Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
Anyone familiar with British naval history has probably come across the frigate Hermione. The bloodiest mutiny occurred aboard this vessel in October 1797. Her captain, Hugh Pigot, might have been the cruelest captain to serve in the Royal Navy. The mutiny was a direct outcome of the brutal discipline that he meted out to the men under his command. The mutineers murdered him and nine of his officers, then sailed the Hermione to an island in the Spanish Main and gifted the enemy with the ship. Those involved in the mutiny thought they were finally free of the tyranny that had oppressed them, but they didn’t count on the ruthless and dogged pursuit the British undertook to bring the men to justice and to recapture the frigate.
The author covers the people and events leading up to the mutiny, as well as its aftermath in twenty-eight chapters. The book includes five appendices (The Effect of a Flogging, Floggings ordered by Captain Wilkinson in the Hermione, Floggings ordered by Captain Pigot in the Success, The Men Active in the Mutiny, and Recorded trials for mutiny in the Royal Navy for 1798), notes and bibliography, and an index. Various types of illustrations accompany the text. Aside from the mutiny, the book also mentions quite a few privateer incidents involving the Hermione.
Pope, who has written several notable nautical novels, is also a maritime historian. He first came across a brief reference to the mutiny in 1950. But this is “the first detailed story of the bloodiest mutiny that ever occurred in a ship of the Royal Navy, and it is written entirely from contemporary official and private documents.” (11) In deciding to investigate the incident at greater length, he wanted to answer the question: “If Pigot was cruel . . . why did the crew stand Pigot’s tyranny for so long and then suddenly mutiny?” (12) Nor did the author rely solely on British documents. He also consulted numerous Spanish resources, which enabled him to successfully provide nearly a minute-by-minute reconstruction through the words of the men who knew of, participated in, or endured the mutiny. To help determine why Pigot and others did what they did, he also consulted with a psychiatrist to provide readers with the reason or motive behind what occurred.
Interesting facts and the men’s accounts of what transpired make this a compelling read. At times, Pope steps back from the story to explain certain aspects so that the reader better appreciates what happens. For example, significant space is given to flogging with the cat-o’-nine tails, detailing not only what it is, what it felt like to endure this punishment, and how it compared to the cat used in the army and punishments meted out to civilians ashore, but also how Pigot used this punishment and the inequity with which various offenders suffered the lash. Equally telling and illuminating in the presentation is a) why the navy continued to pursue and punish the mutineers a decade after the mutiny and murders, for this incident occurred the same year as those at Spithead and the Nore; and b) how the British navy and the Admiralty learned of the mutiny aboard the frigate.
Review Copyrighted ©2013 Cindy Vallar
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