The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore
John R. Hutchinson

Part 2 out of 6

was prosecuted for smuggling. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 7.
298--Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. 101.]

The most successful sham gang ever organised was perhaps that said to
have been got together by a trio of mischievous Somerset girls. The
scene of the exploit was the Denny-Bowl quarry, near Taunton. The
quarrymen there were a hard-bitten set and great braggarts, openly
boasting that no gang dare attack them, and threatening, in the event
of so unlikely a contingency, to knock the gangsmen on the head and
bury them in the rubbish of the pit. There happened to be in the
neighbouring town "three merry maids," who heard of this tall talk and
secretly determined to put the vaunted courage of the quarrymen to the
test. They accordingly dressed themselves in men's clothing, stuck
cockades in their hats, and with hangers under their arms stealthily
approached the pit. Sixty men were at work there; but no sooner did
they catch sight of the supposed gang than they one and all threw down
their tools and ran for their lives.

Officially known as the Rendezvous, a French term long associated with
English recruiting, the headquarters of the gang were more familiarly,
and for brevity's sake, called the "rondy." Publicans were partial to
having the rondy on their premises because of the trade it brought
them. Hence it was usually an alehouse, frequently one of the shadiest
description, situated in the lowest slum of the town; but on
occasions, as when the gang was of uncommon strength and the number of
pressed men dealt with proportionately large, a private house or other
suitable building was taken for the exclusive use of the service. It
was distinguished by a flag--a Jack--displayed upon a pole. The cost
of the two was 27s., and in theory they were supposed to last a year;
but in towns where the populace evinced their love for the press by
hewing down the pole and tearing the flag in ribbons, these emblems of
national liberty had frequently to be renewed. At King's Lynn as much
as 13 Pounds was spent upon them in four years--an outlay regarded by
the Navy Board with absolute dismay. It would have been not less
dismayed, perhaps, could it have seen the bunting displayed by
rendezvous whose surroundings were friendly. There the same old Jack
did duty year after year until, grimy and bedraggled, it more
resembled the black flag than anything else that flew, wanting only
the skull and cross-bones to make it a fitting emblem of authorised

The rondy was hardly a spot to which one would have resorted for a
rest-cure. When not engaged in pressing, the gangsmen were a
roistering, drinking crew, under lax control and never averse from a
row, either amongst themselves or with outsiders. Sometimes the
commanding officer made the place his residence, and when this was the
case some sort of order prevailed. The floors were regularly swept,
the beds made, the frowsy "general" gratified by a weekly "tip" on
pay-day. But when, on the other hand, the gangsmen who did not "find
themselves" occupied the rondy to the exclusion of the officer, eating
and sleeping there, tramping in and out at all hours of the day and
night, dragging pressed men in to be "regulated" and locked up, and
diverting such infrequent intervals of leisure as they enjoyed by
pastimes in which fear of the "gent overhead" played no part--when
this was the case the rondy became a veritable bear-garden, a place of
unspeakable confusion wherein papers and pistols, boots and blankets,
cutlasses, hats, beer-pots and staves cumbered the floors, the lockers
and the beds with a medley of articles torn, rusty, mud-stained,
dirt-begrimed and unkept.

Amongst accessories essential to the efficient activity of gangs
stationed at coast or river towns the boat had first place. Sometimes
both sail and row-boats were employed. Luggers of the old type, fast
boats carrying a great press of sail, served best for overhauling
ships; but on inland waterways, such as the Thames, the Humber or the
Tyne, a "sort of wherry, constructed for rowing fast," was the
favourite vehicle of pursuit. The rate of hire varied from 1s. a day
to two or more guineas a week, according to the size and class of
boat. At Cork it was "five shillings Irish" per day.

Accessories of a less indispensable nature, occasionally allowed,
were, at Dartmouth and a few other places, cockades for the gangsmen's
hats, supplied at a cost of 1s. each; at Tower Hill a messenger, pay
20s. a week; and at Appledore an umbrella for use in rainy weather,
price 12s. 6d.

The arms of the gang comprised, first, a press-warrant, and, second,
such weapons as were necessary to enforce it.

In the literature of the eighteenth century the warrant is inseparably
associated with the short, incurvated service sword commonly known as
the cutlass or hanger; but in the press-gang prints of the period the
gangsmen are generally armed with stout clubs answering to Smollett's
"good oak plant." Apart from this artistic evidence, however, there is
no valid reason for believing that the bludgeon ever came into general
use as the ganger's weapon. As early as the reign of Anne he went
armed with the "Queen's broad cutlash," and for most gangs, certainly
for all called upon to operate in rough neighbourhoods, the hanger
remained the stock weapon throughout the century. In expeditions
involving special risk or danger, the musket and the pistol
supplemented what must have been in itself no mean weapon.

As we have already seen, the earliest recorded press-warrants emanated
from the king in person, whilst later ones were issued by the king in
council and endorsed by the naval authorities. As the need of men
became more and more imperative, however, this mode of issue was found
to be too cumbersome and inexpeditious. Hence, by the time the
eighteenth century came in, with its tremendously enhanced demands on
behalf of the Navy, the royal prerogative in respect to warrants had
been virtually delegated to the Admiralty, who issued them on their
own initiative, though ostensibly in pursuance of His Majesty's Orders
in Council.

An Admiralty warrant empowered the person to whom it was directed to
"impress" as many "seamen" as possibly he could procure, giving to
each man so impressed 1s. "for prest money." He was to impress none
but such as "were strong bodies and capable to serve the king"; and,
having so impressed such persons, he was to deliver them up to the
officer regulating the nearest rendezvous. All civil authorities were
to be "aiding and assisting" to him in the discharge of this duty.

Now this document, the stereotyped press-warrant of the century, here
concisely summarised in its own phraseology, was not at all what it
purported to be. It was in fact a warrant out of time, an official
anachronism, a red-tape survival of that bygone period when pressing
still meant "presting" and force went no further than a threat. For
men were now no longer "prested." They were pressed, and that, too, in
the most drastic sense of the term. The king's shilling no longer
changed hands. Even in Pepys' time men were pressed "without money,"
and in none of the accounts of expenses incurred in pressing during
the century which followed, excepting only a very few of the earlier
ones, can any such item as the king's shilling or prest-money be
discovered. Its abolition was a logical sequence of the change from
presting to pressing.

The seaman, moreover, so far from being the sole quarry of the
warrant-holder, now sought concealment amongst a people almost without
exception equally liable with himself to the capture he endeavoured to
elude. Retained merely as a matter of form, and totally out of keeping
with altered conditions, the warrant was in effect obsolete save as an
instrument authorising one man to deprive another of his liberty in
the king's name. Even the standard of "able bodies and capable" had
deteriorated to such an extent that the officers of the fleet were
kept nearly as busy weeding out and rejecting men as were the officers
of the impress in taking them.

Still, the warrant served. Stripped of its obsolete injunctions, it
read: "Go ye out into the highways and hedges, and water-ways, and
compel them to come in"--enough, surely, for any officer imbued with
zeal for His Majesty's service.

Though according to the strict letter of the law as defined by various
decisions of the courts a press-warrant was legally executable only by
the officer to whom it was addressed, in practice the limitation was
very widely departed from, if not altogether ignored; for just as a
constable or sheriff may call upon bystanders to assist him in the
execution of his office, so the holder of a press-warrant, though
legally unable to delegate his authority by other means, could call
upon others to aid him in the execution of his duty. Naturally, the
gangsmen being at hand, and being at hand for that very purpose, he
gave them first preference. Hence, the gangsman pressed on the
strength of a warrant which in reality gave him no power to press.

While the law relating to the intensive force of warrants was thus
deliberately set at naught, an extraordinary punctiliousness for legal
formality was displayed in another direction. According to tradition
and custom no warrant was valid until it had received the sanction of
the civil power. Solicitor-General Yorke could find no statutory
authority for such procedure. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 7.
298--Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. 102.] He accordingly
pronounced it to be non-essential to the validity of warrants.
Nevertheless, save in cases where the civil power refused its
endorsement, it was universally adhered to. What was bad law was
notoriously good policy, for a disaffected mayor, or an unfriendly
Justice of the Peace, had it in his power to make the path of the
impress officer a thorny one indeed. "Make unto yourselves friends,"
was therefore one of the first injunctions laid upon officers whose
duties unavoidably made them many enemies.



In theory an authority for the taking of seafaring men only, the
press-warrant was in practice invested with all the force of a Writ of
Quo Warranto requiring every able-bodied male adult to show by what
right he remained at large. The difference between the theory and the
practice of pressing was consequently as wide as the poles.

While the primary and ostensible objective of the impress remained
always what it had been from the outset, the seaman who had few if any
land-ties except those of blood or sex, from this root principle there
sprang up a very Upas tree of pretension, whose noxious branches
overspread practically every section of the community. Hence the
press-gang, the embodiment of this pretension, eventually threw aside
ostence and took its pick of all who came its way, let their
occupation or position be what it might. It was no duty of the
gangsman to employ his hanger in splitting hairs. "First catch your
man," was for him the greatest of all the commandments. Discrimination
was for his masters. The weeding out could be done when the pressing
was over.

The classes hardest hit by this lamentable want of discrimination were
the classes engaged in trade. "Mr. Coventry," wrote Pepys some four
years after the Restoration, "showed how the medium of the men the
King hath one year with another employed in his navy since his coming,
hath not been above 3000 men, or at most 4000; and now having occasion
for 30,000, the remaining 26,000 _must be found out of the Trade of
the Nation_." Naturally. Where a nation of shopkeepers was
concerned it could hardly have been otherwise. They who go down to the
sea in ships and do business in great waters, returning laden with the
spoils of the commercial world, have perforce to render tribute unto
Caesar; but Mr. Commissioner Coventry little guessed, when he
enunciated his corollary with such nice precision, to what it was
destined to lead in the next hundred years or so.

Under the merciless exactions of the press-gang Trade did not,
however, prove the submissive thing that was wont to stand at its
doors and cry: "Will you buy? will you buy?" or to bow prospective
customers into its rich emporiums with unctuous rubbing of hands and
sauve words. Trade knew its power and determined to use it. "Look you!
my Lords Commissioners," cried Trade, truculently cocking its hat in
the face of Admiralty, "I have had enough. You have taken my butcher,
my baker, my candlestick-maker, nor have you spared that worthy youth,
the 'prentice who was to have wed my daughter. My coachman, the driver
of my gilded chariot, goes in fear of you, and as for my sedan-chair
man, he is no more found. My colliers, draymen, watermen, the
carpenters who build my ships and the mariners who sail them, the
ablest of these my necessary helpers sling their hammocks in your
fleet. You have crippled the printing of my Bible and the brewing of
my Beer, and I can bear no more. Protect me from my arch-enemy the
foreigner if you must and will, but not, my Lords Commissioners, by
such monstrous personal methods as these." "Your servant!" said
Admiralty, obsequious before the only power it feared--"your servant
to command!" and straightway set about finding a remedy for the evils
Trade complained of.

Now, to attain this end, so desirable if Trade were to be placated, it
was necessary to define with precision either whom the gang might
take, or whom it might not take; and here Admiralty, though
notoriously a body without a brain, achieved a stroke of genius, for
it brought down both birds with a single stone. Postulating first of
all the old _lex sine lege_ fiction that every native-born Briton
and every British male subject born abroad was legally pressable, it
laid it down as a logical sequence that no man, whatever his vocation
or station in life, was lawfully exempt; that exemption was in
consequence an official indulgence and not a right; and that apart
from such indulgence every man, unless idiotic, blind, lame, maimed or
otherwise physically unfit, was not only liable to be pressed, but
could be legally pressed for the king's service at sea. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 7. 300--Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No.
26; and _Admiralty Records_ 1. 581--Admiral Berkeley, 14 Feb.
1805, well express the official view.] Having thus cleared the ground
root and branch, Admiralty magnanimously proceeded to frame a category
of persons whom, as an act of grace and a concession to Trade, it was
willing to protect from assault and capture by its emissary the

These exemptions from the wholesale incidence of the impress were not
granted all at once. Embodied from time to time in Acts of Parliament
and so-called acts of official grace--slowly and painfully wrung from
a reluctant Admiralty by the persistent demands and ever-growing power
of Trade--they spread themselves over the entire century of struggle
for the mastery of the sea, from which they were a reaction, and,
touching the lives of the common people in a hundred and one intimate
points and interests, culminated at length in the abolition of that
most odious system of oppression from which they had sprung, and in a
charter of liberties before which the famous charter of King John
sinks into insignificance.


