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Origin: The Colours (Men They Couldn't Hang)

jimlad 01 Apr 02 - 09:35 AM
Gareth 01 Apr 02 - 11:09 AM
jimlad 01 Apr 02 - 01:30 PM
Gareth 01 Apr 02 - 02:56 PM
Gareth 01 Apr 02 - 03:16 PM
GUEST,Nerd 01 Apr 02 - 03:30 PM
Gareth 01 Apr 02 - 03:40 PM
katlaughing 01 Apr 02 - 03:50 PM
jimlad 01 Apr 02 - 04:51 PM
GUEST,Nerd 01 Apr 02 - 04:57 PM
Gareth 01 Apr 02 - 06:04 PM
GUEST,Nerd 01 Apr 02 - 07:35 PM
Nerd 01 Apr 02 - 11:35 PM
Nerd 01 Apr 02 - 11:57 PM
Paddy Plastique 02 Apr 02 - 05:30 AM
Gareth 02 Apr 02 - 02:40 PM
Nerd 02 Apr 02 - 03:07 PM
GUEST,Londonade 01 Nov 10 - 01:38 PM
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Subject: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: jimlad
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 09:35 AM

Is there any historical truth in the song "The Colours"?. Was there a naval mutiny at the time of the Napoleonic Wars?.


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Gareth
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 11:09 AM

Yes jimlad, several.

The most important of such being the Great Mutinies of "Spithead" and "The Nore"

Spithead was the traditional anchorage between Pourtsmouth and the Isle of White for the Chanel Fleet.

The Nore was a semisheltered anchorage in the Thames Estuary of the Mouth of the Medway wheere again since Pepys days the Navey had moored ships rather than take them up to the Naval Dockyards at Deptford (London) Sheerness ( Isle of Sheppy) or Chatham dockyard.

If you put "Spithead and the Nore" into Google you will come upon 60 odd references. Also worth searching "Admiral Richard Howe" "Lord St Vincent"

Interestingly these Grand Mutinies were more in the nature of industrial actions, rather than outright mutinies. - The cause poor rations, no increase in pay for over 100 years, no shore leave, and some represive officers.

Spithead was settled by negotiation. Admiral Howe (aka Black Dick to his crews) was called out of retirement to negotiate as an Admiral well respected for his seamanship and fairness. Legislation was introduced to raise pay and pardon the mutineers - Lord Howe, and his wife, dining with the mutineers representatives., at the conclusion of the mutiny. (BTW possibly to ensure that Lord Howe was seen to be associated with the 'Mutiny' and prevent possible retailiation.

The Nore Mutiny was a bloodier matter. The mutineers tried to blockade London ( remember much of Londons food etc. cam in by sea) - And was put down by force. 30 or so 'ringleaders' were hung from yardarm.

The North Sea fleet then blockading The Netherlands under the flag of Admiral Duncan suffered a mutiny at the same time, with many ships returning to the Nore, or to Yarmouth Roads.

Admiral Duncan surpressed any mutiny on his own flagship by outfacing the mutineers, and reputedly ( Duncan was a big man physically ) by picking up the chief Spokesman for the mutineers and holding him out over the ships rail by the scruff of the neck until he had appologised.

The blockad of the Dutch ports continued with Duncan making flag signals to his non existant fleet over the horizen.

Other minor mutinies were not uncomon. The Mutiny on "Hermoine" and murder of her officers is well recorded in the Novels of Patrick O'Brian, and Dudley Pope.

Here is a "Blicky" about the Northumberland and Lord Saint Vincent.

Other quick "Blickys" Nelsons Navy

And the lgeneral historical context

For a fictional look at a minor mutiny, and the causes, and St Vincents attitude C S Forester's, a naval historian as well as a damn fine author "Lord Hornblower" is worth reading.

Sorry to be so long, but this is a facinating subject.

Gareth


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: jimlad
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 01:30 PM

Gareth Iam mightily impressed by your knowledge of this subject. Jim


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Gareth
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 02:56 PM

Addiitional Blickys

Correct one for general history

The Articles of War generally the same as in 1797 - Note Arts 19 & 20

A Specific list of the history of RN warships at that time I have opened it at 'Hermoine'


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Gareth
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 03:16 PM

Ouch - That last post was cut short !

