The Floating Republic, Manwaring & Dobree
An Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in 1797 by G.E. Manwaring (Author), Bonamy Dobree (Author). First published in 1935 and re-published by Pen & Sword Military Classics in 2004. 300 pages in paperback.
The naval mutiny of 1797 is the most astonishing recorded in British history; astonishing by its management rather than by its results, for other mutinies had been successful. Though it shook the country from end to end, it was largely ordered with rigid discipline, a respect for
officers and an unswerving loyalty to the King. Moreover, it was so rationally grounded that it not only achieved its immediate end, the betterment of the sailor’s lot, but also began a new and lasting epoch in naval administration. Here are familiar names: the aged hero Lord Howe, the indecisive Lord Bridport, the giant Admiral Duncan who held a mutineer over the side of his ship until the wretch admitted his error, the ever unpopular Captain Bligh, and less familiar figures such as Richard Parker, who led the mutiny at the Nore and paid for his insurrection at the end of a rope. This fascinating account will appeal to all who love Horatio Hornblower, Jack Aubrey and other fictional heroes of the era. The value of The Floating Republic does not merely reside in its excellent treatment of its theme – but likewise in the light it sheds upon the history of the eighteenth century generally.
This was a fascinating and thought provoking read. Drawn very heavily from the primary sources of the period it paints a picture of the events and also how the prevailing attitudes of the time shaped them. Those at the top believed (erroneously) that the mutinies were caused by foreign interference (from French Jacobins, or their English supporters). Those on board ship felt that the improvements in standards of living across the entire 18th century had left them behind, in 1797 the pay rates for seamen were the same they had been under Charles II. This was brought into stark relief by the sudden increase in the size of the navy with the war, bring on board many educated volunteers.
Life on board ship was harsh in the extreme, many officers brutal bullies who ignored the protections in the discipline regulations. Pursers sold short measures (the naval pound had 14 rather than 16 ounces) and the quality of their food was awful, not fit for human consumption – even by the laxer standards of the time. The book shows the conditions and explains why the mutinies happened, it contrasts the conduct and management of the two mutinies, both from a mutineer and an official point of view. There are lessons both on how to conduct a mutiny and on how to peacefully end one, the two adjacent mutinies clearly showing this.
I certainly felt inspired in reading the book and would strongly recommend it to both naval historians and social historians, an excellent work on a period that otherwise gets overlooked.