent of agreeing to further demands.  On Sunday May 28, Spencer went to Sheerness to set up a board of enquiry and continued to refuse to negotiate with the sailors.  The Admiralty then presented an ultimatum to the mutineers that unless they surrendered by noon the next day, no royal pardons would be offered the participants.

The leader of the mutiny at the Nore was Richard Parker.  He was a quota man, serving as an able bodied seaman on the Sandwich, who had obtained his way out of debtors prison in Perth, by agreeing to serve a second time in the navy.  He had previously served as a midshipman and a lieutenant but was demoted to able-bodied seaman after being tried for insubordination.  He was later discharged with crippling rheumatism.  He tried teaching school in Perth, his wife's hometown, and was later imprisoned for his debts.  He was an excellent speaker, and soon after his assignment to the Sandwich, was recruited as the Nore spokesperson.

By this time a great deal of government effort was being placed on developing sentiment against the action at the Nore.  Rumors were spread that the mutineers were planning to sail up the Thames to shell the city of London.  They were also accused of ingratitude for the concessions made to the sailors at Spithead and of disloyalty at a crucial time when the invasion of Britain was imminent.  The broadside propaganda-mongers were at it again producing this song:

A New Song on Parker the Delegate,
Head of the Mutiny at Sheerness16

1.  I will not sing in Parker's praise disgraceful is the story,
Nor yet to seamen tune my lays, eclipsed is now their glory;
Fell factions head they proudly rear 'gainst country and 'gainst King sir,
And on their land they now do try destruction for to bring sir.

Then Britains all, with one accord, fight for your Constitution,
And let surrounding foes behold we want no revolution.

2.  Parker the means has brought about our seamen to corrupt sir,
And like a daring traitor bold, our trade doth interrupt sir;
The ships at Sheerness rear the flag the symbol of defiance,
With sorrow strikes us to reflect, on them we've no reliance.

3.  An admiral he calls himself, takes a commander's station,
On board the Sandwich doth insult, and braves the English nation;
Gives law, dispenses life and death or punishment disgraceful,
And by his arbitrary deeds hath made himself most hateful.

4.  A terror to each merchant ship, detains and doth them plunder,
And if they offer to sail by, his guns at them do thunder;
What'er he likes he from them takes, and should they dare to refuse, sir,
The captain's ordered to be flogged, thus does he then ill use, sir.

5.  Five hundred pounds is the reward, the traitor to bring in, sir,
Who thus the bloody flag hath reared 'gainst country and 'gainst King, sir;
Let's hope the villain quickly will to punishment be brought, sir,
Who like the daring traitor bold his country's ruin sought, sir.
All of a sudden some good news finally came to the mutineers.  On May 31 eight more ships from Yarmouth arrived at the Nore to join them.  However, things continued to deteriorate shortly thereafter.  The Admiralty's program of starvation and stirring up public opinion began to demoralize the men.  A five hundred-pound reward for the capture of Parker was posted in Sheerness.  Parker had resisted proposals by some of the men to defect with the ships to France.  The end rapidly arrived on June 15, as one, by one the ships raised the white flag of surrender.  Parker himself then surrendered and was taken the next day to Maidstone jail, where government agents interrogated him.

His court-martial started on Thursday June 22.  He was found guilty on Monday June 26 and sentenced to death on June 30, 1797.

Parker's wife had traveled to London and had daily petitioned the Queen for leniency for her husband but her plea fell on deaf ears.  She somehow managed to arrive in Rochester at eleven o'clock on the night of June 29.  She found a market gardener who took her down the Medway to Sheerness at the break of dawn.  Three different times she attempted unsuccessfully to get close enough to speak to her husband before he jumped to his own death, cheating the hangman of his satisfaction.

Somehow the attempts to discredit Parker did not last.  The best known of all the songs of the Great Mutiny is the song that tells of Anne Parker's ordeal that culminates with her exhuming his body at night and transporting him to London where she obtained for him a sacred burial.

President Parker17

1.  Ye gods above protect the widow, and with pity look on me.
Oh help me, help me out of trouble and out of all calamity,
For by the death of my dear Parker fate to me has proved unkind;
Though doomed by law he was to suffer I couldn't erase him from my mind.

2.  Brave Parker was my lawful husband, my bosom friend I loved so dear;
And at the moment he was to suffer I was not allowed to come near.
In vain I asked in vain I strove, ay, three times o'er and o'er again;
But still they replied, "You must be denied, and must return on shore again."

3.  I thought I saw the yellow flag flying, the signal for my husband to die.
A gun was fired as they required when they hung on the yard so high.
I thought I saw his hand a-waving, bidding me a last farewell;
The grief I suffered at this moment no heart can paint, no tongue can tell.

4.  My fainting spirit I thought would follow the soul of him I loved most dear;
No friend or neighbor would come near me to ease me of my grief and care.
Then unto the shore my Parker was brought, most scornfully to be laid in the ground,
And for to get my husband's body an artful scheme I quickly found.

5.  Indeed of night when all was silent, and many thousands fast asleep,
I and three more went to the shore and to his grave did quietly creep.
With trembling hands we worked with shovel and digged his body from the cold clay,
And there I had a coach a-waiting to carry to London his body away.

6.  And there I got him decently buried, and then the doleful task was done;
I soon did finish the doleful task that his imprudence had begun.
Oh farewell, Parker, thou bright genius, thou were once my only pride;
Though parted now it won't be long till I am laid down by your side.

7.  Ye gods above protect the widow, and with pity look on me.
Although my Parker was hung for mutiny there were worse men in the wars than he.
All you who here my tender ditty do not laugh at me in disdain,
But look on me with an eye of pity, for it is now my only claim.
In all, 29 men were hung and many more were flogged or deported to Australia.  It was many years before true reforms were instituted in the British Navy.  The French government went through a change of philosophy shortly after the mutiny was resolved, and invasion plans were temporarily set aside.  Napoleon used the Brest invasion fleet for the invasion of Egypt in January 1798.  In August of 1798, Ireland was invaded by French troops under General Humbert but the British Army soon routed them.  In the second wave of the invasion force Wolfe Tone himself was captured on board a French man-of-war the Hoche on October 12.  He was brought to trial, but avoided the hangman by taking his own life.

The two songs included from the British Admiralties court-martial case against sailors from the Repulse are each titled An Insidious Song in the record.18  It is speculated that they are part of a more complete set of ballads that were written during the action at the Nore.19  This theory is based on what is perceived to be song numbers on the ballads in the trial record.  If the numbers are correct there could have been at least twenty-nine songs collected by the tars of the Repulse. According to the Public Records Office at Kew there are only two songs in the court record, however.20  It is possible that a thorough search of British Admiralty records from this time-period could reveal that there are more songs on the subject of the Mutiny.  Hopefully if they are found they may shed more light on the happenings during those important times of change.

Richard S Holdstock - 13.8.06


Article MT183

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