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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 20

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The year 1797 was opened by one of the most remarkable occurrences of modern times. The bank of England had repeatedly represented to Pitt, as chancellor of the exchequer, that his enormous demands upon it for specie, as well as paper money, had nearly exhausted its coffers, and could not be long continued. The payment of our armies abroad, and the advances to foreign kings, were necessarily made in cash. The government, spite of the enormous taxation, had already overdrawn its account eleven millions six hundred and sixty-eight thousand eight hundred pounds, and the sole balance in the hands of the bank was reduced to three millions eight hundred and twenty-six thousand eight hundred and ninety pounds. Pitt was demanding a fresh loan for Ireland, when a message came from the bank to say that, under existing circumstances, it could not be complied with. Thus suddenly pulled up, the privy council was summoned, and it was concluded to issue an order for stopping all further issue of cash, except to the government, and except one hundred thousand pounds for the accommodation of private bankers and traders. Paper money was made a legal tender to all other parties, and the bank was empowered to issue small notes for the accommodation of the public, instead of guineas. A bill was passed for the purpose, and that it might not be considered more than a temporary measure, it was made operative only till June; but this easy way of getting from under restraint in expenditure, by enabling the bank to deluge the country with its paper, was not likely to be soon abandoned. It was renewed from time to time by fresh acts of parliament, and became one of the most fruitful sources of that enormous and unparalleled waste of public money, which grew more and mere astounding through the war, and so rapidly augmented the national debt. This was accelerated by the plan adopted of reckoning eighty pounds of the paper money of Pitt's as a hundred to lenders of the continental loans; and the system was not abolished again till 1819, when Sir Robert Peel brought in his bill for the resumption of cash payments.

Pitt having thus freed himself and the bank from the salutary fetters of dealing with real money, produced a second budget for this year, as he had done for the last. To the nearly twenty-eight million pounds already voted, he now added nearly fifteen millions, making the total sum raised in taxation during this session forty-two millions seven hundred and eighty-six thousand pounds. He raised another of sixteen millions and eighty thousand pounds in addition to the one of eighteen millions of pounds already voted, making the addition to the national debt thirty-four millions of pounds. Two millions more were granted to the emperor of Germany, to assist him in being well beaten by the French; new taxes, to the amount of two and a half millions, were imposed, and eighty thousand pounds were voted as a marriage portion with the king's eldest daughter Charlotte Augusta, who was married to the hereditary prince of Wurtemberg, on the 18th of May. Pitt was now plunging the nation into an ocean of debt for the prosecution of a war which had not one encouraging feature, and from which more prudent nations had withdrawn, after pocketing a good supply of our money.

At the same time, our seamen, who were the real and proper defenders of the country, were so miserably paid and so abominably treated in many ways, that they could only be compelled into the service by the odious operation of press-gangs, and now burst forth into open mutiny. The reader will recollect the treatment of the seamen in the time of Charles II.; their miserable pay, and the withholding of it when due. Their complaints and resistance then compelled a small advance and improvement. None since then had taken place. This advance of wages did not amount to more than to able seamen eight pence-halfpenny a-day, and to ordinary seamen seven pence. Such miserable pay had government been doling out to the finest seamen in the world, who kept the country in safety from all its enemies, whilst it bad been throwing the nation's money, in millions, into the laps of German princes, to induce them to help not us, but themselves. And this was but the smallest part of the complaint of these brave men. They complained that a most unfair system of prize-money had prevailed, by which the admirals and chief officers swept off the bulk of the money, and left little or nothing to the petty officers and the men; that their treatment on board was barbarous, unfeeling, and degrading; that their provisions were of the worst description, being the direct consequence of the contracts with villainous purveyors, through equally villainous navy commissioners, so that, in fact, they were served with such salt beef, salt pork, and biscuit, as no decent dog would touch. Nor did their list of grievances only too real end here. Instead of government paying the pursers direct salaries, they were paid by deducting two ounces from every pound of provisions served out to the men. Thus, instead of sixteen ounces to the pound, they received only fourteen ounces; and the same rule applied to the measurement of liquids - beer and grog - served out to them. Things were grown to such a pass from these causes, and the neglect of their complaints was so persevering, that the whole fleet determined on a strike.