As a matter of policy the foreigner had first place in the list of
exemptions. He could volunteer if he chose, [Footnote: Strenuous
efforts were made in 1709 to induce the "Poor Palatines"--seven
thousand of them encamped at Blackheath, and two thousand in Sir John
Parson's brewhouse at Camberwell--to enter for the navy. But the
"thing was New to them to go aboard a Man of Warr," so they declined
the invitation, "having the Notion of being sent to Carolina."
--_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1437--Letters of Capt. Aston.] but
he must not be pressed. [Footnote: 13 George II. cap. 17.] To
deprive him of his right in this respect was to invite unpleasant
diplomatic complications, of which England had already too many on her
hands. Trade, too, looked upon the foreigner as her perquisite, and
Trade must be indulged. Moreover, he fostered mutiny in the fleet,
where he was prone to "fly in the face" of authority and to refuse to
work, much less fight, for an alien people. If, however, he served on
board British merchant ships for two years, or if he married in
England, he at once lost caste, since he then became a naturalised
British subject and was liable to have even his honeymoon curtailed by
a visit from the press-gang. Such, in fact, was the fate of one
William Castle of Bristol in 1806. Pressed there in that year on his
return from the West Indies, he was discharged as a person of alien
birth; but having immediately afterwards committed the indiscretion of
taking a Bristol woman to wife, he was again pressed, this time within
three weeks of his wedding-day, and kept by express order of
Admiralty. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1537--Capt. Barker,
23 July 1806.]

For some years after the passing of the Act exempting the foreigner,
his rights appear to have been generally, though by no means
universally respected. "Discharge him if not married or settled in
England," was the usual order when he chanced to be taken by the gang.
With the turn of the century, however, a reaction set in. Pressed men
claiming to be of alien birth were thenceforth only liberated "if
unfit for service." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2733--Capt.
Young, 11 March 1756, endorsement, and numerous instances.] For this
untoward change the foreigner could blame none but himself. When taxed
with having an English wife, he could seldom or never be induced to
admit the soft impeachment. Consequently, whenever he was taken by the
gang he was assumed, in the absence of proof to the contrary, to have
committed the fatal act of naturalisation. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 581--Admiral Phillip, 26 Feb. 1805.] Alien seamen in
distress through shipwreck or other accidental causes, formed a humane
exception to this unwritten law.

The negro was never reckoned an alien. Looked upon as a proprietary
subject of the Crown, and having no one in particular to speak up for
or defend him, he "shared the same fate as the free-born white man."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 482--Admiral Lord Colvill, 29
Oct. 1762.] Many blacks, picked up in the West Indies or on the
American coast "without hurting commerce," were to be found on board
our ships of war, where, when not incapacitated by climatic
conditions, they made active, alert seamen and "generally imagined
themselves free." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 585--Admiral
Donnelly, 22 Feb. 1815.] Their point of view, poor fellows, was
doubtless a strictly comparative one.

Theoretically exempt by virtue of his calling, whatever that might be,
the landsman was in reality scarcely less marked down by the gang than
his unfortunate brother the seafaring man; for notwithstanding all its
professions to the contrary, Admiralty could not afford to ignore the
potentialities of the reserve the landsman represented. Hence no
occupation, no property qualification, could or did protect him. As
early as 1705 old Justice, in his treatise on sea law, deplores
bitterly the "barbarous custom of pressing promiscuously landsmen and
seamen," and declares that the gang, in its purblind zeal, "hurried
away tradesmen from their houses, 'prentices and journeymen from their
masters' shops, and even housekeepers (householders) too." By 1744 the
practice had become confirmed. In that year Capt. Innes, of His
Majesty's armed sloop the _Hind_, applied to the Lords Commissioners
for "Twenty Landsmen from Twenty to Twenty-five years of Age."
The Admiralty order, "Let the Regulating Captains send them as
he desires," [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1983--Capt. Innes,
3 May 1744, and endorsement.] leaves no room for doubt as to the class
of men provided. They were pressed men, not volunteers.

Nor is this a solitary instance of a practice that was rapidly growing
to large proportions. Many a landsman, in the years that followed,
shared the fate of the Irish "country farmer" who went into Waterford
to sell his corn, and was there pressed and sent on board the tender;
of James Whitefoot, the Bristol glover, "a timid, unformed young man,
the comfort and support of his parents," who, although he had "never
seen a ship in his life," was yet pressed whilst "passing to follow
his business," which knew him no more; and of Winstanley, the London
butcher, who served for upwards of sixteen years as a pressed man.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1501--Capt. Bligh, 16 May 1781.
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1531--Duchess of Gordon, 14 Feb. 1804.
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 584--Humble Petition of Betsey Winstanley,
2 Sept. 1814.] Wilkes' historic barber would have entered upon the
same enforced career had not that astute Alderman discovered, to the
astonishment of the nation at large, that a warrant which authorised
the pressing of seamen did not necessarily authorise the pressing of a
city tonsor.

Amongst landsmen the harvester, as a worker of vital utility to the
country, enjoyed a degree of exemption accorded to few. Impress
officers had particular instructions concerning him. They were to
delete him from the category of those who might be taken. Armed with a
certificate from the minister and churchwardens of his parish, this
migratory farm-hand, provided always he were not a sailor masquerading
in that disguise, could traverse the length and breadth of the land to
all intents and purposes a free man. To him, as well as to the grower
of corn who depended so largely upon his aid in getting his crop, the
concession proved an inestimable boon. There were violations of the
harvester's status, it is true; [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
5125--Memorial of Sir William Oglander, Bart., July 1796.] but these
were too infrequent to affect seriously the industry he represented.

So far as the press was concerned, the harvester was better off than
the gentleman, for while the former could dress as he pleased, the
latter was often obliged to dress as he could, and in this lay an
element of danger. So long as his clothes were as good as the blood he
boasted, and he wore them with an aplomb suggestive of position and
influence, the gentleman was safe; but let his pretensions to
gentility lie more in the past than in the suit on his back, and woe
betide him! In spite of his protestations the gang took him, and he
was lucky indeed if, like the gentleman who narrates his experience in
the _Review_ for the both of February 1706, he was able to
convince his captors that he was foreign born by "talking Latin and

To the people at large, whether landsmen or seafarers, the Act
exempting from the press every male under eighteen and over fifty-five
years of age would have brought a sorely needed relief had not
Admiralty been a past-master in the subtle art of outwitting the law.
In this instance a simple regulation did the trick. Every man or boy
who claimed the benefit of the age-limit when pressed, was required to
prove his claim ere he could obtain his discharge. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 7. 300--Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No.
43: "It is incumbent on those who claim to be exempted to prove the
facts."] The impossibility of any general compliance with such a
demand on the part of persons often as ignorant of birth certificates
as they were of the sea, practically wiped the exemption off the

In the eyes of the Regulating Captain no man was older than he looked,
no lad as young as he avowed. Hence thousands of pressed men over
fifty-five, who did not look the age they could not prove, figured on
the books of the fleet with boys whose precocity of appearance gave
the lie to their assertions. George Stephens, son of a clerk in the
Transport Office, suffered impressment when barely thirteen; and the
son of a corporal in Lord Elkinton's regiment, one Alexander M'Donald,
was listed in the same manner while still "under the age of twelve."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 583--Vice-Admiral Hunter, 10
May 1813. _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1503--Capt. Butchart, 22 Jan.
1782, and enclosure.] The gang did not pause by the way to discuss
such questions.

Apprentices fell into a double category--those bound to the sea, those
apprenticed on land. Nominally, the sea apprentice was protected from
the impress for a term of three years from the date of his indentures,
provided he had not used the sea before; [Footnote: 2 & 3 Anne, cap.
6, re-affirmed 13 George II. cap. 17.] while the land apprentice
enjoyed immunity under the minimum age-limit of eighteen years. The
proviso in the first case, however, left open a loop-hole the impress
officer was never slow to take advantage of; and the minimum
age-limit, as we have just seen, had little if any existence in fact.
Apprentices pressed after the three years' exemption had expired were
never given up, nor could their masters successfully claim them in
law. They dropped like ripe fruit into the lap of Admiralty. On the
other hand, apprentices pressed within the three years' exemption
period were generally discharged, for if they were not, they could be
freed by a writ of Habeas Corpus, or else the masters could maintain
an action for damages against the Admiralty. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 7. 300--Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 25.]
'Prentices who "eloped" or ran away from their masters, and then
entered voluntarily, could not be reclaimed by any known process at
law if they were over eighteen years of age. On the whole, the
position of the apprentice, whether by land or sea, was highly
anomalous and uncertain. Often taken by the gang in the hurry of
visiting a ship, or in the scurry of a hot press on shore, he was in
effect the shuttlecock of the service, to-day singing merrily at his
capstan or bench, to-morrow bewailing his hard fate on board a

When it came to the exemption of seamen, Admiralty found itself on the
horns of a dilemma. Both the Navy and the merchant service depended in
a very large degree upon the seaman who knew the ropes--who could take
his turn at the wheel, scud aloft without going through the
lubber-hole, and act promptly and sailorly in emergency. To take
wholesale such men as these, while it would enormously enhance the
effectiveness of His Majesty's ships of war, must inevitably cripple
sea-borne trade. It was therefore necessary, for the well-being of
both services, to discover the golden mean. According to statute law
[Footnote: 13 George II. cap. 17.] every person using the sea, of what
age soever he might be, was exempt from the impress for two years from
the time of his first making the venture. The concession did not
greatly improve the situation from a trade point of view. It merely
touched the fringe of the problem, and Trade was insistent.

A further concession was accordingly made. All masters, mates,
boatswains and carpenters of vessels of fifty tons and upwards were
exempted from the impress on condition of their going before a Justice
of the Peace and making oath to their several qualifications. This
affidavit, coupled with a succinct description of the deponent,
constituted the holder's "protection" and shielded him, or was
supposed to shield him, from molestation by the gang. Masters and
mates of colliers, and of vessels laid up for the winter, came under
this head; but masters or mates of vessels detected in running
dutiable goods, or caught harbouring deserters from the fleet, could
be summarily dealt with notwithstanding their protections. The same
fate befell the mate or apprentice who was lent by one ship to

In addition to the executive of the vessel, as defined in the
foregoing paragraph, it was of course necessary to extend protection
to as many of her "hands", as were essential to her safe and efficient
working. How many were really required for this purpose was, however,
a moot point on which ship-masters and naval officers rarely saw eye
to eye; and since the arbiter in all such disputes was the
"quarter-deck gentlemen," the decision seldom if ever went in favour
of the master.

The importance of the coal trade won for colliers an early concession,
which left no room for differences of opinion. Every vessel employed
in that trade was entitled to carry one exempt able-bodied man for
each hundred units of her registered tonnage, provided it did not
exceed three hundred. The penalty for pressing such men was 10 Pounds
for each man taken. [Footnote: 2 & 3 Anne, cap. 6.]

On the coasts of Scotland commanders of warships whose carpenters had
run or broken their leave, and who perhaps were left, like Capt. Gage
of the _Otter_ sloop, "without so much as a Gimblett on board,"
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1829-Capt. Gage, 29 Sept.
1742.] might press shipwrights from the yards on shore to fill the
vacancy, and suffer no untoward consequences; but south of the Tweed
this mode of collecting "chips" was viewed with disfavour. There,
although ship-carpenters, sailmakers and men employed in rope-walks
were by a stretch of the official imagination reckoned as persons
using the sea, and although they were generally acknowledged to be no
less indispensable to the complete economy of a ship than the
able-bodied seaman, legal questions of an extremely embarrassing
nature nevertheless cropped up when the scene of their activities
underwent too sudden and violent a change. The pressing of such
artificers consequently met with little official encouragement.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 7. 300--Law Officers' Opinions,
1778-83, No. 2.]

