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Spithead and Nore mutinies, Britain, 1797

Elizabeth Spoden


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In 1797, four years into its war with revolutionary France, the British Navy experienced the largest mass disobedience in its history when over 20,000 sailors in two separate mutinies protested working conditions by refusing to weigh anchor. Although contemporaries blamed outside revolutionary influences, the mutineers were acting in a manner consistent with generations of sailors who frequently resorted to mutiny and lesser forms of subversion when their basic rights were denied. After the outbreak of the War of the First Coalition (1793–7), British sailors grew increasingly agitated over insufficient care for the sick, substandard food provisions, and wages that had not increased since 1653. When parliament levied a series of Quota Acts in 1795, requiring each county to provide a set number of men for the navy, veteran seamen grew disgruntled over the perceived influx of unqualified landmen to the service. Sailors became further troubled when the Board of Admiralty ignored several petitions regarding pay and provisions. On April 16, 1797, the Channel Fleet, stationed at Spithead under Alexander Hood, Viscount Bridport, was immobilized when sailors refused to weigh anchor. With the full attention of the Admiralty, two elected delegates from each ship met with Bridport and the Admiralty to address grievances. Beyond sending a few unpopular officers ashore, the mutiny was peaceful ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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