I have done a search of the DT, and can find nothing that remotly resembles anything specific to the Great Mutinies.

That is not surprising as any Seaman, or Marine singing about it would likely find himself Courtmartialled, or if ashore taken, up for sedition.

One verse or Stanza does come to mind although, it dates from an earlier war against the French, and Admiral Hawke's victory in Quiberon Bay :-

When we did bang Monsewer Conflan,
You sent us beef and beer,
Now the French are beat, we've nothing to eat,
For you have nothing to fear !

NB One of the complaints at Spihead was the practice of issuing rations at the "pursers" pound weight, 14 ounces to the pound.

Gareth


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: GUEST,Nerd
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 03:30 PM

Of course, in "The Colours" the folks appear to be at sea, not at Spithead or the Nore, and they appear to be socialists (red is the colour of the new republic) and sympathisers with Napoleon (we were waiting for Bonaparte), so I don't think the song can credibly refer to THESE mutinies...


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Gareth
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 03:40 PM

The Red Flag was flown at Spihead, at least, but nobody could accuse the Spithead Mutineers of Red Revolution.

Details as to why this flag was chosen are unclear, there is some thought it was there to remind all that dicipline still existed, and that the fleet would have put to sea if the French had sailed - buts thats conjecture.

Red Flags were also flown by Pirates and Rovers, as a sign of surrender or else. Hence the Jolly Roger ( a mistranslation from Jollie Rouge)

The 'Hermoine' mutinied at Sea, in Carribean Waters.

Gareth


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: katlaughing
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 03:50 PM

Fascinating, Gareth! Thank you!


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: jimlad
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 04:51 PM

Now then Gareth I sense you are a bit of a Show off,seriously though,I echo katlaughing, fascinating mate. Jim


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: GUEST,Nerd
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 04:57 PM

Gareth,

I agree that the red flag flew at all these places, but as part of the official assemblage of the navy. That's not the same thing as saying that "Red is the colour of the new republic!" to say that you were trying to create a "new republic" would be immediately recognizable as treason--not just mutiny--for a British officer in the nineteenth century. To claim that you were "waiting for the revolution" and "waiting for Bonaparte" would be similar offenses.

The Hermione did revolt at sea. But that revolt was not a well-defined political action with republican leanings. It bears no resemblance to the ideals protrayed in the song. So I still don't think any of these mutinies can credibly be the basis of the song. You have to be really eager to see a connection, otherwise, the parallels are not at all close.

(BTW I recommend Dudley Pope's history The Black Ship, recently republished in the Heart of Oak Sea Classics series, as a source on the Hermione affair. This is not one of his novels, but a historical account.)

Nerd


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Gareth
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 06:04 PM

Eeeer ! Guest Nerd ( 1 or 2 )

1/. Who raised the question of the Red Flag as a symbol of revolution? To quote your earlier post -
Of course, in "The Colours" the folks appear to be at sea, not at Spithead or the Nore, and they appear to be socialists (red is the colour of the new republic) and sympathisers with Napoleon (we were waiting for Bonaparte), so I don't think the song can credibly refer to THESE mutinies

2/. BTW Dudley Pope's "The Black Ship" relates to the Naval Arm of the SS in the 1940's. Dudley Pope, who died a few years ago was well known as a Historian - His sailing directions for the Medway, and the "Four Fathoms Chanel" - as outlined in "Ramage at Trafalgar" are still apt and accurate. Have you got the correct title ?

3/. The "Hermoine" mutiny was the classic example of a crew being driven beyond endurance by an officer promoted beyond his abilities.

Unfortunately this was not unkown.

But please, pick me up on errors, the purpose of this forum is accuracy, not self promotion

On a matter of accuracy Napolean was not yet Dictator of France in 1797 - although well on the way.

Jinlad, you may be wright, if so I appologise for letting my enthusiasm on the subject gettinf away with me.

Gareth


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: GUEST,Nerd
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 07:35 PM

Hi gareth,

I think we've misunderstood one another. I thought YOU had raised the question of the red flag, and you obviously thought I did. The song says "red is the coulour of the new republic." It does not say anything about flying the red flag. As far as I can tell, you brought that up for the first time in your post. I was just quoting the lyrics, not making my own judgment about the meaning of "red." But I can see how my comments could be misread that way; sorry!