Accordingly, petitions were sent in from several of the principal men-of-war lying at Portsmouth, to lord Howe, the commander of the channel fleet, praying him to intercede with the admiralty for the same liberality towards the seamen of the royal navy and their families, as had been shown to the army and militia, in increase of pay and better provisions. Lord Howe, instead of complying with this reasonable desire, sent the petitions to the port-admiral, Sir Peter Parker, and to lord Bridport, who commanded the channel fleet under Howe. They treated the petitions as the work of some ill-disposed person, and therefore of no consequence; but Parker was very soon compelled to inform lord Spencer, the bead of the admiralty, that he had discovered that there was a general conspiracy to take the command of the ships from the officers on the 16th of April. To test this, orders were immediately issued to put out to sea; and the moment that lord Bridport signalled this order to the fleet, the effect was seen. The sailors all ran up into the rigging and gave several tremendous cheers. They instantly followed up this by taking the command from the officers, and sending two delegates from each ship to meet on board the Queen Charlotte, lord Howe's flag ship. They thence issued Orders for all the seamen to swear fidelity to the cause, and the next day they all swore. They kept part of the officers on board as hostages, and put others, whom they accused of oppression, on shore. They next passed resolutions to maintain order, and treat the confined officers with all due respect. They then drew up a petition to the admiralty stating their grievances, and respectfully praying for redress. This brought down to Portsmouth lord Spencer, and other lords of the admiralty, where they met in council with Bridport and other admirals. Had these admirals shown a proper attention to the health and claims of these men, their grievances must long ago have ceased; but though they were perfectly well aware of them, they now proposed, along with the admiralty, to recommend the granting of part of their demands. The deputies replied that they sought nothing but what was reasonable, and would never lift an anchor till those terms were granted. This admiralty committee, then, in the true spirit of political higglers, who could calmly see government wasting the public funds by millions on continental despots, but would save a single farthing from these brave ocean defenders, thus offered some of the terms, but left oat the proposal that the pensions of the Greenwich veterans should be raised from seven pounds to ten pounds, and the crews of men-of-war should have vegetables when in port.

The sailors, indignant at this miserable parsimony, returned on board and hoisted the red flag at every masthead. This was a sign that no concession would be made. Yet, on the 22nd, the delegates addressed letters to the admiralty, and to lord Bridport, firm, but respectful. Government then tried its usual resource, the proclamation of a pardon, but without taking notice of the necessary concessions. With this proclamation, lord Bridport went, the next day, on board the Royal George, and assured the seamen that be had brought a royal pardon, and also the redress of all their grievances. On this assurance, the crew hauled down the red flag, and all the other ships did the same.

News now came that the Brest fleet was putting to sea. On the 7th of May lord Bridport went on board and ordered anchor to be weighed. Not a man stirred; nor was it likely. No sooner had lord Bridport told them what was not true, that their demands were acceded to, than, in the house of lords and the house of commons, ministers had spoken in very ambiguous terms of the subject, and the board of admiralty had only ended the ambiguity, by issuing an order on the 1st of May, commanding, in consequence of " the disposition lately shown by the seamen of several of his majesty's ships," that the arms and ammunition of the marines should be kept in readiness for use in harbour, as well as at sea; and that on the first appearance of mutiny, the most vigorous measures should be applied to quell it. This was ordering the officers of marines to fire on the sailors who should refuse to be thus shamefully juggled out of their promised rights by the government. On board the London, vice-admiral Colpoys pushed the matter so far that his men resisted orders and as one was unlashing a gun, Simpson, the first-lieutenant, told him that if he did not desist lie would shoot him. The man went on unlashing, and Simpson shot him dead! On this, the sailors, in a rage, disarmed the officers, and proceeded to hang Simpson at the yard-arm. Colpoys then begged for the lieutenant's life, assuring them that the order was his own, and that Simpson had only done his duty in obeying it. The chaplain and surgeon joined in the entreaty; and the men, far more merciful and reasonable than their Commanders, complied. They ordered, however, Colpoys and all the officers to their respective cabins, and put the marines, without arms, below deck. Similar scenes took place on the other ships, and the fleet remained in the hands of the sailors from the 7th to the 11th of May, when lord Howe arrived with an act of parliament, granting all their demands. Howe, aviio was old and infirm, persuaded them to prepare a petition for a full pardon, though their conduct really required none, for they had displayed nothing but a proper English spirit, accompanied by far more wisdom and forbearance than their superiors possessed. They, however, accompanied this petition by an assurance that they would not serve again under the tyrannical officers whom they had put on shore; and this was conceded. Admiral Colpoys was included in this list of officers proscribed by their oppressed men, along with four captains, twenty-nine lieutenants, seventeen masters' mates, twenty-five midshipmen, five captains of marines, three lieutenants, four surgeons, and thirteen petty officers of marines. The whole being arranged on the 15th of May, the red flag was Struck; and the deputies waited on lord Howe to express their obligations to him for his kind services on behalf of the oppressed seamen. His lordship gave them luncheon, and then was escorted by them, along with lady Howe, on board the fleet. On their return, they carried lord Howe on their shoulders to the governor's house. Sir Roger Curtis's squadron had just come in from a cruise, and on learning what had passed, declared them- selves ready to support the rest of the fleet; but the news which Howe had brought at once satisfied them, and all eagerly prepared to set sail, and demonstrate their loyal zeal by au encounter with the Brest fleet.