Where the Admiralty scored, in the matter of ship protections, and
scored heavily, was when the protected person went ashore. For when on
shore the protected master, mate, boatswain, carpenter, apprentice or
seaman no longer enjoyed protection unless he was there "on ship's
duty." The rule was most rigorously, not to say arbitrarily, enforced.
Thus at Plymouth, in the year 1746, a seaman who protested in broken
English that he had come ashore to "look after his master's
_sheep_" was pressed because the naval officer who met and
questioned him "imagined sheep to have no affinity with a ship!"
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2381--Capt. John Roberts, 11
July 1746. Capt. Roberts was a very downright individual, and years
before the characteristic had got him into hot water. The occasion was
when, in 1712, an Admiralty letter, addressed to him at Harwich and
containing important instructions, by some mischance went astray and
Roberts accused the Clerk of the Check of having appropriated it. The
latter called him a liar, whereupon Roberts "gave him a slap in the
face and bid him learn more manners." For this exhibition of temper he
was superseded and kept on the half-pay list for some six years.
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1471--Capt. Brand, 8 March 1711-12.
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 2378, section 11, Admiralty note.]

Any mate who failed to register his name at the rendezvous, as soon as
his ship arrived in port, did so at his peril. Without that formality
he was "not entitled to liberty." So strict was the rule that when
William Tassell, mate of the _Elizabeth_ ketch, was caught
drinking in a Lynn alehouse one night at ten o'clock, after having
obtained "leave to run about the town" until eight only, he was
immediately pressed and kept, the Admiralty refusing to declare the
act irregular. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1546--Capt.
Bowyer, 25 July 1809, and enclosure.]

In many ports it was customary for sailors to sleep ashore while their
ships lay at the quay or at moorings. The proceeding was highly
dangerous. No sailor ever courted sleep in such circumstances, even
though armed with a "line from the master setting forth his business,"
without grave risk of waking to find himself in the bilboes. The Mayor
of Poole once refused to "back" press-warrants for local use unless
protected men belonging to trading vessels of the port were granted
the privilege of lodging ashore. "Certainly not!" retorted the
Admiralty. "We cannot grant Poole an indulgence _that other towns do
not enjoy_." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2485--Capt.
Scott, 4 Jan. 1780, and endorsement.]

In spite of the risk involved, the sailor slept ashore and--if he
survived the night--tried to steal back to his ship in the grey of the
morning. Now and then, by a run of luck, he made his offing in safety;
but more frequently he met the fate of John White of Bristol, who was
taken by the gang when only "about ninety yards from his vessel."

The only exceptions to this stringent rule were certain classes of men
engaged in the Greenland and South Seas whale fisheries. Skilled
harpooners, linesmen and boat-steerers, on their return from a whaling
cruise, could obtain from any Collector of Customs, for sufficient
bond put in, a protection from the impress which no Admiralty
regulation, however sweeping, could invalidate or override.
Safeguarded by this document, they were at liberty to live and work
ashore, or to sail in the coal trade, until such time as they should
be required to proceed on another whaling voyage. If, however, they
took service on board any vessel other than a collier, they forfeited
their protections and could be "legally detained." [Footnote: 13
George II. cap. 28. _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2732--Capt. Young, 14
March 1756. _Admiralty Records_ 7. 300--Law Officers' Opinions,
1778-83, No. 42.]

In one ironic respect the gang strongly resembled a boomerang. So
thoroughly and impartially did it do its work that it recoiled upon
those who used it. The evil was one of long standing. Pepys complained
of it bitterly in his day, asserting that owing to its prevalence
letters could neither be received nor sent, and that the departmental
machinery for victualling and arming the fleet was like to be undone.
With the growth of pressing the imposition was carried to absurd
lengths. The crews of the impress tenders, engaged in conveying
pressed men to the fleet, could not "proceed down" without falling
victims to the very service they were employed in. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1486--Capt. Baird, 27 Feb. 1755, and
numerous instances.] To check this egregious robbing of Peter to pay
Paul, both the Navy Board and the Government were obliged to "protect"
their own sea-going hirelings, and even then the protections were not
always effective.

Between the extremes represented by the landsman who enjoyed nominal
exemption and the seaman who enjoyed none, there existed a middle or
amphibious class of persons who lived exclusively on neither land nor
water, but habitually used both in the pursuit of their various
callings. These were the wherry or watermen, the lightermen, bargemen,
keelmen, trowmen and canal-boat dwellers frequenting mainly the inland
waterways of the country.

In the reign of Richard II. the jurisdiction of Admirals was denned as
extending, in a certain particular, to the "main stream of great
rivers nigh the sea." [Footnote: 15 Richard II. cap. 2.] Had the same
line of demarcation been observed in the pressing of those whose
occupations lay upon rivers, there would have been little cause for
outcry or complaint. But the Admiralty, the successors of the ancient
"Guardians of the Sea" whose powers were so clearly limited by the
Ricardian statute, gradually extended the old-time jurisdiction until,
for the purposes of the impress, it included all waterways, whether
"nigh the sea" or inland, natural or artificial, whereon it was
possible for craft to navigate. All persons working upon or habitually
using such waterways were regarded as "using the sea," and later
warrants expressly authorised the gangs to take as many of them as
they should be able, not excepting even the ferryman. The extension
was one of tremendous consequence, since it swept into the Navy
thousands of men who, like the Ely and Cambridge bargemen, were
"hardy, strong fellows, who never failed to make good seamen."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1486--Capt. Baird, 29 April

Amongst these denizens of the country's waterways the position of the
Thames wherryman was peculiar in that from very early times he had
been exempt from the ordinary incidence of the press on condition of
his periodically supplying from his own numbers a certain quota of
able-bodied men for the use of the fleet. The rule applied to all
watermen using the river between Gravesend and Windsor, and members of
the fraternity who "withdrew and hid themselves" at the time of the
making of such levies, were liable to be imprisoned for two years and
"banished any more to row for a year and a day." [Footnote: 2 & 3
Philip and Mary, cap. 16.] The exemption he otherwise enjoyed appears
to have conduced not a little to the waterman's proverbial joviality.
As a youth he spent his leisure in "dancing and carolling," thus
earning the familiar sobriquet of "the jolly young waterman." Even so,
his tenure of happiness was anything but secure. With the naval
officer and the gang he was no favourite, and few opportunities of
dashing his happiness were allowed to pass unimproved. In the person
of John Golden, however, they caught a Tartar. To the dismay of the
Admiralty and the officer responsible for pressing him, he proved to
be one of my Lord Mayor's bargemen. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 2733-Capt. Young, 7 March 1756.]

Apart from the watermen of the Thames, the purchase of immunity from
the press by periodic levies met with little favour, and though the
levy was in many cases reluctantly adopted, it was only because it
entailed the lesser of two evils. The basis of such levies varied from
one man in ten to one in five--a percentage which the Admiralty
considered a "matter of no distress"; and the penalty for refusing to
entertain them was wholesale pressing.

The Tyne keelmen, while ostensibly consenting to buy immunity on this
basis, seldom levied the quota upon themselves. By offering bounties
they drew the price of their freedom to work in the keels from outside
sources. Lord Thurlow confessed that he did not know what "working in
the keels" meant. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 7. 299--Law
Officers' Opinions, 1752-77, No. 70.] There were' few in the fleet who
could have enlightened him of their own experience. The keelmen kept
their ranks as far as possible intact. In this they were materially
aided by the Mayor and Corporation of Newcastle, who held a "Grand
Protection" of the Admiralty, and in return for this exceptional mark
of their Lordships' favour did all they could to further the pressing
of persons less essential to the trade of the town and river than were
their own keelmen.

On the rivers Severn and Wye there was plying in 1806 a flotilla of
ninety-eight trows, ranging in capacity from sixty to one hundred and
thirty tons, and employing five hundred and eighty-eight men, of whom
practically all enjoyed exemption from the press. It being a time of
exceptional stress for men, the Admiralty considered this proportion
excessive, and Capt. Barker, at that time regulating the press at
Bristol, was ordered to negotiate terms. He proposed a contribution of
trowmen on the basis of one in every ten, coupling the suggestion with
a thinly veiled threat that if it were not complied with he would set
his gangs to work and take all he could get. The Association of Severn
Traders, finding themselves thus placed between the devil and the deep
sea, agreed to the proposal with a reluctance they in vain endeavoured
to hide under ardent protestations of loyalty. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1537--Capt. Barker, 24 April and 9 May 1806, and

In the three hundred "flats" engaged in carrying salt, coals and other
commodities between Nantwich and Liverpool there were employed, in
1795, some nine hundred men who had up to that time largely escaped
the attentions of the gang. In that year, however, an arrangement was
entered into, under duress of the usual threat, to the effect that
they should contribute one man in six, or at the least one man in
nine, in return for exemption to be granted to the remainder.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 578--Admiral Pringle, Report on
Rendezvous, 2 April 1795.]

Turf-boats plying on the Blackwater and the Shannon seem to have
enjoyed no special concessions. The men working them were pressed
when-ever they could be laid hold of, and if they were not always
kept, their discharge was due to reasons of physical unfitness rather
than to any acknowledged right to labour unmolested. Ireland's
contribution to the fleet, apart from the notoriously disaffected, was
of too much consequence to be played with; for the Irishman was
essentially a good-natured soul, and when his native indolence and
slowness of movement had been duly corrected by a judicious use of the
rattan and the rope's-end, his services were highly esteemed in His
Majesty's ships of war.

In the category of exemptions the fisheries occupied a place entirely
their own. They were carefully fostered, but indifferently protected.

Previous to the year 1729 the most important concession granted to
those engaged in the taking of fish was the establishing of two extra
"Fishe Dayes" in the week. The provision was embodied in a statute of
1563, whereby the people were required, under a penalty of, 3 Pounds
for each omission, "or els three monethes close Imprisonment without
Baile or Maineprise," to eat fish, to the total exclusion of meat, on
Fridays and Saturdays, and to content themselves with "one dish of
flesh to three dishes of fish" on Wednesdays. [Footnote: 5 Elizabeth,
cap. 5.] The enactment had no religious significance whatever; but in
order to avoid any suspicion of Popish tendencies it was deemed
advisable, by those responsible for the measure, to saddle it with a
rider to the effect that all persons teaching, preaching or
proclaiming the eating of fish, as enjoined by the Act, to be of
"necessitee for the saving of the soule of man," should be punished as
"spreaders of fause newes." The true significance of the measure lay
in this. The abolition of Romish fast-days had resulted, since the
Reformation, in an enormous falling off in the consumption of fish,
and this decrease had in turn played havoc with the fisheries. Now the
fisheries were in reality the national incubator for seamen, and
Cecil, Elizabeth's astute Secretary of State, perceiving in their
decadence a grave menace to the manning of prospective fleets,
determined, for that reason if for no other, to reanimate the dying
industry. The Act in question was the practical outcome of his
deliberations. [Footnote: _State Papers Domestic_, Elizabeth,
vol. xxvii. Nos. 71 and 72, comprising Cecil's original memoranda.]

An enactment which combined so happily the interests of the fisher
classes with those of national defence could not but be productive of
far-reaching consequences. The fishing industry not only throve
exceedingly because of it, it in time became, as Cecil clearly foresaw
it would become, a nursery for seamen and a feeder of the fleet as
unrivalled for the excellence of its material as it was inexhaustible
in its resources. Its prosperity was in fact its curse. Few exemptions
were granted it. Adventurers after whale and cod had special
concessions, suited to the peculiar conditions of their calling; but
with these exceptions craft of every description employed in the
taking or the carrying of fish, for a very protracted period enjoyed
only such exemptions as were grudgingly extended to sea-going craft in
general. The source of supply represented by the leviathan industry
was too valuable to be lightly restricted.

On the other hand, it was too important to be lightly depleted.
Therefore under Cecil's Act establishing extra "Fishe Dayes," no
fisherman "using or haunting the sea" could be pressed off-hand to
serve in the Queen's Navy. The "taker," as the press-master was at
that time called, was obliged to carry his warrant to the Justices
inhabiting the place or places where it was proposed that the
fishermen should be pressed, and of these Justices any two were
empowered to "choose out such nomber of hable men" as the warrant
specified. In this way originated the "backing" or endorsing of
warrants by the civil power. At first obligatory only as regards the
pressing of fishermen, it came to be regarded in time as an essential
preliminary to all pressing done on land.

No further provision of a special nature would appear to have been
made for the protecting of fisher folk from the press until the year
1729, when an exemption was granted which covered the master, one
apprentice, one seaman and one landsman for each vessel. [Footnote: 2
George n. cap. 15.] In 1801, however, a sweeping change was
inaugurated. A statute of that date provided that no person engaged in
the taking, curing or selling of fish should be impressed. [Footnote:
41 George in. cap. 21.] The exemption came too late to prove
substantially beneficial to an industry which had suffered
incalculable injury from the then recent wars. The press-gang was
already nearing its last days.

