Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

How to deal with mutiny


‘ . . On 23 June 1797 Jervis was created Earl of St Vincent, with a life annuity of £3,000. The title was chosen by the King, despite Jervis's concern that it might appear arrogant to adopt the name of his victory. However, he had more important matters to attend to, for the after-effects of the 1797 Spithead and Nore mutinies had reached the Mediterranean fleet. Here the political and social strains of war met the immovable rock of Earl St Vincent's discipline.

He stepped up inspections by officers, segregated the Royal Marines from the seamen, banned the use of the Irish language and kept his jaundiced, un sleeping eye on every new ship that arrived. When two men were convicted of mutiny one Saturday, he had them hung (sic) the next morning, despite one admiral protesting that he was profaning the Sabbath; St Vincent had him recalled. When the men of HMS Marlborough refused to hang a mutineer, St Vincent sent armed boats to surround the ship and prepare to fire; the Marl­borough's men hauled their shipmate up to meet his maker at the end of the yard arm.

The ferocity of Jervis's discipline was carefully calculated to meet the demands of the moment: Britain was facing an ideological as well as a military threat, and those who spread sub­version and indiscipline were a fundamental threat to the state. Even Nelson, who took a far more modern view of his men, backed the admiral on this occasion . . ‘

Admirals: The naval commanders who made Britain great: Andrew Lambert; Faber 2008, p 193.

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