The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore
John R. Hutchinson

Part 3 out of 6

surveillance of the coast was tremendously effective. Like Van Tromp,
the vessels and gangs engaged in it rode the seas with a broom at
their masthead, sweeping into the service, not every man, it is true,
but enormous numbers of them. As for their quality, "One man out of a
merchant ship is better than three the lieutenants get in town."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2379--Capt. Roberts, 27 June
1732.] This was the general opinion early in the century; but as the
century wore on the quality of the man pressed in town steadily
deteriorated, till at length the sailor taken fresh from the sea was
reckoned to be worth six of him.



As we have just seen, it was when returning from overseas that the
British sailor ran the gravest risk of summary conversion into
Falstaff's famous commodity, "food for powder."

Outward bound, the ship's protection--that "sweet little cherub"
which, contrary to all Dibdinic precedent, lay down below--had spread
its kindly aegis over him, and, generally speaking, saved him harmless
from the warrant and the hanger. But now the run for which he has
signed on is almost finished, and as the Channel opens before him the
magic Admiralty paper ceases to be of "force" for his protection. No
sooner, therefore, does he make his land-fall off the fair green hills
or shimmering cliffs than his troubles begin. He is now within the
outer zone of danger, and all about him hover those dreaded sharks of
the Narrow Seas, the rapacious press-smacks, seeking whom they may
devour. Conning the compass-card of his chances as they bear down upon
him and send their shot whizzing across his bows, the sailor, in his
fixed resolve to evade the gang at any cost, resorted first of all to
the most simple and sailorly expedient imaginable. He "let go all" and
made a run for it. That way lay the line of least resistance, and,
with luck on his side, of surest escape.

Three modes of flight were his to choose between--three modes
involving as many nice distinctions, plus a possible difference with
the master. He could run away in his ship, run away with her, or as a
last resort he could sacrifice his slops, his bedding, his pet monkey
and the gaudy parrot that was just beginning to swear, and run from
her. Which should it be? It was all a toss-up. The chance of the
moment, instantly detected and as instantly acted upon, determined his

The sailor's flight in his ship depended mainly upon her sailing
qualities and the master's willingness to risk being dismasted or
hulled by the pursuer's shot. Granted a capful of wind on his beam, a
fleet keel under foot, and a complacent skipper aft, the flight direct
was perhaps the means of escape the sailor loved above all others. The
spice of danger it involved, the dash and frolic of the chase, the joy
of seeing his leaping "barky" draw slowly away from her pursuer in the
contest of speed, and of watching the stretch of water lying between
him and capture surely widen out, were sensations dear to his heart.

Running away _with_ his ship was a more serious business, since
the adoption of such a course meant depriving the master of his
command, and this again meant mutiny. Happily, masters took a lenient
view of mutinies begotten of such conditions. Not infrequently,
indeed, they were consenting parties, winking at what they could not
prevent, and assuming the command again when the safety of ship and
crew was assured by successful flight, with never a hint of the irons,
indictment or death decreed by law as the mutineer's portion.

These modes of flight did not in every instance follow the
hard-and-fast lines here laid down. Under stress of circumstance each
was liable to become merged in the other; or both, perhaps, had to be
abandoned in favour of fresh tactics rendered necessary by the
accident or the exigency of the moment. The _Triton_ and _Norfolk_
Indiamen, after successfully running the gauntlet of the Channel
tenders, in the Downs fell in with the _Falmouth_ man-o'-war.
The meeting was entirely accidental. Both merchantmen were
congratulating themselves on having negotiated the Channel without the
loss of a man. The _Triton_ had all furled except her fore and
mizen topsails, preparatory to coming to an anchor; but as the wind
was strong southerly, with a lee tide running, the _Falmouth's_
boats could not forge ahead to board her before the set of the tide
carried her astern of the warship's guns, whereupon her crew mutinied,
threw shot into the man-o'-war's boats, which had by this time drawn
alongside, and so, making sail with all possible speed, got clear
away. Meantime a shot had brought the _Norfolk_ to on the
_Falmouth's_ starboard bow, where she was immediately boarded. On
her decks an ominous state of things prevailed. Her crew would not
assist to clew up the sails, the anchor had been seized to the
chain-plates and could not be let go, and when the gang from the
_Falmouth_ attempted to cut the buoy ropes with which it was
secured, the "crew attacked them with hatchets and treenails, made
sail and obliged them to quit the ship." Being by that, time astern of
the _Falmouth's_ guns, they too made their escape. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1485--Capt. Brett, 25 June 1755.]