Prior to the Act of 1801 persons whose sole occupation was "to pick
oysters and mussels at low water" were accounted fishermen and
habitually pressed as "using the sea."

The position of the smaller fry of fishermen is thrown into vivid
relief by an official communique of 1709 as opposed to an incident of
later date. "These poor people," runs the note, which was addressed to
a naval commander who had pressed a fisherman out of a boat of less
than three tons, "have been always protected for the support of their
indigent families, and therefore they must not Be taken into the
service unless there is a pressing occasion, _and then they will be
all forced thereinto_." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.2377
--Capt. Robinson, 4 Feb. 1708-9, and endorsement.] Captain
Boscawen, writing from the Nore in 1745, supplies the antithesis. He
had been instructed to procure half a dozen fishing smacks, each of
not less than sixty tons burden, for transport purposes. None were to
be had. "The reason the fishermen give for not employing vessels of
that size," he states, in explanation of the fact, "is that all the
young men are pressed, and that the old men and boys are not able to
work them." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1481--Capt.
Boscawen, 23 Dec. 1745.]

Conditions such as these in time taught the fisherman wisdom, and he
awoke to the fact that exemption for a consideration, as in the case
of workers on rivers and canals, was preferable to paying through the
nose. The Admiralty was never averse from driving a bargain of this
description. It saved much distress, much bad blood, much good money.
In this way Worthing fishermen bought exemption in 1780. The fishery
of that town was then in its infancy, the people engaged in it "very
poor and needy." They employed only sixteen boats. Yet they found it
cheaper to contribute five men to the Navy, at a cost of 40 Pounds in
bounties, than to entertain the gang. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1446--Capt. Alms, 2 Jan. 1780.]

The Orkney fisherman bought his freedom, both on his fishing-grounds
and when carrying his catch to market, on similar terms; but being a
person of frugal turn of mind, he gradually developed the habit of
withholding his stipulated quota. The unexpected arrival in his midst
of an armed smack, followed by a spell of vigorous pressing, taught
him that to be penny-wise is sometimes to be pound-foolish. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 2740--Lieut. Abbs, 11 May 1798, and
Admiralty note.]

On the Scottish coasts fishermen and ferrymen--the latter a numerous
class on that deeply indented seaboard--offered up one man in every
five or six on the altar of protection. The sacrifice distressed them
less than indiscriminate pressing. A prosperous people, they chose out
those of their number who could best be spared, supporting the
families thus left destitute by common subscription. Buss fishermen,
who followed the migratory herring; from fishing-ground to
fishing-ground, were in another category. Their contribution, when on
the Scottish coast, figured out at a man per buss, but as they were
for some inscrutable reason called upon to pay similar tribute on
other parts of the coast, they cannot be said to have escaped any too
lightly. Neither did the four hundred fishing-boats composing the Isle
of Man fleet. Their crews were obliged to surrender one man in every
seven. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 579--Admiral Pringle,
Report on Rendezvous, 2 April 1795; Admiral Philip, Report on
Rendezvous, 1 Aug. 1801.]

Opinions as to the value of material drawn from these sources differed
widely. The buss fisherman was on all hands acknowledged to be a
seasoned sailor; but when it came to those employed in smaller craft,
it was held that heaving at the capstan for a matter of only six or
seven weeks in the year could never convert raw lads into useful
seamen, even though they continued that healthful form of exercise all
their lives. This was the view entertained by the masters of
fishing-smacks smarting from loss of "hands." [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1497--Thomas Hurry, master, 3 March 1777.]

Admiralty saw things in quite another light. "What you admit," said
their Lordships, expressing the counter-view, "it is our business to
prevent. We will therefore take these lads, who are admittedly of no
service to you save for hauling in your nets or getting your anchors,
and will make of them what you, on your own showing, can never
make--able seamen.": The argument, backed as it was by the strong arm
of the press-gang, was unanswerable.

The fact that the fisherman passed much of his time on shore did not
free him from the press any more than it freed the waterman, or the
worker in keel or trow. In his main vocation he "used the sea," and
that was enough. For the use of the sea was the rule and standard by
which every man's liability to the press was supposed to be measured
and determined.

Except in the case of masters, mates and apprentices to the sea, whose
affidavits or indentures constituted their respective safeguards
against the press, every person exempt from that infliction, whether
by statute law or Admiralty indulgence, was required to have in his
possession an official voucher setting forth the fact and ground of
his exemption. This document was ironically termed his "protection."

Admiralty protections were issued under the hand of the Lord High
Admiral; ordinary protections, by departments and persons who
possessed either delegated or vested powers of issue. Thus each
Trinity House protected its own pilots; the Customs protected whale
fishermen and apprentices to the sea; impress officers protected
seamen temporarily lent to ships in lieu of men taken out of them by
the gangs. Some protections were issued for a limited period and
lapsed when that period expired; others were of perpetual "force,"
unless invalidated by some irregular acton the part of the holder. No
protection was good unless it bore a minute description of the person
to whom it applied, and all protections had to be carried on the
person and produced upon demand. Thomas Moverty was pressed out of a
wherry in the Thames owing to his having changed his clothes and left
his protection at home; and John Scott of Mistley, in Suffolk, was
taken whilst working in his shirtsleeves, though his protection lay in
the pocket of his jacket, only a few yards away. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1479--Capt. Bridges, 11 August 1743.
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1531--Capt. Ballard, 15 March 1804, and

The most trifling irregularity in the protection itself, or the
slightest discrepancy between the personal appearance of the bearer
and the written description of him, was enough to convert the
protection into so much waste paper and the bearer into a naval
seaman. North-country apprentices, whose indentures bore a 14s. stamp
in accordance with Scottish law, were pressed because that document
did not bear a 15s. stamp according to English law. A seaman was in
one instance described in his protection as "smooth-faced," that is,
beardless. The impress officer scrutinised him closely. "Aha!" said
he, "you are not smooth-faced. You are pockmarked"; and he pressed the
poor fellow for that reason.

To be over-protected was as bad as having no protection at all. Thomas
Letting, a collier's man, and John Anthony of the merchant ship
_Providence_, learnt this fact to their cost when they were taken
out of their respective ships for having each two protections. In
short, the slightest pretext served. If a protection had but a few
more days to run; if the name, date, place or other essential
particular showed signs of "coaxing," that is, of having been "on
purpose rubbed out" or altered; if a man's description did not figure
in his protection, or if it figured on the back instead of in the
margin, or in the margin instead of on the back; if his face wore a
ruddy rather than a pale look, if his hair were red when it ought to
have been brown, if he proved to be "tall and remarkable thin" when he
should have been middle-sized and thick-set--in any of these, as in a
hundred and one similar cases, the bearer of the protection paid the
penalty for what the impress officer regarded as a "hoodwinking
attempt" to cheat the King's service of an eligible man.

Notwithstanding the fact that the impress officer regarded every
pressable man as a person who made it his chief business in life to
defraud the Navy of his services on the "miserable plea of a
protection," it by no means followed that his zeal in pressing him on
that account had in every case the countenance or met with the
unqualified approval of the Admiralty. Thousands of men and boys taken
in this irresponsible fashion obtained their discharge, though with
more or less difficulty and delay, when the facts of the case were
laid before the naval authorities; and in general it may be said, that
although the Lords Commissioners were only too ready to wink at any
colourable excuse whereby another physical unit might be added to the
fleet, they nevertheless laid it down as a rule, inviolable at least
on paper, "never to press any man from protections," since it brought
"great trouble and clamour upon them." [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 3. 50--Admiralty Minutes, 26 Feb. 1744-5.] To assert that
the rule was generally obeyed would be to turn the truth into a lie.
On the contrary, it was almost universally disregarded. Both officers
and gangs traversed it on every possible occasion, leaving the justice
or injustice of the act to the arbitrament of the higher tribunal.
Zeal for the service was no crime, and to release a man was always so
much easier than to catch him.

"Pressing from protections," as the phrase ran in the service, did not
therefore mean that the Admiralty over-rode its own protections at
pleasure. It merely signified that on occasion more than ordinarily
stringent measures were adopted for the holding-up and examining of
all protected persons, or of as many of them as could be got at by the
gangs, to the end that all false or fraudulent vouchers might be
weeded out and the dishonest bearers of them consigned to another
place. And yet there were times when "pressing from protections" had
its plenary significance too.

Lovers of prints who are familiar with Hogarth's "Stage Coach; or, a
Country Inn Yard," date 1747, will readily recall the two
"outsides"--the one a down-in-the-mouth soldier, the other a jolly
Jack-tar on whose bundle may be read the word "Centurion." Now the
_Centurion_ was Anson's flag-ship, and in this print Hogarth has
incidentally recorded the fact that her crew, on their return from
that famous voyage round the world, were awarded life-protections from
the press. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1440--Capt. Anson,
24 July 1744.]

The life-protection was an indulgence extended to few. Samuel Davidson
of Newcastle, sailor, aged fifty, who had "served for nine years
during the late wars," in 1777 made bold to plead that fact as a
reason why he should be freed from the attentions of the press-gang
for the rest of his life. But the Lords Commissioners refused to admit
the plea "unless he was in a position not inferior to that of chief
mate." On the other hand, Henry Love of Hastings, who had merely
served in a single Dutch expedition, but had the promise of Pitt and
Dundas that both he and those who volunteered with him should never be
pressed, was immediately discharged when that calamity befell him.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1449--Capt. Columbine, 21 July

The granting of extraordinary protections was thus something entirely
erratic and not to be counted upon. Captain Balchen in 1708 had
special protections for ten of his ship's company whom he desired to
bring to London as witnesses in a suit then pending against him; but
the building of the three earlier Eddystone lighthouses was allowed to
be seriously impeded by the pressing of the unprotected workmen when
on shore at Plymouth, and the keepers of the first erection of that
name were once carried off bag and baggage by the gang.

Smeaton, who built the third Eddystone, protected his men by means of
silver badges, and his storeboat enjoyed similar immunity--presumably
with the consent of Admiralty--by reason of a picture of the
lighthouse painted on her sail. Other great constructors, as well as
rich mercantile firms, bought protection at a price. They supplied a
stipulated number of men for the fleet, and found the arrangement a
highly convenient one for ridding themselves of those who were useless
to them or had incurred their displeasure. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 583--Admiral Thornborough, 30 Nov. 1813.]

Private protections, of which great numbers saw the light, were in no
case worth the paper they were written on. Joseph Bettesworth of Ryde,
Isle of Wight, Attorney-at-Law and Lord of the Manor of Ashey and
Ryde, by virtue of an ancient privilege pertaining to that Manor and
confirmed by royal Letters Patent, in 1790 protected some twenty
seafaring men to work his "Antient Ferry or Passage for the Wafting of
Passengers to and from Ride, Portsmouth and Gosport, in a smack of
about 14 tons, and a wherry." The regulating captain at the last-named
place asked what he should do about it. "Press every man as soon as
possible," replied their Lordships. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1506--Capt. John Bligh, June 1790, and enclosure.]



"A man we want, and a man we must have," was the naval cry of the
century. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1531--Deposition of
John Swinburn, 28 July 1804.]

Nowhere was the cry so loud or so insistent as on the sea, where every
ship of war added to its volume. In times of peace, when the demand
for men was gauged by those every-day factors, sickness, death and
desertion, it dwindled, if it did not altogether die away; but given a
war-cloud on the near horizon and the cry for men swelled, as
many-voiced as there were keels in the fleet, to a sudden clamour of
formidable proportions--a clamour that only the most strenuous and
unremitting exertions could in any measure appease.

Every navy is argus-eyed, and in crises such as these, when the very
existence of the nation was perhaps at stake, it was first and
principally towards the crews of the country's merchant ships that the
eyes of the Navy were directed; for, shipboard life and shipboard duty
being largely identical in both services, no elaborate training was
required to convert the merchant sailor into a first-rate
man-o'-war's-man. The ships of both services were sailing ships. Both,
as a rule, went armed. Hence, not only was the merchant sailor an able
seaman, he was also trained in the handling of great guns, and in the
use of the cutlass, the musket and the boarding-pike. In a word, he
was that most valuable of all assets to a people seeking to dominate
the sea--a man-o'-war's-man ready-made, needing only to be called in
in order to become immediately effective.

