The Hermione Mutiny Retold

 

The 1797 mutiny aboard HMS Hermione was the most violent in the history of the British Royal Navy. The ship’s officers and senior warrant officers were butchered. Worse, the crew turned the ship over to the Spanish, a nation with which Great Britain was then at war. The mutiny became the stuff of legend.

“Mutiny on the Spanish Main: HMS Hermione and the Royal Navy’s Revenge,” by Angus Kostram provides a new account of the mutiny, the events leading up to it and its aftermath. It is the first book-length retelling of the story in nearly 50 years.

The mutiny occurred during the French Wars of Revolution, following the 1789 French Revolution. It was triggered by the 1793 execution of the French monarch. Hermione, a 32-gun frigate armed with a main battery of 12-pound guns was sent to the West Indies to support British efforts there, including at Saint Dominique (today’s Haiti). Hermione participated in the three-sided conflict between French Royalists, French Revolutionaries, and the black slaves of the sugar island.

Hermione has a successful spell under captain Philip Wilkinson. In 1797, at his commanding admiral’s request, Wilkinson exchanged commands with Hugh Pigot. Wilkinson took Pigot’s homeward-bound Success to Britain. Pigot took over Hermione.

Pigot, brutal and only marginally competent replaced Wilkinson’s capable first lieutenant with an ineffectual and junior sycophant. Pigot also played favorites with the crew, inflicting the crew with harsh and inconsistent punishments. After Pigot promised a mass flogging of the ship’s topmen, Hermione’s best sailors, the crew mutinied.

That night they murdered the ship’s officers, including Pigot. The mutiny was led by several men considered Pigot’s followers. The mutineers slipped away from an accompanying Royal Navy warship and turned the ship over to the Spanish at Puerto Cabello, in today’s Venezuela.

Once the Royal Navy learned of the mutiny, they began an implacable hunt for the mutineers, tracking down many of them over a ten-year period. Ironically, many were identified and convicted on the testimony of officers ejected from Hermione by Pigot before the mutiny. Eventually, Britain recovered Hermione in a daring raid by the frigate Surprise. Patrick O’Brian would later weave Surprise into a multi-volume novel cycle.

“Mutiny on the Spanish Main” tells all of this. Kostram weaves an exciting story, while paying scrupulous attention to facts. He provides readers with the background to understand the maritime, naval and legal aspects, in a fast-paced adventure.

“Mutiny on the Spanish Main: HMS Hermione and the Royal Navy’s Revenge,” by Angus Kostram, Osprey Publishing, 2020, 320 pages, $35.00

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

Published in History
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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    A fine review, Seawriter. I don’t have any expertise in this area, so I particularly like your clear descriptions of what was at stake. 

    • #1
  2. Swanning in the Beltway Member
    Swanning in the Beltway
    @SwanningintheBeltway

    Excellent review, I’ll be adding that to my read-list today. Love the PoB novels and thought that was a particularly interesting episode he mentioned. Looking forward to learning more.

    • #2