Never, perhaps, did the sailor adopt the expedient of running away,
ship and all, with so malicious a goodwill or so bright a prospect of
success, as when sailing under convoy. In those days he seldom
ventured to "risk the run," even to Dutch ports and back, without the
protection of one or more ships of war, and in this precaution there
was danger as well as safety; for although the king's ships
safeguarded him against the enemy if hostilities were in progress, as
well as against the "little rogues" of privateers infesting the coasts
and the adjacent seas, no sooner did the voyage near its end than the
captains of the convoying ships took out of him, by force if
necessary, as many men as they happened to require. This was a _quid
pro quo_ of which the sailor could see neither the force nor the
fairness, and he therefore let slip no opportunity of evading it.

"Their Lordships," writes a commander who had been thus cheated, "need
not be surprised that I pressed so few men out of so large a Convoy,
for the Wind taking me Short before I got the length of Leostaff
(Lowestoft), the Pilot would not take Charge of the Shipp to turn her
out over the Stamford in the Night, which Oblig'd me to come to an
Anchor in Corton Road. This I did by Signal, but the Convoy took no
Notice of it, and all of them Run away and Left me, my Bottom being
like a Rock for Roughness, so that I could not Follow them."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2732--Letters of Capt. Young,

Supposing, however, that all these manoeuvres failed him and the gang
after a hot chase appeared in force on deck, the game was not yet up
so far as the sailor was concerned. A ship, it is true, had neither
the length of the Great North Road nor yet the depth of the Forest of
Dean, but all the same there was within the narrow compass of her
timbers many a lurking place wherein the artful sailor, by a judicious
exercise of forethought and tools, might contrive to lie undetected
until the gang had gone over the side.

About five o'clock in the afternoon of the 25th of June 1756, Capt.
William Boys, from the quarter-deck of his ship the _Royal
Sovereign_, then riding at anchor at the Nore, observed a snow on
fire in the five-fathom channel, a little below the Spoil Buoy. He
immediately sent his cutter to her assistance, but in spite of all
efforts to save her she ran aground and burnt to the water's edge. Her
cargo consisted of wine, and the loss of the vessel was occasioned by
one of her crew, who was fearful of being pressed, hiding himself in
the hold with a lighted candle. He was burnt with the ship. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1487--Capt. Boys, 26 June 1756. Oddly
enough, a somewhat similar accident was indirectly the cause of Capt.
Boys' entering the Navy. In 1727, whilst the merchantman of which he
was then mate was on the voyage home from Jamaica, two mischievous
imps of black boys, inquisitive to know whether some liquor spilt on
deck was rum or water, applied a lighted candle to it. It proved to be
rum, and when the officers and crew, who were obliged to take to the
boats in consequence, were eventually picked up by a Newfoundland
fishing vessel, unspeakable sufferings had reduced their number from
twenty-three to seven, and these had only survived by feeding on the
bodies of their dead shipmates. In memory of that harrowing time Boys
adopted as his seal the device of a burning ship and the motto: "From
Fire, Water and Famine by Providence Preserved."]

Barring the lighted candle and the lamentable accident which followed
its use, the means of evading the gang resorted to in this instance
was of a piece with many adopted by the sailor. He contrived cunning
hiding-places in the cargo, where the gangsmen systematically
"pricked" for him with their cutlasses when the nature of the vessel's
lading admitted of it, or he stowed himself away in seachests, lockers
and empty "harness" casks with an ingenuity and thoroughness that
often baffled the astutest gangsman and the most protracted search.
The spare sails forward, the readily accessible hiding-hole of the
green-hand, afforded less secure concealment. Pierre Flountinherre,
routed out of hiding there, endeavoured to save his face by declaring
that he had "left France on purpose to get on board an English
man-of-war." Frenchman though he was, the gang obliged him. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1510--Capt. Baskerville, 5 Aug. 1795.]