The problem was how to catch him--how to take him fresh and vigorous
from his deep-sea voyaging--how to enroll him in the King's Navy ere
he got ashore with a pocketful of money and relaxed his hardened
muscles in the uncontrolled debauchery he was so partial to after long

A device of the simplest yet of the most elaborate description met the
difficulty. It was based upon the fact that to take the sailor afloat
was a much easier piece of strategy than to ferret him out of his
hiding-places after he got ashore. The impress trap was therefore set
in such a way as to catch him before he reached the land.

With infinite ingenuity and foresight sea-gangs were picketed from
harbour to harbour, from headland to headland, until they formed an
almost unbroken chain around the coasts and guarded the sailor's every
point of accustomed approach from overseas: This was the outer cordon
of the system, the beginning of the gauntlet the returning sailor had
to run, and he was a smart seaman indeed who could successfully
negotiate the uncharted rocks and shoals with which the coast was
everywhere strewn in his despite.

The composition of this chain of sea-gangs was mixed to a degree, yet
singularly homogeneous.

First of all, on its extreme outer confines, perhaps as far down
Channel as the Scillies, or as far north as the thirteen-mile stretch
of sea running between the Mull of Kintyre and the Irish coast, where
the trade for Liverpool, Whitehaven, Dublin and the Clyde commonly
came in, the homing sailor would suddenly descry, bearing down upon
him under press of sail, the trim figure of one of His Majesty's
frigates, or the clean, swift lines of an armed sloop. The meeting was
no chance one. Both the frigate and the sloop were there by design,
the former cruising to complete her own complement, the latter to
complete that of some ship-of-the-line at Plymouth, Spithead or the
Nore, to which she stood in the relation of tender.

Tenders were vessels taken into the king's service "at the time of
Impressing Seamen." Hired at certain rates per month, they continued
in the service as long as they were required, often most unwillingly,
and were principally employed in obtaining men for the king's ships or
in matters relative thereto. In burden they varied from thirty or
forty to one hundred tons, [Footnote: This was the maximum tonnage for
which the Navy Board paid, but when trade was slack larger vessels
could be had, and were as a matter of fact frequently employed, at the
nominal tonnage rate.] the smaller craft hugging the coast and
dropping in from port to port, the larger cruising far beyond shore
limits. For deep-sea or trade-route cruising the smaller craft were of
little use. No ship of force would bring-to for them.

While press-warrants were supplied regularly to every warship, no
matter what her rating, the supply of tenders was less general and
much more erratic. It was only when occasion demanded it, and then
only to ships of the first, second and third rate, that tenders were
assigned for the purpose of bringing their crews up to full strength.
The urgency of the occasion, the men to be "rose," the diplomacy of
the commander determined the number. A tender to each ship was the
rule, but however parsimonious the Navy Board might be on such
occasions, a carefully worded appeal to its prejudices seldom failed
to produce a second, or even a third attendant vessel. Boscawen once
had recourse to this ingenious ruse in order to obtain tender number
two. The Navy Board detested straggling seamen, so he suggested that,
with several tenders lying idle in the Thames, his men might be far
more profitably employed than in straggling about town. "Most
reprehensible practice!" assented the Board, and placed a second
vessel at his disposal without more ado. Lieut. Upton was immediately
put in charge of her and ordered seawards. He returned within a week
with twenty-seven men, pressed out of merchantmen in Margate Roads.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1478--Letters of Capt. Boscawen,
July and August 1743.]

The tender assigned to Boscawen on this occasion was the
_Galloper_, an American-built vessel, "rigged in the manner the
West Indians do their sloops." Her armament consisted of six
9-pounders and threescore small-arms, but as a sea-boat she belied her
name, for she was hopelessly sluggish under sail, and the great depth
of her waist, and her consequent liability to ship seas in rough
weather, rendered her "very improper" for cruising in the Channel.

For her company she had a master, a mate and six hands supplied by the
owners, in addition to thirty-four seamen temporarily drafted into her
from Boscawen's ship, the _Dreadnought_. It was the duty of the
former to work the vessel, of the latter to do the pressing; but these
duties were largely interchangeable. All were under the command of the
lieutenant, who with forty-two men at his beck and call could
organise, on a pinch, five gangs of formidable strength and yet leave
sufficient hands, given fair weather, to mind the tender in their
temporary absence. Tender's men were generally the flower of a ship's
company, old hands of tried fidelity, equal to any emergency and
reputedly proof against bribery, rum and petticoats. Yet the
temptation to give duty the slip and enjoy the pleasures of town for a
season sometimes proved too strong, even for them, and we read of one
boat's-crew of eight, who, overcome in this way, were discovered after
many days in a French prison. Instead of going pressing in the Downs,
they had gone to Boulogne.

On the commanders of His Majesty's ships the onus of raising men fell
with intolerable insistence. Nelson's greatest pleasure in his
promotion to Admiral's rank is said to have been derived from the fact
that with it there came a blessed cessation to the scurvy business of
pressing; and there were in the service few captains, whether before
or after Nelson's day, who could not echo with hearty approval the
sentiment of Capt. Brett of the _Roebuck_, when he said: "I can
solemnly declare that the getting and taking care of my men has given
me more trouble and uneasiness than all the rest of my duty."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1478--Capt. Brett, 27 Oct.

Commanders of smaller and less effective ships found themselves on the
horns of a cruel dilemma did they dare to ask for tenders. Beg and
pray as they would, these were rarely allowed them save as a special
indulgence or a crying necessity. To most applications from this
source the Admiralty opposed a front well calculated "to encourage the
others." "If he has not men enough to proceed on service," ran its
dictum, "their Lordships will lay up the ship." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1471--Capt. Boyle, 1 March 1715-6,
endorsement, and numerous instances.] Faced with the summary loss of
his command, their Lordships' high displeasure, and consequent
inactivity and half-pay for an indefinite period, the captain whose
complement was short, and who could obtain neither men nor tender from
the constituted authority, had no option but to put to sea with such
hands as he already bore and there beat up for others. This, with
their Lordships' gracious permission, he accordingly did, thus adding
another unit to the fleet of armed vessels already prowling the Narrow
Seas on a similar errand. It can be readily imagined that such
commanders were not out for pleasure.

To the great and incessantly active flotilla got together in this way,
the regulating captains on shore contributed a further large
contingent. Every seaport of consequence had its rendezvous, every
seaport rendezvous its amphibious gang or gangs who ranged the
adjacent coast for many leagues in swift bottoms whose character and
mission often remained wholly unsuspected until some skilful manoeuvre
laid them aboard their intended victim and brought the gang swarming
over her decks, armed to the teeth and resolute to press her crew.

We have now three classes of vessels, of varying build, rig, tonnage
and armament, engaged in a common endeavour to intercept and take the
homing sailor. Let us next see how they were disposed upon the coast.

Tenders from Greenwich and Blackwall ransacked the Thames below bridge
as far as Blackstakes in the river Medway, the Nore and the Swin
channel. Tenders from Margate, Ramsgate, Deal and Dover watched the
lower Thames estuary, swept the Downs, and kept a sharp lookout along
the coasts of Kent and Sussex, of Essex and of Norfolk. To these
tenders from Lynn dipped their colours off Wells-on-Sea or Cromer,
whence they bore away for the mouth of Humber, where Hull tenders took
up the running till met by those belonging to Sunderland,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Shields, which in turn joined up the cordon
with others hailing from Leith and the Firth of Forth. Northward of
the Forth, away to the extreme Orkneys, and all down the west coast of
Scotland through the two Minches and amongst the Hebrides, specially
armed sloops from Leith and Greenock made periodic cruises. Greenock
tenders, again, united with tenders from Belfast and Whitehaven in a
lurking watch for ships making home ports by way of the North Channel;
or circled the Isle of Man, ran thence across to Morecambe Bay, and so
down the Lancashire coast the length of Formby Head, where the Mersey
tenders, alert for the Jamaica trade, relieved them of their vigil.
Dublin tenders guarded St. George's Channel, aided by others from
Milford Haven and Haverfordwest. Bristol tenders cruised the channel
of that names keeping a sharp eye on Lundy Island and the Holmes,
where shipmasters were wont to play them tricks if they were not
watchful. Falmouth and Plymouth tenders guarded the coast from Land's
End to Portland Bill, Portsmouth tenders from Portland Bill to Beachy
Head, and Folkestone and Dover tenders from Beachy Head to the North
Foreland, thus completing the encircling chain. Nor was Ireland
forgotten in the general sea-rummage. As a converging point for the
great overseas trade-routes it was of prime importance, and tenders
hailing from Belfast, Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, or making
those places their chief ports of call, exercised unceasing vigilance
over all the coast.

In this general scouring of the coastal waters of the kingdom certain
points were of necessity subjected to a much closer surveillance than
others. Particularly was this true of the sea routes followed by the
East and West India, and the Baltic, Virginia, Newfoundland, Dutch and
Greenland trades, where these converged upon such centres of
world-commerce as London, Poole, Bristol, Liverpool and the great
northern entrepôts on the Forth and Clyde, the Humber and the Tyne. A
tender stationed off Poole, when a Newfoundland fish-convoy was
expected in, never failed to reap a rich harvest. At Highlake, near
the mouth of the Mersey, many a fine haul was made from the sugar and
rum-laden Jamaica ships, the privateers and slavers from which
Liverpool drew her wealth. Early in the century sloops of war had
orders "to cruise between Beechy and the Downs to Impress men out of
homeward-bound Merchant Ships," and in 1755 Rodney's lieutenants found
the Channel "full of tenders." Except in times of profound peace--few
and brief in the century under review--it was rarely or never in any
other state. An ocean highway so congested with the winged vehicles of
commerce could not escape the constant vigilance of those whose
business it was to waylay the inward-bound sailor.

A favourite station in the Channel was "at ye west end of ye Isle of
Wight, near Hurst Castle," where the watchful tender, having under her
eye all ships coming from the westward, as well as all passing through
the Needles, could press at pleasure by the simple expedient of
sending gangs aboard of them. At certain times of the year such ports
as Grimsby, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Brixham came in for similar
attention. When the fleets were due back from the "Great Fishery" on
the Dogger Banks, tenders cruising off those ports netted more men
than they could find room for; and so heavy was the tribute paid in
this way by the fishermen of the last-named port in 1805, that "not a
single man was to be found in Brixham liable to the impress." Every
unprotected man, out of a total of ninety-six fishing-smacks then
belonging to the place, had been snapped up by the tenders and ships
of war cruising off the bay or further up-Channel. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 581--Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous,
15 Sept.]

The double cordon composed of ships and tenders on the cruise by no
means exhausted the resources called into play for the intercepting of
the sailor afloat. Still nearer the land was a third or innermost line
composed of boat-gangs operating, like so many of the tenders, from
rendezvous on shore, or from ships of war lying in dock or riding at
anchor. Less continuous than the outer cordon, it was not less
effective, and many a sailor who by strategy or good luck had all but
won through, struck his flag to the gang when perhaps only the cast of
a line separated him from shore and liberty.

It was across the entrance to harbours and navigable estuaries that
this innermost line was most frequently and most successfully drawn.
Pill, the pilot station for the port of Bristol, threw out such a line
to the further bank of Avon and thereby caught many an able seaman who
had evaded the tenders below King Road. On Southampton Water it was
generally so impassable that few men who could in the slightest degree
be considered liable to the press escaped its toils. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 581--Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous,
5 Aug. 1805.] Dublin Bay knew it well. A press "on float"
there, carried out silently and swiftly in the grey of a September
morning, 1801, whilst the mists still hung thick over the water,
resulted in the seizure of seventy-four seamen who had eluded the
press-smacks cruising without the bay; but of this number two proving
to be protected apprentices, the Lord Mayor sent the Water Bailiff of
the city, "with a detachment of the army," and took them by force out
of the hands of the gang. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1526--Capt. Brabazon, 16 Sept. 1801.] On the Thames, notwithstanding
the ceaseless activity of the outer cordons, the innermost line of
capture yielded enormously. The night of October the 28th, 1776, saw
three hundred and ninety-nine men, the greater part of them good
seamen, pressed by the boats of a single ship--the _Princess
Augusta_, Captain Sir Richard Bickerton commander, then fitting out
at Woolwich. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1497--Capt.
Bickerton, 29 Oct. 1776.] Such a raid was very properly termed a "hot

The amazing feature of this exploit is, that it should have been
possible at all, in view of what was going on in the Thames estuary
below a line drawn across the river's mouth from Foulness to
Sheerness-reach. Seawards of this line lay the two most famous
anchorages in the world, where ships foregathered from every quarter
of the navigable globe. Than the Nore and the Downs no finer
recruiting-ground could anywhere be found, and here the shore-gangs
afloat, and the boat-gangs from ships of war, were for ever on the
alert. No ship, whether inward or outward bound, could pass the Nore
without being visited. Nothing went by unsearched. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 2733--Capt. Young, 7 March 1756.] The
wonder is that any unprotected sailor ever found his way to London.

