United in Mutiny: The Radical Atlantic, United Irishmen, and the British Navy

brendon g floyd, University of Missouri

In the late 1790s, a string of mutinies and a rebellion in Ireland rocked the British Empire. In response, the 1796 Insurrection Act was passed and Habeas Corpus partially suspended, allowing Crown officials to act in legally dubious ways. Individuals suspected of treasonable actions were arrested and transported to Australia or conscripted into the British Navy or Army. Thousands of United Irishmen were forced to join 'condemned regiments,' destined for the imperial conflicts in the Caribbean between 1796 and 1801. During this same period, the British Navy experienced some of the most brutal mutinies in its history. Indeed, the 1790s proved to be a crinkum-crankum time for imperial navies in general, with the British, French, and Batavian navies undergoing over 150 mutinies and about one-third of all the ships experiencing some form of collective revolt. For example, On April 16, 1797, 16 ships-of-the-line of the Channel fleet refused to sail from Spithead, an anchorage near Portsmouth, England. Nore, an anchorage in the Thames Estuary, erupted into mutiny in solidarity. One of the bloodiest mutinies in British naval history occurred on a ship in the West Indies in September. My research demonstrates that these events are connected and should be understood within the larger narratives of radicalism, the Age of Revolution, and the Atlantic world. While the Spithead mutiny inspired the Nore, there was not, as has been argued, a grand conspiracy where the United Irishmen orchestrated a master scheme with France's help. Rather, they exemplified radicalism in the Atlantic, with the United Irishmen and other Irish radicals as vital instigators. These mutinies are connected through a radical ideology associated with the era's Rights of Man rhetoric and were all inherently political. Thus, these men were compelled into crisis, finding radical alternative pathways to regain their humanity and recover their agency.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 150. Democratization, democratic ideology