Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Naval Mutiny, Hangings and the First Hoisting of the Red Flag - Unions Celebrate their Ancestry

Essex Event on Trafalgar Day Sees the Launch of an Historical Record of Little Remembered Events
Shipping News Feature

UK – Something happening this month is a celebration by maritime and transport unions of two events which occurred well over two hundred years ago off the English coast, but which provided possibly one of the most significant moments in the history of the labour movement – the first occasion the red flag was raised during a bout of industrial action. At noon on Monday October 21 (Trafalgar Day) both trades unionists and historians will gather at the Crooked Billet Public House in High Street, Old Leigh in Essex (SS9 2EP) to witness the official launch of a new history of the events.

In 1797, there were several major acts of protest by British seamen against various injustices, not least of which were claims to better pay and conditions. Royal Navy sailors pay had been set 139 years previously and never increased, despite both inflation, and the inception of copper hull cladding meaning much longer voyages away from home had become the norm.

At the time of the mutinies it was business as usual, in that England was at war with France, and the behaviour of the strikers was quite civilised during the initial protest in an area of the Solent, Spithead, with the men promising to put to sea should the enemy be sighted, and allowing the free passage of merchant shipping. No one was ever punished as a result of this action.

A few weeks after this initial revolt, a similar protest began in the mouth of the Thames off Southend-on-Sea in an area known as the Nore, a sandbank where the river joins the North Sea, and the site of the world’s first lightship which had been installed there some sixty years before and a rallying point for anchored ships of all types. This second strike soon became more militant and subsequently led to the execution of the leaders for their more violent stand, which had even included firing on those ships who gave up the protest and sailed away.

The event on Trafalgar Day will see the author of the booklet, Peta Steel, joined by TUC regional secretary, Megan Dobney and representatives of sponsoring unions RMT and Nautilus International. The launch will be followed by live music including shanties and local salty tales of Essex and beyond.

A copy of Peta Steel’s booklet, The Spithead and Nore Mutinies of 1797, which is sponsored by the RMT and Nautilus International unions, both of whom will be represented at the event, is available on .pdf HERE and it proves to be a more comprehensive account of rebellious activities throughout the 18th Century.

Photo: Richard Parker, leader of the Nore mutiny about to be hanged from the yardarm of HMS Sandwich, the ship where the revolt had started, after his conviction for treason and piracy.