In his endeavours to best the impress officers and gangsmen the sailor
found a willing backer in his skipper, who systematically falsified
the ship's articles by writing "run," "drowned," "discharged" or
"dead" against the names of such men as he particularly desired to
save harmless from the press. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1525--Capt. Berry, 31 March 1801.] This done, the men were
industriously coached in the various parts they were to play at the
critical moment. In the skipper's stead, supposing him to be for some
reason unfit for naval service, some specially valuable hand was
dubbed master. Failing this substitution, which was of course intended
to save the man and not the skipper, the ablest seaman in the ship
figured as mate, whilst others became putative boatswain or carpenter
and apprentices--privileged persons whom no gang could lawfully take,
but who, to render their position doubly secure, were furnished with
spurious papers, of which every provident skipper kept a supply at
hand for use in emergencies. When all hands were finally mustered to
quarters, so to speak, there remained on deck only a "master" who
could not navigate the ship, a "mate" unable to figure out the day's
run, a "carpenter" who did not know how to handle an adze, and some
make-believe apprentices "bound" only to outwit the gang. And if in
spite of all these precautions an able seaman were pressed, the real
master immediately came forward and swore he was the mate.

Such thoroughly organised preparedness as this, however, was the
exception rather than the rule, for though often attempted, it rarely
reached perfection or stood the actual test. The sailor was too
childlike by nature to play the fraud successfully, and as for the
impress officer and the gangsman, neither was easily gulled. Supposing
the sailor, then, to have nothing to hope for from deception or
concealment, and supposing, too, that it was he who had the rough
bottom beneath him and the fleet keel in pursuit, how was he to outwit
the gang and evade the pinch? Nothing remained for him but to heave
duty by the board and abandon his ship to the doubtful mercies of wind
and wave. He accordingly went over the side with all the haste he
could, appropriating the boats in defiance of authority, and leaving
only the master and his mate, the protected carpenter and the
apprentices to work the ship. Many a trader from overseas, summarily
abandoned in this way, crawled into some outlying port, far from her
destination, in quest--since a rigorous press often left no others
available--of "old men and boys to carry her up." There is even on
record the case of a ship that passed the Nore "without a man
belonging to her but the master, the passengers helping him to sail
her." Her people had "all got ashore by Harwich." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1473--Capt. Bouler, 18 Feb. 1725-6.]

Few shipowners were so foolhardy as to incur the risk of being thus
hit in the pocket by the sailor's well-known predilection for French
leave when in danger of the press. Nor were the masters, for they,
even when not part owners, had still an appreciable stake in the
safety of the ships they sailed. As between masters, owners and men
there consequently sprang up a sort of triangular sympathy, having for
its base a common dread of the gangs, and for its apex their
circumvention. This apex necessarily touched the coast at a point
contiguous to the ocean tracks of the respective trades in which the
ships sailed; and here, in some spot far removed from the regular
haunts of the gangsman, an emergency crew was mustered by those
indefatigable purveyors, the crimps, and held in readiness against the
expected arrival.

Composed of seafaring men too old, too feeble, or too diseased to
excite the cupidity of the most zealous lieutenant who eked out his
pay on impress perquisites; of lads but recently embarked on the
adventurous voyage of their teens; of pilots willing, for a
consideration, to forego the pleasure of running ships aground; of
fishermen who evaded His Majesty's press under colour of Sea-Fencible,
Militia, or Admiralty protections; and of unpressable foreigners whose
wives bewailed them more or less beyond the seas, this scratch
crew--the Preventive Men of the merchant service--here awaited the
preconcerted signal which should apprise them that their employer's
ship was ready for a change of hands.

For safety's sake the transfer was generally effected by night, when
that course was possible; but the untimely appearance of a press-smack
on the scene not infrequently necessitated the shifting of the crews
in the broad light of day and the hottest of haste. On shore all had
been in readiness perhaps for days. At the signal off dashed the
deeply laden boats to the frantic ship, the scratch crew scrambled
aboard, and the regular hands, thus released from duty, tumbled
pell-mell into the empty boats and pulled for shore with a will
mightily heartened by a running fire of round-shot from the smack and
of musketry from her cutter, already out to intercept the fugitives.
Then it was:--

"Cheerily, lads, cheerily! there's a ganger hard to wind'ard;
Cheerily, lads, cheerily! there's a ganger hard a-lee;
Cheerily, lads, cheerily! else 'tis farewell home and kindred,
And the bosun's mate a-raisin' hell in the King's Navee.
Cheerily, lads, cheerily ho! the warrant's out, the hanger's drawn!
Cheerily, lads, so cheerily! we'll leave 'em an _R_ in pawn!"

