2. British Naval Regulations


British naval regulations were severely tested in this incident. What did the testing, if anything, reveal - in your opinion? Do you think the story accurately depicted the enforcement, effectiveness, purpose of British naval regulations?


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    edited November 3

    I should hope it's accurate - this is supposed to be non-fiction. I have no reason to believe it's not, and I'm not all that familiar with this particular time in the history of the Royal Navy. I think the purpose of most of the navy rules was to keep discipline and prevent disorder from spreading on ships. I doubt the rules had much to do with public opinion or protecting the reputation of the institution, though I suspect this incident might have led to changes in that. Maybe this was even covered in the book - I no longer recall.

    To some extent it doesn't matter what the regulations are in a situation like this. The people starving on the island know full well that the person who wrote the regulations isn't there with them, and was probably not themselves stranded on an island when they wrote the rules, so WTF do they know about it, anyway.

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    I think the general adherence to regulations, and the maintenance of order, came down to people considering what would happen after any rescue. They didn't want to rescue themselves and then get hanged for mutiny on their return.

    If discipline had been a bit tighter, the whole thing could have had a much happier outcome. If Mitchell and co hadn't offended the Kawéskar, they could well have transported everyone to safety, and much sooner.

    Despite that, there were some brutal decisions made. There were several times that people were left abandoned to die.

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    I guess I was curious if it "accurately depicted" how these rules were enforced (or not) in other cases. Despite the twists and turns, and the overall f-ed up situation, it was still mutiny. The rationalizations of the self-righteous carpenter (carpenter?) ultimately bothered me quite a bit. Even though I 100% understood his motivations and sympathized with him dealing with a captain "Ahab." I was surprised in the end that the court failed to dig in and prosecute - almost as if they realized their rules didn't extend to reality.

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    Other things I have read suggest that whilst the regulations were explicit about mutiny, and extremely wide in their interpretation of what constituted mutiny, in practice they were not enforced via often, and there is a fascinating contrast between the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore (both in 1797 so a bit later than this book).

    Spithead was conducted peacefully and in a well-organised manner, and the demands were regarded as legitimate. The officers were essentially blamed (ie removed to shore commands) and Royal pardons granted to the protesters.

    The Nore was seen as more radical and dangerous (ie too many potential connections to events in France) and also was conducted in a way which threatened national life and trade more directly - this was put down vigorously and with fairly brutal punishments.

    So it seems that whilst the regulations themselves were what they were, the manner of interpretation and enforcement varied considerably, and the Admiralty fully aware that some officers carried out their tasks in an excessively harsh manner. In the case of The Wager, the regulations were avoided by simply not asking questions which would approach this thorny subject too closely.

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    I would entirely agree with Mr. Abbott here. There was wide latitude for interpretation and enforcement, and the Courts Martial used their discretion, tacitly agreeing with the justification.

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