These correspondences, from various ships’ captains stationed in Plymouth during the year 1797, document the events of a mutiny which involved the crews of over twenty ships within the naval port.
The Plymouth mutiny lasted from April to June 1797, and was both inspired by and in support of the more famous mutiny at Spithead during this time. The mutineers there demanded an increase in pay, alongside better victualling, increased shore leave, and injury compensations. Pay in the Royal Navy had not been updated since 1658, despite inflation.
Sailors in Plymouth rose to mutiny after receiving news from Spithead, carried by the Porcupine on 26 April 1797. Crew members aboard the Atlas promptly drew up their own Articles. These promised that, whilst discipline would be maintained, the ship would not go to sea unless in the event of an enemy fleet being sighted.
The 1797 mutinies posed a considerable threat to national security, as they fell in the midst of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802). They also represent a turning point in the history of radical collective action, due to their unprecedented organisation. This organised element, and communication between Spithead and Plymouth mutineers, is evident in these letters.
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