[Footnote: When Jack deserted his ship under other conditions than
those here described, an _R_ was written against his name to
denote that he had "run." So, when he shirked an obligation, monetary
or moral, by running away from it, he was said to "leave an _R_
in pawn."]

The place of muster of the emergency men thus became in turn the
landing-place of the fugitive crew. Its whereabouts depended as a
matter of course upon the trade in which the ship sailed. The spot
chosen for the relief of the Holland, Baltic and Greenland traders of
the East Coast was generally some wild, inaccessible part abutting
directly on the German Ocean or the North Sea. London skippers in
those trades favoured the neighbourhood of Great Yarmouth, where the
maze of inland waterways constituting the Broads enabled the shifty
sailor to lead the gangs a merry game at hide and seek. King's Lynners
affected Skegness and the Norfolk lip of the Wash. Of the men who
sailed out of Hull not one in ten could be picked up, on their return,
by the gangs haunting the Humber. They went ashore at Dimlington on
the coast of Holderness, or at the Spurn. The homing sailors of Leith,
as of the ports on the upper reaches of the Firth of Forth, enjoyed an
immunity from the press scarcely less absolute than that of the Orkney
Islanders, who for upwards of forty years contributed not a single man
to the Navy. Having on either hand an easily accessible coast,
inhabited by a people upon whose hospitality the gangs were chary of
intruding, and abounding in lurking-places as secure as they were
snug, the Mother Firth held on to her sailor sons with a pertinacity
and success that excited the envy of the merchant seaman at large and
drove impress officers to despair. The towns and villages to the north
of the Firth were "full of men." On no part of the north coast,
indeed, from St. Abb's Head clear round to Annan Water, was it an easy
matter to circumvent the canny Scot who went a-sailoring. He had a
trick of stopping short of his destination, when homeward bound, that
proved as baffling to the gangs as it was in seeming contradiction to
all the traditions of a race who pride themselves on "getting there."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 579--Admiral Pringle, Report on
Rendezvous, 2 April 1795, and Captains' Letters, _passim_.]

In the case of outward-bound ships, the disposition of the two crews
was of course reversed. The scratch crew carried the ship down to the
stipulated point of exchange, where they vacated her in favour of the
actual crew, who had been secretly conveyed to that point by land.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 580--Admiral Lord Nelson,
Memorandum on the State of the Fleet, 1803.] Whichever way the trick
was worked, it proved highly effective, for, except from the sea, no
gang durst venture near such points of debarkation and departure
without strong military support.

There still remained the emergency crew itself. The most decrepit,
crippled or youthful were of course out of the question. But the
foreigner and our shifty friend the man in lieu were fair game.
Entering largely as they did into the make-up of almost every scratch
crew, they were pressed without compunction whenever and wherever
caught abusing their privileges by playing the emergency man. To keep
such persons always and in all circumstances was a point of honour
with the Navy Board. It had no other means of squaring accounts with
the scratch crew.

The emergency man who plied "on his own" was more difficult to deal
with. Keepers of the Eddystone made a "great deal of money" by putting
inward-bound ships' crews ashore; but when one of their number,
Matthew Dolon by name, was pressed as a punishment for that offence,
the Admiralty, having the fear of outraged Trade before its eyes,
ordered his immediate discharge. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_
1. 2732--Capt. Yeo, 25 July 1727.]

