About Hugh Pigot
Hugh Pigot (5 September 1769 – 21 September 1797) was an officer in the Royal Navy. Through his connections and their patronage he was able to rise to the rank of captain, despite apparently poor leadership skills and a reputation for brutality. While he was captain of Hermione he eventually provoked his men to mutiny. The mutiny, which became one of the bloodiest in the history of the Royal Navy, left Pigot and nine other officers dead. The Navy hunted down and executed a number of the mutineers and recaptured his ship from the Spanish, to whom the mutineers had turned it over.
Family and early life
Pigot was born in Patshull, Staffordshire on 5 September 1769, the second son of Admiral Hugh Pigot. His mother was Hugh's second wife, Frances, who was the daughter of Sir Richard Wrottesley. The younger Hugh embarked on his naval career on 10 March 1782, when he joined the 50-gun HMS Jupiter as an admiral's servant. He sailed from the Hamoaze with the Jupiter to the West Indies, where his father was flying his flag aboard the 90-gun HMS Formidable. Pigot was advanced to midshipman or masters' mate on 1 October 1784, and received his commission as lieutenant on 21 September 1790. He received his first command, that of the sloop HMS Swan on 10 February 1794, and was assigned to operate on the Jamaica station.
Whilst in command of the Swan Pigot rammed the merchant ship Canada in the English Channel in May 1794. He placed the blame for the mishap on the master of the merchant. Four months later Pigot was posted to the 32-gun HMS Success as her captain. During a nine-month period, he ordered at least 85 floggings, the equivalent of half the crew; two men died from their injuries. In July 1795 he was involved in another collision with the Mercury, an American ship, near Santo Domingo. He again blamed the master of the other ship. But when he had the man seized and flogged he created a diplomatic incident. Pigot was brought to court-martial but that let him off with an apology. He was initially to return to England after this but Admiral Sir Hyde Parker then in command at Jamaica thought that Pigot had been represented badly and allowed him to transfer to the 32-gun HMS Hermione instead.
Pigot took command of HMS Hermione on 10 February 1797, making a habit of giving preferential treatment to members of the crew who had previously served under him. The ship was sent to patrol the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Pigot destroyed three privateers at Puerto Rico on 22 March 1797. In April Pigot aboard Hermione, and acting in company with HMS Mermaid, HMS Drake, HMS Penelope and HMS Quebec succeeded in cutting out nine merchants at the Battle of Jean-Rabel under fire from enemy batteries, and without losing a single man. In an incident in May 1797 the Hermione narrowly escaped being wrecked thanks to the efforts of one of her lieutenants, Harris, but a ship sailing in company with the Hermione went aground. Pigot blamed Harris however and insisted upon an inquiry. Though Harris was exonerated, he immediately left the ship to serve on another. Pigot had by now developed a reputation for excessive brutality. On 6 September 1797 and in company with HMS Diligence and HMS Renommee she captured a 6-gun Spanish privateer.
Midshipman David Casey was an experienced midshipman who had distinguished himself to Captain Pigot during the previous months, but his disrating was a primary trigger to the mutiny. About a week before the mutiny, Casey was at his station on the main top, and the captain noticed a reef knot which had not been tied by one of the sailors under his supervision. Casey was brought before the captain, and while he begged his pardon, Casey refused to be humiliated by apologizing on his knees. The captain gave him 12 lashes, and he was disrated, which would end his career as a naval officer. The crew felt Casey was punished unfairly, and the topmen began to plot mutiny.
Pigot had also developed the practice of flogging the last sailor down from working aloft. On 20 September 1797, Pigot ordered the topsails to be reefed after a squall struck the ship. Dissatisfied with the speed of the operation because "these would be the yard-arm men, the most skilful topmen" he gave the order that the last men off the yard would be flogged. Three young sailors, in their haste to get down, fell to their deaths on the deck, one of which hit and injured the master Southcott. Pigot ordered their bodies thrown into the sea with the words "throw the lubbers overboard"—the worst insult in the seaman's vocabulary, and then instructed two bos'un mate's to flog the rest of topmen when they complained, and the rest of the topmen were flogged the next morning.
The humiliation of Casey, the deaths of the topmen and the severe punishment of the rest of the sailors afterward triggered the mutiny. The evening of 21 September 1797, a number of the crew, drunk on stolen rum, rushed Pigot's cabin and forced their way in after overpowering the marine stationed outside. They hacked at Pigot with knives and cutlasses before throwing him overboard, probably while he was still alive. The mutineers, probably led by a core group of just 18, went on to murder another eight of Hermione's officers: First Lieutenant Samuel Reed, Second Lieutenant Archibald Douglas, Third Lieutenant Henry Foreshaw, the Marine commander, Lieutenant McIntosh; Bosun William Martin, Purser Pacey and Surgeon Sansum. The captain's clerk and two midshipmen were also killed and all the bodies were thrown overboard. Three warrant officers survived, the Gunner and Carpenter were spared because they were considered useful to the ship, and Southcott the master was spared so he could navigate. Southcott lived to be a key witness, along with Casey who was also spared, and their eyewitness accounts and testimony were key to the trials of many of the mutineers. Three petty officers joined the mutiny, one midshipman, Surgeon's Mate Cronin, and Master's Mate Turner.
Fearing retribution for their actions, the mutineer's decided to navigate the ship toward Spanish waters. One reason the master's life was spared was because Turner could not navigate the ship properly without his help. The Hermione sailed to La Guaira, where they handed the ship over to the Spanish authorities. The mutineers claimed they had set the officers adrift in a small boat, as had happened in the mutiny on the Bounty some eight years earlier. The Spanish gave the mutineers just $25 dollars each in return, and presented them with the options of joining the Spanish army, heavy labour, or refitting their ship. The Hermione was taken into service with the Spanish and renamed Santa Cecilia, and was manned by 25 of her former sailors under Spanish guard.
Recovery and renaming
Meanwhile news of the fate of the Hermione reached Sir Hyde Parker when HMS Diligence captured a Spanish schooner. Parker wrote to the governor of La Guaira, demanding the return of the ship and the surrender of the mutineers. He also despatched HMS Magicienne under Captain Henry Ricketts to commence negotiations. He also set up a system of informers and posted rewards, which eventually led to the capture of 33 of the mutineers, some of whom were tried aboard HMS York. Of these, 24 were hanged and gibbetted, one was transported, and eight were acquitted or pardoned. To Parker's fury, Admiral Richard Rodney Bligh had issued pardons to several mutineers. Parker forced Bligh to resign and return to Britain. The Hermione had meanwhile sat in Puerto Cabello until Captain Edward Hamilton, aboard HMS Surprise cut her out of the harbour on 25 October 1799. The Spanish lost 119 dead and 231 were taken prisoner, while another 15 jumped or fell overboard. Hamilton had 11 injured, four seriously, but none killed.
Parker had the recaptured Hermione renamed HMS Retaliation, after which the Admiralty ordered her to be renamed HMS Retribution on 31 January 1800.
In Popular Culture
Captain Sawyer, commander of frigate HMS Renown in the Horatio Hornblower novel Lieutenant Hornblower is based on Captain Pigot, sharing many of the same mannerisms. Sawyer was portrayed by actor David Warner in the A&E miniseries Hornblower episodes "Mutiny" and "Retribution".