The Song, I think, is talking about flying the tricolour: red is the colour of the new republic, blue is the colour of the sea, white is the colour of my innocence." But, of course,the union jack and the American flag have the same colors, so it's open to interpretation. Combined with the lyrics about waiting for the revolution and waiting for bonaparte, though,it seems obvious these guys decided to throw their lots in with the French and republicanism in general. This was considered by the Hermione crew, by the way.

On closer examination you may be right and Socialism may have nothing to do with the song narrator's politics. But there are other reasons to think it does. The song is clearly addressed to a working class audience perceived on a class basis: "all you soldiers, all you sailors, all you workers of the land..." no officers, magistrates, or Lords are mentioned!

Anyway, I'm sure the red flag flying at the Nore has nothing to do with the lyric "red is the color of the new republic" mentioned in the song. Your observation that Napoleon was not yet dictator in 1797 is also largely irrelevant to an understanding of the song. I don't remember the song mentioning 1797 at all. But it does mention Napoleon by name. So the "matter of accuracy" you bring up supports my contention that the song can not credibly be referring to Spithead or the Nore--at that time no one would be "waiting for Bonaparte."

I suspect, Gareth, that your knowledge of naval history outstrips your knowledge of the song in question. Not a sin, but both types of knowledge are needed to answer the question!

One area of naval history where you're definitely wrong is The Black Ship. It is definitely about the Hermione; I've read it within the last 4 months. To quote the publisher's web site:

"In a true story evocative of Mutiny on the Bounty, Pope recounts one of the most brutal episodes in British Naval history, the bloody mutiny aboard H.M.S. Hermione, and the Royal Navy's daring recapture of the same ship."

Check it out at http://www.heartofoak.com/blackship.htm

Maybe he wrote another book of the same name, or maybe someone else did. But his historical book called The Black Ship IS about HMS Hermione.

Finally, all the Nerd posts are from the same Nerd; I'm a member, but not on my own computer!

Forgive me if this all sounds brusque; I'm in a library and rather in a hurry! I agree,Gareth, that your knowledge of Naval history is impressive, but the song lyrics just don't support a connection with any of the famous mutinies you mention.

Nerd


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Nerd
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 11:35 PM

Gareth and others,

just got home and made sure that Dudley Pope's The Black Ship was the right book. It's in my hands as I write and it's about the Hermione, not the SS's naval arm during the 1940s.

I've been trying to find a copy of the actual lyrics to "The Colours." It's been a while since I heard the song (I have the 12 inch single, believe it or not!). But based on my memories, I don't see how it could be based on the Hermione or the Nore/Spithead events.


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE COLOURS (The Men They Couldn't Hang)
From: Nerd
Date: 01 Apr 02 - 11:57 PM

New information causes me to revise my opinion. Given the lyrics of the song as I found them on the net, the song must be loosely based on Spithead (given the mention of Pitt and of seizing the whole fleet). But the notions that this was socialist rebellion (clearly suggested in the song) and that they flew the tricolour are, as Gareth has pointed out, untenable. So the song is a romantic reworking of the Spithead mutiny to make it socialist, republican and pro-"Jacobean" French. The fact that the narrator predicts with such accuracy that Bonaparte will be the French dictator years down the road makes it even harder to credit historically.

Here are the words. They are, interestingly, not exactly the same as the 12-inch version, which refers to "sailing on the open ocean":

The Colours

I am a member of the council of the naval mutiny
And no traitor to my conscience having done my sworn duty

These are my last words before the scaffold and I charge you all to hear
How a wretched British sailor became a citizen mutineer

Pressed into service to carry powder I was loyal to the crack of the whip
If I starved on the streets of Bristol, I starved worse on a British ship

Red is the colour of the new republic
Blue is the colour of the sea
White is the colour of my innocence
Not surrender to your mercy

I was woken from my misery by the words of Thomas Paine
On my barren soil they fell like the sweetest drops of rain

Red is the colour of the new republic
Blue is the colour of the sea
White is the colour of my innocence
Not surrender to your mercy

So in the spring of the year we took the fleet
Every cask and cannon and compass sheet
And we flew a Jacobean flag to give us heart
While Pitt stood helpless we were waiting for Bonaparte