The pilot, the fisherman and the longshoreman were notorious offenders
in this respect. Whenever they saw a vessel bound in, they were in the
habit of putting off to her and of first inciting the crew to escape
and then hiring themselves at exorbitant rates to work the vessel into
port. On such mischievous interlopers the gangsman had no mercy. He
took them whenever he could, confident that when their respective
cases were stated to the Board, that body would "tumble" to the

Any attempt at estimating the number of seafaring men who evaded the
gangs and the call of the State by means of the devices and
subterfuges here roughly sketched into the broad canvas of our picture
would prove a task as profitless as it is impossible of
accomplishment. One thing only is certain. The number fluctuated
greatly from time to time with the activity or inactivity of the
gangs. When the press was lax, there arose no question as there
existed no need of escape; when it was hot, it was evaded
systematically and with a degree of success extremely gratifying to
the sailor. Taking the sea-borne coal trade of the port of London
alone, it is estimated that in the single month of September 1770, at
a time when an exceptionally severe press from protections was in full
swing, not less than three thousand collier seamen got ashore between
Yarmouth Roads and Foulness Point. As the coal trade was only one of
many, and as the stretch of coast concerned comprised but a few miles
out of hundreds equally well if not better adapted to the sailor's
furtive habits, the total of escapes must have been little short of
enormous. It could not have been otherwise. In this grand battue of
the sea it was clearly impossible to round-up and capture every
skittish son of Neptune.

On shore, as at sea, the sailor's course, when the gang was on his
track, followed the lines of least resistance, only here he became a
skulk as well as a fugitive. It was not that he was a less
stout-hearted fellow than when at sea. He was merely the victim of a
type of land neurosis. Drink and his recent escape from the gang got
on his nerves and rendered him singularly liable to panic. The
faintest hint of a press was enough to make his hair rise. At the
first alarm he scuttled into hiding in the towns, or broke cover like
a frightened hare.

The great press of 1755 affords many instances of such panic flights.
Abounding in "lurking holes" where a man might lie perdue in
comparative safety, King's Lynn nevertheless emptied itself of seamen
in a few hours' time, and when the gang hurried to Wells by water,
intending to intercept the fugitives there, the "idle fishermen on
shore" sounded a fresh alarm and again they stampeded, going off to
the eastward in great numbers and burying themselves in the thickly
wooded dells and hills of that bit of Devon in Norfolk which lies
between Clay-next-the-Sea and Sheringham. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1486--Capt. Baird, 29 March and 21 April 1755.]

A similar exodus occurred at Ipswich. The day the warrants came down,
as for many days previous, the ancient borough was full of seamen; but
no sooner did it become known that the press was out than they
vanished like the dew of the morning. For weeks the face of but one
sailor was seen in the town, and he was only ferreted out, with the
assistance of a dozen constables, after prolonged and none too legal
search. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1486--Capt. Brand, 26
Feb. 1755.]

How effectually the sailor could hide when dread of the press had him
in its grip is strikingly illustrated by the hot London press of 1740.
On that occasion the docks, the riverside slums and dens, the river
itself both above and below bridge, were scoured by gangs who left no
stratagem untried for unearthing and taking the hidden sailor. When
the rigour of the press was past not a seaman, it is said, was to be
found at large in London; yet within four-and-twenty hours sixteen
thousand emerged from their retreats. [Footnote: Griffiths,
_Impressment Fully Considered_.]

The secret of such effectual concealment lay in the fact that the
nature of his hiding-place mattered little to the sailor so long as it
was secure. Accustomed to quarters of the most cramped description on
shipboard, he required little room for his stowing. The roughest bed,
the worst ventilated hole, the most insanitary surroundings and
conditions were all one to him. He could thus hide himself away in
places and receptacles from which the average landsman would have
turned in fear or disgust. In quarry, clay-pit, cellar or well; in
holt, hill or cave; in chimney, hayloft or secret cell behind some
old-time oven; in shady alehouse or malodorous slum where a man's life
was worth nothing unless he had the smell of tar upon him, and not
much then; on isolated farmsteads and eyots, or in towns too remote or
too hostile for the gangsman to penetrate--somewhere, somehow and of
some sort the sailor found his lurking-place, and in it, by good
providence, lay safe and snug throughout the hottest press.

Many of the seamen employed in the Newfoundland trade of Poole,
gaining the shore at Chapman's Pool or Lulworth, whiled away their
stolen leisure either in the clay-pits of the Isle of Purbeck, where
they defied intrusion by posting armed sentries at every point of
access to their stronghold, or--their favourite haunt--on Portland
Island, which the number and ill-repute of the labourers employed in
its stone quarries rendered well-nigh impregnable. To search for, let
alone to take the seamen frequenting that natural fortress--who of
course "squared" the hard-bitten quarrymen--was more than any gang
durst undertake unless, as was seldom the case, it consisted of some
"very superior force." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 581
--Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 5 Aug. 1805.]