Between the Nore and the North Foreland the conditions were equally
rigorous. Through all the channels leading to the sea, channels
affording anchorage to innumerable ships of every conceivable rig and
tonnage, the gangs roamed at will, exacting toll of everything that
carried canvas. Even the smaller craft left high and dry upon the
flats, or awaiting the tide in some sand-girt pool, did not escape
their hawk-like vigilance.


In the Downs these conditions reached their climax, for thither, in
never-ending procession, came the larger ships which were so fruitful
of good hauls. With the wind at north, or between north and east, few
ships came in and little could be done. But when the wind veered and
came piping out of the west or sou'-west, in they came in such numbers
that the gangs, however numerous they might be, had all their work cut
out to board them. A special tender, swift and exceedingly well-found,
was accordingly stationed here, whose duty it was to be "very watchful
that no vessel passed without a visit from the impress boats."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2733--Orders of Vice-Admiral
Buckle to Capt. Yates, 29 April 1778.] In such work as this man-o'-war
boats were of little use. Just as they could not negotiate Deal beach
without danger of being reduced to matchwood, so they could not live
in the choppy sea kicked up in the Downs by a westerly gale. Folkstone
market boats and Deal cutters had to be requisitioned for pressing in
those waters. Their seaworthiness and speed made the Downs the crux of
inward-bound ships, whose only means of escaping their attentions was
to incur another danger by "going back of the Goodwins."

The procedure of boat-gangs pressing in harbour or on rivers seldom
varied, unless it were by accident. As a rule, night was the time
selected, for to catch the sailor asleep conduced greatly to the
success and safety of the venture. The hour chosen was consequently
either close upon midnight, some little time after he had turned in,
or in the early morning before he turned out. The darker the night and
the dirtier the weather the better. Surprise, swiftly and silently
carried out, was half the battle.

A case in point is the attempt made by Lieut. Rudsdale, of H.M.S.
_Licorne_, "to impress all men (without exception) from the ships
and vessels lying at Cheek Point above Passage of Waterford," in the
year '79. Putting-off in the pinnace with a picked crew at eleven
o'clock on a dark and tempestuous October night, he had scarcely left
the ship astern ere he overtook a boatload of men, how many he could
not well discern in the darkness, pulling in the direction he himself
was bound. Fearful lest they should suspect the nature of his errand
and alarm the ships at Passage, he ran alongside of them and pressed
the entire number, sending the boat adrift. Putting back, he set his
capture on board the _Licorne_ and once more turned the nose of
the pinnace towards Passage. There, dropping noiselessly aboard the
_Triton_ brig, he caught the hands asleep, pressed as many of
them as he had room for, and with them returned to the ship.
Meanwhile, the master of the _Triton_ armed what hands he had
left and met Rudsdale's second attempt to board him with a formidable
array of handspikes, hatchets and crowbars. A fusillade of bottles and
billets of wood further evinced his determination to protect the brig
against all comers, and lest there should be any doubt on that point
he swore roundly that he would be the death of every man in the
pinnace if they did not immediately sheer off and leave him in peace.
This the lieutenant wisely did. No further surprises were possible
that night, for by this time the alarm had spread, the pinnace was
half-full of missiles, and one of his men lay in the bottom of her
severely wounded. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 471--Deposition
of Lieut. Rudsdale, 24 Oct. 1779.] As it was, he had a very
fair night's work to his credit. Between the occupants of the
boat and those of the brig he had obtained close upon a score of men.

The expedients resorted to by commanders of ships of war temporarily
in port and short of their tale of men are vividly depicted in a
report made to the Admiralty in 1711. "Three days ago, very
privately," writes Capt. Billingsley, whose ship, the _Vanguard_,
was then lying at Blackstakes, "I Sent two fishing Smacks with a
Lieutenant and some Men, with orders to proceede along the Essex
Coast, and downe as far as the Wallet, to the Naze, with directions to
take all the men out of Oyster Vessels and others that were not
Exempted. The project succeeded, and they are return'd with fourteen
men, all fit, and but one has ever been in the Service. The coast was
Alarm'd, and the country people came downe and fir'd from the Shore
upon the Smacks, and no doubt but they doe still take 'em to be
privateers." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1470--Capt.
Billingsley, 5 May 1711.]

Pressing at sea differed materially in many of its aspects from
pressing on the more sheltered waters of rivers and harbours. Carried
out as a rule in the broad light of day, it was for that very reason
accompanied with a more open and determined display of force than
those quieter ventures which depended so largely for their success
upon the element of surprise. Situated as we are in these latter days,
when anyone who chooses may drive his craft from Land's End to John o'
Groats without hindrance, it is difficult to conceive that there was
ever a time when the whole extent of the coastal waters of the
kingdom, as ranged by the impress tender, was under rigorous martial
law. Yet such was unquestionably the case. Throughout the eighteenth
century the flag was everywhere in armed evidence in those waters, and
no sailing master of the time could make even so much as a day's run
with any certainty that the peremptory summons: "Bring to! I'm coming
aboard of you," would not be bawled at him from the mouth of a gun.

The retention of the command of a tender depended entirely upon her
success in procuring men. As a rule, she was out for no other purpose,
and this being so, it is not to be supposed that the officer in charge
of her would do otherwise than employ the means ordained for that end.
Accordingly, as soon as a sail was sighted by the tender's lookout
man, a gun was loaded, shotted with roundshot, and run out ready for
the moment when the vessel should come within range.

The first intimation the intended victim had of the fate in store for
her was the shriek of the roundshot athwart her bows. This was the
signal, universally known as such, for her to back her topsails and
await the coming of the gang, already tumbling in ordered haste into
the armed boat prepared for them under the tender's quarter. And yet
it was not always easy for the sprat to catch the whale. A variety of
factors entered into the problem and made for failure as often as for
success. Sometimes the tender's powder was bad--so bad that in spite
of an extra pound or so added to the charge, the shot could not be got
to carry as far as a common musket ball. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 2485--Capt. Shirley, 5 Nov. 1780, and numerous
instances.] When this was the case her commander suffered a double
mortification. His shot, the symbol of authority and coercion, took
the water far short of its destined goal, whilst the vessel it was
intended to check and intimidate surged by amid the derisive cat-calls
and laughter of her crew.

Even with the powder beyond reproach, ships did not always obey the
summons, peremptory though it was. One pretended not to hear it, or to
misunderstand it, or to believe it was meant for some other craft, and
so held stolidly on her course, vouchsafing no sign till a second
shot, fired point-blank, but at a safe elevation, hurtled across her
decks and brought her to her senses. Another, perhaps some well-armed
Levantine trader or tall Indiaman whose crew had little mind to strike
their colours submissively at the behest of a midget press-smack,
would pipe to quarters and put up a stiff fight for liberty and the
dear delights of London town--a fight from which the tender, supposing
her to have accepted the gage of battle, rarely came off victor. Or
the challenged ship, believing herself to be the faster craft of the
two, clapped on all sail, caught an opportune "slatch of wind," and
showed her pursuer a clean pair of heels, the tender's guns meanwhile
barking away at her until she passed out of range. These were
incidents in the chapter of pressing afloat which every tender's
commander was familiar with. Back of them all lay a substantial fact,
and on that he relied for his supply of men. There was somehow a magic
in the boom of a naval gun that had its due effect upon most
ship-masters. They brought-to, however reluctantly, and awaited the
pleasure of the gang. But the sailor had still to be reckoned with.

In order to invest the business of taking the sailor with some
semblance of legality, it was necessary that the commander of the
tender, in whose name the press-warrant was made out, or one of his
two midshipmen, each of whom usually held a similar warrant, should
conduct the proceedings in person; and the first duty of this officer,
on setting foot upon the deck of the vessel held up in the manner just
described, was to order her entire company to be mustered for his
inspection. If the master proved civil, this preliminary passed off
quickly and with no more confusion than was incidental to a general
and hasty rummaging of sea-chests and lockers in search of those magic
protections on which hung the immediate destiny of every man in the
ship, excepting only the skipper, his mate and that privileged person,
the boatswain. The muster effected, the officer next subjected each
protection to the closest possible scrutiny, for none who knew the
innate trickery of seamen would ever "take their words for it."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1482--Capt. Boscawen, 20 March
1745-6.] Men who had no protections, men whose papers bore evident
traces of "coaxing" or falsification, men whose appearance and persons
failed to tally exactly with the description there written down--these
were set apart from their more fortunate messmates, to be dealt with
presently. To their ranks were added others whose protections had
either expired or were on the point of expiry, as well as skulkers who
sought to evade His Majesty's press by stowing themselves away between
or below decks, and who had been by this time more or less thoroughly
routed out by members of the gang armed with hangers. The two
contingents now lined up, and their total was checked by reference to
the ship's articles, the officer never omitting to make affectionate
inquiries after men marked down as "run," "drowned," or "discharged";
for none knew better than he, if an old hand at the game, how often
the "run" man ran no further afield than some secure hiding-place
overlooked by his gangers, or how miraculously the "drowned" bobbed up
once more to the surface of things when the gang had ceased from
troubling. If the ship happened to be an inward-bound, and to possess
a general protection exempting her from the press only for the voyage
then just ending, that fact greatly simplified and abbreviated the
proceedings, for then her whole company was looked upon as the
ganger's lawful prey. In the case of an outward-bound ship, the
gang-officer's duty was confined to seeing that she carried no more
hands than her protection and tonnage permitted her to carry. All
others were pressed. Cowed by armed authority, or wounded and bleeding
in a lost cause as hereafter to be related, the men were hustled into
the boat with "no more violence than was necessary for securing them."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1437--Capt. Aldred, 12 June
1708.] Their chests and bedding followed, making a full boat; and so,
having cleared the ship of all her pressable hands, the gang prepared
to return to the tender. But first there was a last stroke of business
to be done. The gunner must have his bit.

Up to this point, beyond producing the ship's papers for inspection
and gruffly answering such questions as were put to, him, the master
of the vessel had taken little part in what was going on. His turn now
came. By virtue of his position he could not be pressed, but there
existed a very ancient naval usage according to which he could be, and
was, required to pay for the powder and shot expended in inducing him
to receive the gang on board. In law the exaction was indefensible.
Litigation often followed it, and as the century grew old the practice
for that reason fell into gradual desuetude, a circumstance almost
universally deplored by naval commanders of the old school, [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1511--Capt. Bowen, 13 Oct. 1795, and
Admiralty endorsement.] who were ever sticklers for respect to the
flag; but during the first five or six decades of the century the
shipmaster who had to be fired upon rarely escaped paying the shot.
The money accruing from his compliance with the demand, 6s. 8d., went
to the gunner, whose perquisite it was, and as several shots were
frequently necessary to reduce a crew to becoming submissiveness, the
gunners must have done very well out of it. Refusal to "pay the shot"
could be visited upon the skipper only indirectly. Another man or two
were taken out of him by way of reprisals, and the press-boat shoved
off--to return a second, or even a third time, if the pressed men
numbered more than she could stow.

From this summary mode of depriving a ship of a part or the whole of
her crew two serious complications arose, the first of which had to do
with the wages of the men pressed, the second with what was
technically called "carrying the ship up," that is to say, sailing her
to her destination.

