16 April 1797: Royal Navy sailors stage the Spithead mutiny

On this day in 1797, sailors on 16 ships anchored at Spithead refused to put to sea and staged a mutiny in pursuit of better pay and conditions.

In 1797, as was so often the case, Britain was at war with France. The French were still in the throes of revolution, and any hint that it could spread across the Channel sent terror through the very bones of the British ruling class.

Key to keeping the Gallic hordes and their radical ideas at bay was the Royal Navy. But it was getting taken for granted and its men weren't happy about it. Sailors' pay hadn't increased for some 140 years, it was rarely handed over when it was due, and was often deliberately withheld to discourage desertion. The sick and wounded weren't paid at all.

Crews weren't allowed shore leave when they put in to port, provisions were appalling, officers were often cruel, and the impressment of unsuitable men – many of them criminals – was damaging to the Navy’s morale and ability to fight. And so on this day in 1797, 16 ships of the line refused to put to sea, and the men elected delegates to negotiate with the Admiralty.

It was dangerous stuff – mutiny was punishable by hanging, after all. But all the while, strict discipline was maintained, the men's loyalty to the king was repeatedly emphasised, and promises were made to put to sea if there was any hint of a threat from the French.

Negotiations continued for several days. Finally, on 23 April, their demands were met, and a royal pardon was issued. 

The same fate didn't befall the mutineers of the Nore anchorage in the Thames estuary a month later, however. There, the authorities took a much sterner line: 30 men were hanged, and many more flogged, imprisoned or sentenced to transportation.

Recommended

How much should you save for retirement?
Pensions

How much should you save for retirement?

The majority of people under-save for retirement, but how much do you need for a comfortable life after work and what should you pay into your pot?
8 Dec 2022
The investment trusts and funds to buy for 2023
Funds

The investment trusts and funds to buy for 2023

With 2023 rapidly approaching, Rupert Hargreaves looks at some of the top investment trusts and funds to buy for the new year, with the help of AJ Bel…
8 Dec 2022
Air fryer vs microwave – which is cheaper to run?
Personal finance

Air fryer vs microwave – which is cheaper to run?

We compare the costs of an air fryer vs a microwave to see which one is more cost effective.
8 Dec 2022
Is it time to buy Gilts?
Government bonds

Is it time to buy Gilts?

Gilts offer a higher yield than most savings accounts and could be an attractive alternative for those with a large lump sum to invest.
8 Dec 2022

Most Popular

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?
Personal finance

Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low all day?

The weather is getting colder and energy bills are rising, but is it really cheaper to leave the heating on low all day or should you only turn it on …
1 Dec 2022
Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Radiator vs electric heater – which is cheaper?

We compare the costs, pros and cons of radiators and electric heaters and see which one will help keep your energy bill as low as possible.
28 Nov 2022
The pros and cons of smart meters – should you switch?
Personal finance

The pros and cons of smart meters – should you switch?

A smart meter can help you keep tabs on your energy usage, but is it better than a regular meter? We take a look at smart meters vs regular meters.
2 Dec 2022