With the solitary exception of Falmouth town, the Cornish coast was
merely another Portland Neck enormously extended. From Rame Head to
the Lizard and Land's End, and in a minor sense from Land's End away
to Bude Haven in the far nor'-east, the entire littoral of this remote
part of the kingdom was forbidden ground whereon no gangsman's life
was worth a moment's purchase. The two hundred seins and twice two
hundred drift-boats belonging to that coast employed at least six
thousand fishermen, and of these the greater part, as soon as the
fishing season was at an end, either turned "tinners" and went into
the mines, where they were unassailable,

[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 581--Admiral Berkeley, Report
on Rendezvous, 28 Sept. 1805.] or betook themselves to their
strongholds at Newquay, St. Ives, Newland, Mousehole, Coversack,
Polpero, Cawsand and other places where, in common with smugglers,
deserters from the king's ships at Hamoaze, and an endless succession
of fugitive merchant seamen, they were as safe from intrusion or
capture as they would have been on the coast of Labrador. It was
impossible either to hunt them down or to take them on a coast so
"completely perforated." A thousand "stout, able young fellows" could
have been drawn from this source without being missed; but the gangs
fought shy of the task, and only when they carried vessels in distress
into Falmouth were the redoubtable sons of the coves ever molested.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 579--Admiral M'Bride, 9 March
1795. _Admiralty Records_ 1. 578--Petition of the Inhabitants of
the Village of Coversack, 31 Jan. 1778.]

On the Bristol Channel side Lundy Island offered unrivalled facilities
for evasion, and many were the crews marooned there by far-sighted
skippers who calculated on thus securing them against their return
from Bristol, outward bound. The gangs as a rule gave this little
Heligoland a wide berth, and when carried thither against their will
they had a disconcerting habit of running away with the press-boat,
and of thus marooning their commanding officer, that contributed not a
little to the immunity the island enjoyed. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1439--Capt. Aylmer, 22 Dec. 1743.]

The sailor's objection to Lundy was as strong as the gangsman's. From
his point of view it was no ideal place to hide in, and the effect
upon him of enforced sojourn there was to make him sulky and mutinous.
Rather the shore with all its dangers than an island that produced
neither tobacco, rum, nor women! He therefore preferred sticking to
his ship, even though he thereby ran the risk of impressment, until
she arrived the length of the Holmes.

These islands are two in number, Steep Holme and Flat Holme, and so
closely can vessels approach the latter, given favourable weather
conditions, that a stone may be cast on shore from the deck. The
business of landing and embarking was consequently easy, and though
the islands themselves were as barren as Lundy of the three
commodities the sailor loved, he was nevertheless content to terminate
his voyage there for the following reasons. Under the lee of one or
other of the islands there was generally to be found a boat-load of
men who were willing, for a suitable return in coin of the realm, to
work the ship into King Road, the anchorage of the port of Bristol.
The sailor was thus left free to gain the shore in the neighbourhood
of Uphill, Weston, or Clevedon Bay, whence it was an easy tramp, not
to Bristol, of which he steered clear because of its gangs, but to
Bath, or, did he prefer a place nearer at hand, to the little town of
Pill, near Avon-mouth.