According to the law of the land, the sailor who was pressed out of a
ship was entitled to his wages in full till the day he was pressed,
and not only was every shipmaster bound to provide such men with
tickets good for the sums severally due to them, tickets drawn upon
the owners and payable upon demand, but it was the duty of every
impress officer to see that such tickets were duly made out and
delivered to the men. Refusal to comply with the law in this respect
led to legal proceedings, in which, except in the case of foreign
ships, the Admiralty invariably won. Eminently fair to the sailor, the
provision was desperately hard on masters and owners, for they, after
having shipped their crews for the run or voyage, now found themselves
left either with insufficient hands to carry the ship up, or with no
hands at all. As a concession to the necessity of the moment a gang
was sometimes put on board a ship for the avowed purpose of pressing
her hands when she arrived in port; but such concessions were not
always possible, [Footnote: Nor were they always effective, as witness
the following: "Tuesday the 15th, the _Shandois_ sloop from
Holland came by this place (the Nore). I put 15 men on board her to
secure her Company till their Protection was expired. Soon after came
from Sheerness the Master Attendant's boat to assist me on that
service. I immediately sent her away with more Men and Armes for the
better Securing of the Sloop's Company, but that night, in Longreach,
the Vessel being near the Shore, and almost Calme, they hoisted the
boat out to tow the Sloop about, and all the Sloop's men, being 18,
got into her and Run ashore, bidding defiance to my people's
fireing."--_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1473--Capt. Bouler, H.M.S.
_Argyle_, 18 Feb. 1725-6.] and common equity demanded that in
their absence ample provision should be made for the safety of vessels
suddenly disabled by the gang. This the Admiralty undertook to do, and
hence there grew up that appendage to the impress afloat generally
known as "men in lieu" or "ticket men."

The vocation of the better type "man in lieu" was a vicarious sort of
employment, entailing any but disagreeable consequences upon him who
followed it. At every point on the coast where a gang was stationed,
and at many where they were not, great numbers of these men were
retained for service afloat whenever required. The three ports of
Dover, Deal and Folkestone alone at one time boasted no less than four
hundred and fifty of them, and when a hot press was in full swing in
the Downs even this number was found insufficient to meet the demand.
Mostly fishermen, Sea-Fencibles and others of a quasi-seafaring type,
they enjoyed complete exemption from the impress as a consideration
for "going in pressed men's rooms," received a shilling, and in some
cases eighteen-pence a day while so employed, and had a penny a mile
road-money for their return to the place of their abode, where they
were free, in the intervals between carrying ships up, to follow any
longshore occupation they found agreeable, save only smuggling. The
enjoyment of these privileges, and particularly the privilege of
exemption from the press, made them, as a class, notorious for their
independence and insolence--characteristics which still survive in not
a few of their descendants. Tenders going a-pressing often bore a
score or two of these privileged individuals as supers, who were
drafted into ships, as the crews were taken out, to assist the master,
mate and few remaining hands, were any of the latter left, in carrying
them up. Or, if no supers of this class were borne by the tender, she
"loaned" the master a sufficient number of her own company, duly
protected by tickets from the commanding officer, and invariably the
most unserviceable people on board, to work the ship into the nearest
port where regular "men in lieu" could be obtained.

Had all "men in lieu" conformed to the standard of the better class
substitute of that name, the system would have been laudable in the
extreme and trade would have suffered little inconvenience from the
depredations of the gangs; but there was in the system a flaw that
generally reduced the aid lent to ships to something little better
than a mere travesty of assistance. That flaw lay in the fact that
Admiralty never gave as good as it took. Clearly, it could not. True,
it supplied substitutes to go in "pressed men's rooms," but to call
them "men in lieu" was a gross abuse of language. In reality the
substitutes supplied were in the great majority of cases mere scum in
lieu, the unpressable residuum of the population, consisting of men
too old or lads too young to appeal to the cupidity of the gangs, poor
creatures whom the regulating captains had refused, useless on land
and worse than useless at sea.

In the general character of the persons sent in pressed men's rooms
Admiralty thus had Trade on the hip, and Trade suffered much in
consequence. More than one rich merchantman, rusty from long voyaging,
strewed the coast with her cargo and timbers because all the able
seamen had been taken out of her, and none better than old men and
boys could be found to sail her. Few seaport towns were as wise as
Sunderland, where they had a Society of Shipowners for mutual
insurance against the risks arising from the pressing of their men.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1541--Capt. Bligh, 8 Jan. 1807,
enclosure.] Elsewhere masters, owners and underwriters groaned under
the galling imposition; but the wrecker rejoiced exceedingly, thanking
the gangs whose ceaseless activities rendered such an outrageous state
of things possible.

Whichever of these two classes the ticket man belonged to, he was an
incorrigible deserter. "Thirteen out of the fifteen men in lieu that I
sent up in the _Beaufort_ East-Indiaman," writes the disgusted
commander of the _Comet_ bombship, from the Downs, "have never
returned. As they are not worth inquiring for, I have made them run."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1478--Capt. Burvill, 4 Sept.
1742. A man-o'-war's-man was "made run" when he failed to return to
his ship after a reasonable absence and an R was written over against
his name on the ship's books.] Such instances might be multiplied
indefinitely. Once the ticket man had drawn his money for the trip,
there was no such thing as holding him. The temptation to spend his
earnings in town proved too strong, and he went on the spree with
great consistency and enjoyment till his money was gone and his
protection worthless, when the inevitable overtook him. The ubiquitous
gang deprived him of his only remaining possession, his worthless
liberty, and sent him to the fleet, a ragged but shameless derelict,
as a punishment for his breach of privilege.

The protecting ticket carried by the man in lieu dated from 1702, when
it appears to have been first instituted; [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1433--Capt. Anderson, 5 April 1702.] but even when the
bearer was no deserter in fact or intention, it had little power to
protect him. No ticket man could count upon remaining unmolested by
the gangs except the undoubted foreigner and the marine, both of whom
were much used as men in lieu. The former escaped because his alien
tongue provided him with a natural protection; the latter because he
was reputedly useless on shipboard. In the person of the marine,
indeed, the man in lieu achieved the climax of ineptitude. It was an
ironical rule of the service that persons refusing to act as men in
lieu should suffer the very fate they stood in so much danger of in
the event of their consenting. Broadstairs fishermen in 1803 objected
to serving in that capacity, though tendered the exceptional wage of
27s. for the run to London. "If not compelled to go in that way," they
alleged, "they could make their own terms with shipmasters and have as
many guineas as they were now offered shillings." Orders to press them
for their contumacy were immediately sent down. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1450--Capt. Carter, 16 Aug. 1803.]

By the year 1811 the halcyon days of the man in lieu were at an end.
As a class he was then practically extinct. Inveterate and
long-continued pressing had drained the merchant service of all
able-bodied British seamen except those who were absolutely essential
to its existence. These were fully protected, and when their number
fell short of the requirements of the service the deficiency was
supplied by foreigners and apprentices similarly exempt. So few
pressable men were to be found in any one ship that it was no longer
considered necessary to send ticket men in their stead when they were
taken out, and as a matter of fact less than a dozen such men were
that year put on board ships passing the Downs. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1453--Capt. Anderson, 31 Aug. 1811.]
Pressing itself was in its decline, and as for the vocation of the man
in lieu, it had gone never to return.

Ships and tenders out for men met with varied fortunes. In the winter
season the length of the nights, the tempestuous weather and the cold
told heavily against success, as did at all times that factor in the
problem which one old sea-dog so picturesquely describes as "the room
there is for missing you." Capt. Barker, of the _Thetis_, in 1748
made a haul of thirty men off the Old-Head of Kinsale, but lost his
barge in doing so, "it blowed so hard." Byng, of the _Sutherland_,
grumbled atrociously because in the course of his run up-Channel
in '42 he was able to press "no more than seventeen." Anson,
looking quite casually into Falmouth on his way down-Channel,
found there in '46 the _Betsey_ tender, then just recently
condemned, and took out of her every man she possessed at the cost of
a mere hour's work, ignorant of the fact that when pressing eight of
those men the commander of the _Betsey_ had been "eight hours
about it." It was all a game of chance, and when you played it the
only thing you could count upon was the certainty of having both the
sailor and the elements dead against you.

[Illustration: JACK IN THE BILBOES. From the painting by Morland.]

But if the "room there is for missing you," conspiring with other
unfavourable conditions, rendered pressing afloat an uncertain and
vexatious business, the chances of making a haul were on the other
hand augmented by every ship that entered or left the Narrow Seas, not
even excepting the foreigner. The foreign sailor could not be pressed
unless, as we have seen, he had naturalised himself by marrying an
English wife, but the foreign ship was fair game for every hunter of
British seamen.--An ancient assumption of right made it so.

From the British point of view the "Right of Search" was an eminently
reasonable thing. Here was an island people to whose keeping Heaven
had by special dispensation committed the dominion of the seas. To
defend that dominion they needed every seaman they possessed or could
produce. They could spare none to other nations; and when their
sailors, who enjoyed no rights under their own flag, had the temerity
to seek refuge under another, there was nothing for it but to fire on
that flag if necessary, and to take the refugee by armed force from
under its protection. This in effect constituted the time-honoured
"Right of Search," and none were so reluctant to forego the
prerogative, or so keen to enforce it, as those naval officers who saw
in it a certain prospect of adding to their ships' companies. The
right of search was always good for another man or two.

It was often good for a great many more, for the foreign skipper was
at the best an arrant man-stealing rogue. If a Yankee, he hated the
British because he had beaten them; if a Frenchman or a Hollander,
because they had beaten him. His animus was all against the British
Navy, his sympathies all in favour of the British sailor, in whom he
recognised as good, if not a better seaman than himself. He
accordingly enticed him with the greatest pertinacity and hid him away
with the greatest cunning.

Every impress officer worth his salt was fully alive to these facts,
and on all the coast no ship was so thoroughly ransacked as the ship
whose skipper affected a bland ignorance of the English tongue or
called Heaven to witness the blamelessness of his conduct with many
gesticulations and strange oaths. Lieut. Oakley, regulating officer at
Deal, once boarded an outward-bound Dutch East-Indiaman in the Downs.
The master strenuously denied having any English sailors on board, but
the lieutenant, being suspicious, sent his men below with instructions
to leave no part of the ship unsearched. They speedily routed out
three, "who discovered that there were in all thirteen on board, most
of them good and able seamen." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
3363--Lieut. Oakley, 8 Dec. 1743.] The case is a typical one.

Another source of joy and profit to the gangs afloat were the great
annual convoys from overseas. For safety's sake merchantmen in times
of hostilities sailed in fleets, protected by ships of war, and when a
fleet of this description was due back from Jamaica, Newfoundland or
the Baltic, that part of the coast where it might be expected to make
its land-fall literally swarmed with tenders, all on the _qui
vive_ for human plunder. They were seldom disappointed. The
Admiralty protections under which the ships had put to sea in the
first instance expired with the home voyage, leaving the crews at the
mercy of the gangs. If, that is to say, the commanders of the
convoying men-o'-war had not forestalled them, or the ships' companies
were not composed, as in one case we read of, of men who were all
"either sick or Dutchmen."

The privateer had to be approached more warily than the merchantman,
since the number of men and the weight of metal she carried made her
an ugly customer to deal with. She was in consequence notorious for
being the sauciest craft afloat, and though "sauce" was to the naval
officer what a red rag is to a bull, there were few in the service who
did not think twice before attempting to violate the armed sanctity of
the privateer. At the same time the hands who crowded her deck were
the flower of British seamen, and in this fact lay a tremendous
incentive to dare all risks and press her men. Her commission or
letter of marque of course protected her, but when she was
inward-bound that circumstance carried no weight.

Against such an adversary the tender stood little chance. When she
hailed the privateer, the latter laughed at her, threatening to sink
her out of hand, or, if ordered to bring to, answered with all the
insolent contempt of the Spanish grandee: "Mariana!" Accident
sometimes stood the tender in better stead, where the pressing of
privateer's-men was concerned, than all the guns she carried. Capt.
Adams, cruising for men in the Bristol Channel, one day fell in with
the Princess Augusta, a letter of marque whose crew had risen upon
their officers and tried to take the ship. After hard fighting the
mutiny was quelled and the mutineers confined to quarters, in which
condition Adams found them. The whole batch, twenty-nine in number,
was handed over to him, "though 'twas only with great threats" that he
could induce them to submit, "they all swearing to die to a man rather
than surrender." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1440--Capt.
Adams, 28 June 1745.]