But the fleet at Sheerness, which sympathised with that at Portsmouth, did not think fit to accept the terms which had satisfied the seamen of Portsmouth. They were incited by a sailor, named Richard Parker, to stand for fresh demands, which were not likely to meet with the sympathy of either sailors or landsmen. On the 20th of May, the ships at the Nore, and others belonging to the North Sea fleet, appointed delegates, and sent in their demands, in imitation of the Portsmouth men. The admiralty flatly rejected their petition. On the 23rd of May the mutineers hoisted the red flag; and all the ships of war lying near Sheerness dropped down to the Nore. On the 29th, a committee from the board of admiralty went down to Sheerness, to try to bring them to reason, but failed. The mutineers then drew their ships in a line across the Thames, cutting off all traffic betwixt the sea and London. On this, the government proceeded to pull up the buoys at the mouth of the river, to erect batteries along the shores for firing red- hot balls; and a proclamation was issued declaring the fleet in a State of rebellion, and prohibiting all intercourse with it. This soon brought some of the mutineers to their senses. They knew that every class of people were against them. On the 4th of June, the king's birth-day, a royal salute was fired from the whole fleet, as a token of loyalty; the red flag was pulled down on every ship but the Sandwich, on board of which was Parker, and all the gay flags usual on such occasions were displayed. Several of the ships now began to drop away from the rest, and put themselves under protection of the guns of Sheerness. On the 13th of June the crew of the Sandwich followed this example, and delivered up the great agitator, Richard Parker, who was tried, and hanged at the yard-arm of that ship on the 30th. Some other of the delegates were executed, and others imprisoned in the hulks; and thus terminated this mutiny, as disgraceful to the sailors as that at Portsmouth was reason- able and honourable.

On the 20th of July parliament was prorogued, nothing further having been brought forward but another abortive motion for parliamentary reform by the opposition.

Early in this year admiral sir John Jervis fell in with the great Spanish fleet, and defeated it. Nelson had predicted that the Spanish fleet would not take much destroying. Admiral de Langara had had a fortunate escape in the Mediterranean, in venturing to Corsica. He had now been superseded by Don Juan de Cordova, and Jervis, on the 4th of February, met with him off Cape St. Vincent. Cordova had twenty-seven sail of the line. Jervis only fifteen; but he had Nelson in his fleet, which more than counter- balanced the inequality of numbers; and the discipline on board the Spanish ships was far below that of the English. Nelson broke through the Spanish line, and chiefly by his exertions and manoeuvres, four of the largest vessels were taken, including one of one hundred and twelve guns. The rest escaped into Cadiz, and there the English blockaded them. The news of this brilliant victory arrived in London when the public was greatly dispirited by the exhausted state of the bank of England, and helped to revive confidence. Sir John Jervis was made earl of St. Vincent, and Nelson, the real hero, a knight of the bath.

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