HMS Hermione

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In 1797, HMS Hermione 32, Captain Hugh Pigot was assigned to the West Indian Station. For reference, the mutinies at Spithead and Nore took place in April and May of 1797. On September 21, 1797 Captain Pigot ordered topsails be reefed. Unhappy with the speed of the evolution, he ordered the last man off the yard be flogged. The topmen were in a panic to get down, and three fell to their deaths. Capt. Pigot ordered the bodies thrown overboard, with no honors rendered. That night the crew mutinied, killed the officers and sailed to Venezula, where the ship was handed over to the Spanish, and renamed Santa Cecilia.

This incident is rather infamous, and is mentioned in the Canon, but with no indication it refers to the cause of the Hermione mutiny. Even Captain Hamilton describes it thusly "...commanded by Captain Hugh Pigot, a very indiscreet but well intentioned young officer, and from some severities on his part, occasioned the seamen the most outrageous and barbarous mutinies ever recorded in naval history."

It was rumored that Hermione was to leave Porto Cavallo, on the Spanish Main (Venezula) for Havana. Captain Hamilton of HMS Surprise offered to lead a cutting out expedition while the Hermione was re supplying at Porto Cavallo, and permission was granted by Sir Hyde Parker, CiC at Jamaica. At that time Surprise was armed with 32 guns, all carronades, and staffed by 200 men. Admiral Parker provided Hamilton with a barge and twenty men, Hamilton's crew being short handed from disease.

Surprise was ordered to cruise off Cape de la Velea, fifty or so leagues west and seaward of Porto Cavallo, and intercept Hermione when she sailed for Havana. Surprise remained on station until provisions were nearly expended, and then sent in the ships boats to obtain information. Having received information that Hermione was still at Porto Cavallo, and believing he would not meet her at sea, Hamilton planned the cutting out expedition without consulting anyone on board. The captain led the pinnace, the first lieutenant led the launch, the carpenter the jolly boat. These three boats were to board, cut the bower cable, and two men to proceed to loose the mizzen topsail. A second division was comprised of the black cutter, the gig and the red cutter. The general plan was for some of the men to board and attempt to take the Hermione in tow. If the raiders were discovered and an alarm raised, all were to board and take the ship.

The raid was successful, although Captain Hamilton was not pleased with the conduct of the second division, and did not name the lieutenants in his public letter. Captain Hamilton gave his portion of the prize money, approximately 8,000 dollars (Spanish?)as rewards to crew members he believed had acted properly. On arrival at Port Royal, Jamaica, Sir Hyde Parker offered to name the ship after Hamilton, but he declined. Hermione was renamed Retaliation and then Retribution. There were three other Royal Navy ships named Hermione after this, the last scrapped in 1997.


The information for this article comes from a reprint of a pamphlet originally authored by Sir Edward Hamilton, Captain of HMS Surprise at the time of the events described.

The full title page of the pamphlet reads: " A Narrative of the Circumstances that led to the attempt and the particulars of the boarding and capturing of the Hermione Frigate in 1799. By Admiral Sir Edward Hamlton, BART., K.C.B. Midhurst, Sussex: T.E.Goodner, Printer & Stationer."Times" Office. MDCCCXCI. Reprinted. MDCCCXCI translates to 1891, if my memory serves. There is an appendix written by Hermione L.F. Cubitt, great grand daughter of Sir Edward Hamilton, dated October 1952.

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