A year or two prior to this event this same ship, the Princess
Augusta, had a remarkable adventure whilst sailing under the merchant
flag of England. On the homeward run from Barbadoes, some fifty
leagues to the westward of the Scillies, she fell in with a Spanish
privateer, who at once engaged and would undoubtedly have taken her
but for an extraordinary occurrence. Just as the trader's assailants
were on the point of boarding her the Spaniard blew up, strewing the
sea with his wreckage, but leaving the merchantman providentially
unharmed. Capt. Dansays, of H.M.S. the _Fubbs_ yacht, who
happened to be out for men at the time in the chops of the Channel,
brought the news to England. Meeting with the trader a few days after
her miraculous escape, he had boarded her and pressed nine of her
crew. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1439--Capt. Ambrose, 7
Feb. 1741-2.]

From the smuggling vessels infesting the coasts the sea-going gangs
drew sure returns and rich booty. In the south and east of England
people who were "in the know" could always buy tobacco, wines and
silks for a mere song; and in Cumberland, in the coast towns there,
and inland too, the very beggars are said to have regaled themselves
on tea at sixpence or a shilling the pound. These commodities, as well
as others dealt in by runners of contrabrand, were worth far more on
the water than on land, and none was so keenly alive to the fact as
the gangsman who prowled the coast. Animated by the prospect of double
booty, he was by all odds the best "preventive man" the country ever

There was a certainty, too, about the pressing of a smuggler that was
wanting in other cases. The sailor taken out of a merchant ship, or
the fisherman out of a smack, might at the eleventh hour spring upon
you a protection good for his discharge. Not so the smuggler. There
was in his case no room for the unexpected. No form of protection
could save him from the consequences of his trade. Once caught, his
fate was a foregone conclusion, for he carried with him evidence
enough to make him a pressed man twenty times over. Hence the gangsman
and the naval officer loved the smuggler and lost no opportunity of
showing their affection.

"Strong Breezes and Cloudy," records the officer in command of H.M.S.
_Stag_, a twenty-eight gun frigate, in his log. "Having made the
Signal for Two Strange Sail in the West, proceeded on under Courses &
Double Reeft Topsails. At 1 sett the Jibb and Driver, at 3 boarded a
Smugling Cutter, but having papers proving she was from Guernsey, and
being out limits, pressed one Man and let her go." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 2734--Log of H.M.S. _Stag_, Capt. Yorke
commander, 5 Oct. 1794.]

"Friday last," says the captain of the _Spy_ sloop of war, "I
sail'd out of Yarmouth Roads with a Fleet of Colliers in order to
press Men, & in my way fell in with Two Dutch Built Scoots sail'd by
Englishmen, bound for Holland, one belonging to Hull, call'd the
_Mary_, the other to Lyn, call'd the _Willing Traveller_. I
search'd 'em and took out of the former 64 Pounds 14. and out of the
latter 300 Pounds 6, all English Money, which I've deliver'd to the
Collector of Custome at Yarmouth. I likewise Imprest out of the Two
Vessells seven men." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1438
--Capt. Arnold, 29 May 1727. The exporting of coin was illegal.]

"In the execution of my orders for pressing," reports Capt. Young,
from on board the Bonetta sloop under his command, "I lately met with
two Smuglers, & landing my boats into a Rocky Bay where they were
running of Goods, the Weather came on so Violent I had my pinnace
Stove so much as to be rendered unservisable. They threw overboard all
their Brandy, Tea and Tobacco, of which last wee recover'd about 14
Baggs and put it to the Custom house. In Endeavouring to bring one of
them to Sail, my Boatswain, who is a very Brisk and Deserving Man, had
his arm broke, so that tho' wee got no more of their Cargo, it has
broke their Voyage and Trade this bout." [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 2732--Capt. Young, 6 April 1739.]

On the 13th of December 1703, George Messenger, boatswain of the
_Wolf_ armed sloop, whilst pressing on the Humber descried a
"keel" lying high and dry apart from the other shipping in the river,
where it was then low water. Boarding her with the intention of
pressing her men, he found her deserted save for the master, and
thinking that some of the hands might be in hiding below--where the
master assured him he would find nothing but ballast--he "did order
one of his Boat's crew to goe down in the Hold and see what was
therein"; who presently returned and reported "a quantity of wool
conceal'd under some Coales a foot thik." The exportation of wool
being at that time forbidden under heavy penalties, the vessel was
seized and the master pressed--a course frequently adopted in such
circumstances, and uniformly approved. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1465--Deposition of George Messenger, 20 Dec. 1703.
Owling, ooling or wooling, as the exportation of wool contrary to law
was variously termed, was a felony punishable, according to an
enactment of Edward III., with "forfeiture of life and member." So
serious was the offence considered that in 1565 a further enactment
was formulated against it. Thereafter any person convicted of
exporting a live ram, lamb or sheep, was not only liable to forfeit
all his goods, but to suffer imprisonment for a year, and at the end
of the year "in some open market town, in the fulness of the market on
the market day, to have his right hand cut off and nailed up in the
openest place of such market." The first of these Acts remained in
nominal force till 1863.]

While the gangs afloat in this way lent their aid in the suppression
of smuggling, they themselves were sometimes subjected to disagreeable
espionage on the part of those whose duty it was to keep a special
lookout for runners of contraband goods. An amusing instance of this
once occurred in the Downs. The commanding officer of H.M.S.
_Orford_, discovering his complement to be short, sent one of his
lieutenants, Richardson by name, in quest of men to make up the
deficiency. In the course of his visits from ship to ship there
somehow found their way into the lieutenant's boat a fifteen-gallon
keg of rum and ten bottles of white wine. Between seven and eight
o'clock in the evening he boarded an Indiaman and went below with the
master. Scarcely had he done so, however, when an uproar alongside
brought him hurriedly on deck--to find his boat full of strange faces.
A Customs cutter, in some unaccountable way getting wind of what was
in the boat, had unexpectedly "clapt them aboard," collared the
man-o'-war's-men for a set of rascally smugglers, and confiscated the
unexplainable rum and wine, becoming so fuddled on the latter, which
they lost no time in consigning to bond, that one of their number fell
into the sea and was with difficulty fished out by Richardson's
disgusted gangsmen. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1473--Capt.
Brown, 30 July 1727, and enclosures.]

The only inward-bound ship the gangsmen were forbidden to press from
was the "sick ship" or vessel undergoing quarantine because of the
presence, or the suspected presence, on board of her of some
"catching" disease, and more particularly of that terrible scourge the
plague. Dread of the plague in those days rode the country like a
nightmare, and just as the earliest quarantine precautions had their
origin in that fact, so those precautions were never more rigorously
enforced than in the case of ships trading to countries known to be
subject to plague or reported to be in the grip of it. The Levantine
trader suffered most severely in this respect. In 1721 two vessels
from Cyprus, where plague was then prevalent, were burned to the
water's edge by order of the authorities, and as late as 1800 two
others from Morocco, suspected of carrying the dread disease in the
hides composing their cargo, were scuttled and sent to the bottom at
the Nore. This was quarantine _in excelsis_. Ordinary preventive
measures went no further than the withdrawal of "pratique," as
communication with the shore was called, for a period varying usually
from ten to sixty-five days, and during this period no gang was
allowed to board the ship.

The seamen belonging to such ships always got ashore if they could;
for though the penalty for deserting a ship in quarantine was death,
[Footnote: 26 George II. cap. 6.] it might be death to remain, and the
sailor was ever an opportunist careless of consequences. So, for that
matter, was the gangsman. Knowing well that Jack would make a break
for it the first chance he got, he hovered about the ship both day and
night, alert for every movement on board, watchful of every ripple on
the water, taunting the woebegone sailors with the irksomeness of
their captivity or the certainty of their capture, and awaiting with
what patience he could the hour that should see pratique restored and
the crew at his mercy. Whether the ship had "catching" disease on
board or not might be an open question. There was no mistaking its
symptoms in the gangsman.

Stangate Creek, on the river Medway, was the great quarantine station
for the port of London, and here, in the year 1744, was enacted one of
the most remarkable scenes ever witnessed in connection with pressing
afloat. The previous year had seen a recrudescence of plague in the
Levant and consequent panic in England, where extraordinary
precautions were adopted against possible infection. In December of
that year there lay in Stangate Creek a fleet of not less than a dozen
Levantine ships, in which were cooped up, under the most exacting
conditions imaginable, more than two hundred sailors. At Sheerness,
only a few miles distant, a number of ships of war, amongst them
Rodney's, were at the same time fitting out and wanting men. The
situation was thus charged with possibilities.

It was estimated that in order to press the two hundred sailors from
the quarantine ships, when the period of detention should come to an
end, a force of not less than one hundred and fifty men would be
required. These were accordingly got together from the various ships
of war and sent into the Creek on board a tender belonging to the
_Royal Sovereign_. This was on the 15th of December, and quarantine
expired on the 22nd.

The arrival of the tender threw the Creek into a state of
consternation bordering on panic, and that very day a number of
sailors broke bounds and fell a prey to the gangs in attempting to
steal ashore. Seymour, the lieutenant in command of the tender, did
not improve matters by his idiotic and unofficerlike behaviour. Every
day be rowed up and down the Creek, in and out amongst the ships,
taunting the men with what he would do unless they volunteered, when
the 22nd arrived, and he was free to work his will upon them. He would
have them all, he assured them, if he had to "shoot them like small

By the 22nd the sailors were in a state of "mutinous insolence." When
the tender's boats approached the ships they were welcomed "with
presented arms," and obliged to sheer off in order to obtain "more
force," so menacing did the situation appear. Seeing this, and either
mistaking or guessing the import of the move, the desperate seamen
rushed the cabins, secured all the arms and ammunition they could lay
hands on, hoisted out the ship's boats, and in these reached the shore
in safety ere the tender's men, by this time out in strength, could
prevent or come up with them. The fugitives, to the number of a
hundred or more, made off into the country to the accompaniment, we
are told, of "smart firing on both sides." With this exchange of shots
the curtain falls on the "Fray at Stangate Creek." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1480--Capt. Berkeley, 30 Dec. 1744, and
enclosure.] In the engagement two of the seamen were wounded, but all
escaped the snare of the fowler, and in that happy denouement our
sympathies are with them.

Returning transports paid immediate and heavy tribute to the gangs
afloat. Out of a fleet of such vessels arriving at the Nore in 1756
two hundred and thirty men, "a parcel of as fine fellows as were ever
pressed," fell to the gangs. Not a man escaped from any of the ships,
and the boats were kept busy all next day shifting chests and bedding
and putting in ticket men to navigate the depleted vessels to London.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1487--Capt. Boys, 6, 7 and 8
July 1756.] A similar press at the Cove of Cork, on the return of the
transports from America in '79, proved equally productive. Hundreds of
sailors were secured, to the unspeakable grief of the local crimps,
who were then offering long prices in order to recruit Paul Jones, at
that time cruising off the Irish coast. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1499--Letters of Capt. Bennett, 1779.]

The cartel ship was an object of peculiar solicitude to the sea-going
gangsman. In her, after weary months passed in French, Spanish or
Dutch prisons, hundreds of able-bodied British seamen returned to
their native land in more or less prime condition for His Majesty's
Navy. The warmest welcome they received was from the waiting gangsman.
Often they got no other. Few cartels had the extraordinary luck of the
ship of that description that crept into Rye harbour one night in
March 1800, and in bright moonlight landed three hundred lusty
sailor-men fresh from French prisons, under the very nose of the
battery, the guard at the port head and the _Clinker_ gun-brig.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1449--Capt. Aylmer, 9 March

Of all the seafaring men the gangsman took, there was perhaps none
whom he pressed with greater relish than the pilot. The every-day
pilot of the old school was a curious compound. When he knew his
business, which was only too seldom, he was frequently too many sheets
in the wind to embody his knowledge in intelligent orders; and when he
happened to be sober enough to issue intelligent orders, he not
infrequently showed his ignorance of what he was supposed to know by
issuing wrong ones. The upshot of these contradictions was, that
instead of piloting His Majesty's ships in a becoming seamanly manner,
he was for ever running them aground. Fortunately for the service, an
error of this description incapacitated him and made him fair game for
the gangs, who lost no time in transferring him to those foremast
regions where ship's grog was strictly limited and the captain's quite
unknown. William Cook, impressed upon an occasion at Lynn, with
unconscious humour styled himself a landsman. He was really a pilot
who had qualified for that distinction by running vessels ashore.

In the aggregate this unremitting and practically unbroken


Back to Full Books