Red is the colour of the new republic
Blue is the colour of the sea
White is the colour of my innocence
Not surrender to your mercy

All you soldiers, all you sailors, all you labourers of the land
All you beggars, all you builders, all you come here to watch me hang

To the masters we are the rabble, we are the `swinish multitude'
But we can re-arrange the colours of the red and the white and the blue

Red is the colour of the new republic
Blue is the colour of the sea
White is the colour of my innocence
Not surrender to your mercy

Red is the colour of the new republic
Blue is the colour of the sea
White is the colour of my innocence
Not surrender to your mercy


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Paddy Plastique
Date: 02 Apr 02 - 05:30 AM

Thanks Nerd & Gareth for the discussion around these events - I'd been intending to start a thread to see
if there were any songs about Spithead & The Nore - I see it's done for me.. Funnily enough, I remember hearing 'The Colours'
on the radio a few times in the late 80s but I never listened closely enough to the words. These events crop
up in histories of the 1798 rebellion in Ireland - often as a footnote - I first learnt about them in Pakenham's
'Year of Liberty' - I'm sure he gives sources in the footnotes - but I don't have the book handy.
I've always been meaning to read up on it - so thanks for the directions.
Finally, Nerd, isn't it pro-Jacobin you mean there - as I don't think the jolly tars were too well up
on styles of early 17th Century tragedies ?? :-)
Despite my smartarsery, thanks again for all the info.


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Gareth
Date: 02 Apr 02 - 02:40 PM

First an appology - I was wrong about the Black Ship - caution ! check carefully before posting. If it is up to the usual standard of Popes writings it will be a good informative read.

On the Colours - I suspect that this was composed as "Agitprop", possibly after the event. The "Committee of the Mutiny" would stand for the Committees at Spithead, the Nore and Yarmouth.

The Spithead Mutiny broke out in April (Spring 1797) Billy Pitt (Pitt the Younger) Died in 1806.

Boney was appointed General of the "Army to invade England" in October 1797 and became First Counsul of France in December 1799.

I submit the time frame described in "Colours" would fit the Great Mutinies. And don't forget that the 'Folk Process' can distort anything over time.

Gareth


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Subject: RE: The Colours: Men they couldn't hang.
From: Nerd
Date: 02 Apr 02 - 03:07 PM

Gareth & assembled Crew:

The folk process is not what's at issue. "The Colours" is not a trad song. It was written by TMTCH and first released in 1988 (I think). So it's not only written after the fact, but almost 200 years after!

It was written, I think, to connect the band's own left-wing politics to the history of the mutinies. This fits the band's profile well; songs like "Ironmasters," "Shirt of Blue," "Ghosts of Cable Street" are all about not just history but Labor history; in "Ghosts" it is not just a general uprising but a labor uprising of working men in gloves and boots that defeat and disband the British Union of Fascists and club Moseley.

Because the band included details that fit their own agenda rather than accurate research, many of the historical details--such as the Republican flag, the socialist leaning of the council and the sympathy for napoleon--don't fit the great mutinies too well, which was why I was so skeptical. But as Gareth says, the time period, the references to Pitt and even the reference to Bonaparte as leader (at that time, general of the invasion force) do fit the mutinies at the Nore and Spithead.

Paddy: yeah, Jacobin would have been correct. But I was quoting the lyrics from the band's website, which do say "Jacobean."

Nerd


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Subject: RE: Origin: The Colours (Men They Couldn't Hang)
From: GUEST,Londonade
Date: 01 Nov 10 - 01:38 PM

The song is a slightly romanticised version of the events at The Nore. In contrast to the Spithead mutinies the Nore events did have a slightly more political bent - during the mutiny the fleet at the Nore was known as 'The Floating Republic'. The mutinous ships flew the red flag, which had been used by the Jacobins in France. On the 13th May when the delagates came ashore they came with a large red flag flying. The red and white and blue in the song refers to the Union Flag rather than the tricolor.

The protagonist of the song is one of the 29 leaders of the mutiny who were hung, although probably not Richard Parker the nominal admiral of the mutinous fleet.

Interesting references in the song to Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke's 'swinish multitude'.


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