A favourite haunt of seafaring men, fishermen, pilots and pilots'
assistants, with a liberal sprinkling of that class of female known in
sailor lingo as "brutes," this lively little town was a place after
Jack's own heart. The gangsmen gave it a wide berth. It offered an
abundance of material for him to work upon, but that material was a
trifle too rough even for his infastidious taste. The majority of the
permanent indwellers of Pill, as well as the casual ones, not only
protected themselves from the press, when such a course was necessary,
by a ready use of the fist and the club, but, when this means of
exemption failed them, pleaded the special nature of their calling
with great plausibility and success. They were "pilots' assistants,"
and as such they enjoyed for many years the unqualified indulgence of
the naval authorities. The appellation they bore was nevertheless
purely euphemistic. As a matter of fact they were sailors' assistants
who, under cover of an ostensible vocation, made it their real
business, at the instigation and expense of Bristol shipowners, to
save crews harmless from the gangs by boarding ships at the Holmes and
working them from thence into the roadstead or to the quays. They are
said to have been "very fine young men," and many a longing look did
the impress officers at Bristol cast their way whilst struggling to
swell their monthly returns. So essentially necessary to the trade of
the place were they considered to be, however, that they were allowed
to checkmate the gangs, practically without molestation or hindrance,
till about the beginning of the last century, when the Admiralty,
suddenly awaking to the unpatriotic nature of a practice that so
effectually deprived the Navy of its due, caused them to be served
with a notice to the effect that "for the future all who navigated
ships from the Holmes should be pressed as belonging to those ships."
At this threat the Pill men jeered. Relying on the length of pilotage
water between King Road and Bristol, they took a leaf from the
sailor's log and ran before the press-boats could reach the ships in
which they were temporarily employed. For four years this state of
things continued. Then there was struck at the practice a blow which
not even the Admiralty had foreseen. Tow-paths were constructed along
the river-bank, and the pilots' assistants, ousted by horses, fell an
easy prey to the gangs. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
581--Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 14 April 1805.]

Bath had no gang, and was in consequence much frequented by sailors of
the better class. In 1803--taking that as a normal year--the number
within its limits was estimated at three hundred--enough to man a
ship-of-the-line. The fact being duly reported to the Admiralty, a
lieutenant and gang were ordered over from Bristol to do some
pressing. The civic authorities--mayor, magistrates, constables and
watchmen--fired with sudden zeal for the service, all came forward "in
the most handsome manner" with offers of countenance and support. In
the purlieus of the town, however, the advent of the gang created
panic. The seamen went into prompt hiding, the mob turned out in
force, angry and threatening, resolved that no gang should violate the
sanctuary of a cathedral city. Seeing how the wind set, the mayor and
magistrates, having begun by backing the warrant, continued backing
until they backed out of the affair altogether. The zealous watchmen
could not be found, the eager constables ran away. Dismayed by these
untimely defections, the lieutenant hurriedly resolved "to drop the
business." So the gang marched back to Bristol empty-handed, followed
by the hearty execrations of the rabble and the heartier good wishes
of the mayor, who assured them that as soon as he should be able to
clap the skulking seamen in jail "on suspicion of various
misdemeanours," he would send for them again. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1528--Capt. Barker, 3 and 11 July 1803.] We do not
learn that he ever did.

To Bristol no unprotected sailor ever repaired of his own free will,
for early in the century of pressing the chickens of the most
notorious kidnapping city in England began to come home to roost. The
mantle of the Bristol mayor whom Jeffreys tried for a "kidnapping
knave" fell upon a succession of regulating captains whose doings put
their civic prototype to open shame, and more petitions and protests
against the lawlessness of the gangs emanated from Bristol than from
any other city in the kingdom.

The trowmen who navigated the Severn and the Wye, belonging as they
did mainly to extra-parochial spots in the Forest of Dean, were exempt
from the Militia ballot and the Army of Reserve. On the ground that
they came under the protection of inland navigation, they likewise
considered themselves exempt from the sea service, but this contention
the Court of Exchequer in 1798 completely overset by deciding that the
"passage of the River Severn between Gloucester and Bristol is open
sea." A press-gang was immediately let loose upon the numerous tribe
frequenting it, whereupon the whole body of newly created sailors
deserted their trows and fled to the Forest, where they remained in
hiding till the disappointed gang sought other and more fruitful
fields. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 581--Admiral Berkeley,
Report on Rendezvous, 14 April 1805.]

Within Chester gates the sailor for many years slept as securely as
upon the high seas. No householder would admit the gangsmen beneath
his roof; and when at length they succeeded in gaining a foothold
within the city, all who were liable to the press immediately deserted
it--"as they do every town where there is a gang"--and went "to reside
at Parkgate." Parkgate in this way became a resort of sea-faring men
without parallel in the kingdom--a "nest" whose hornet bands were
long, and with good reason, notorious for their ferocity and
aggressiveness. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1446--Capt.
Ayscough, 17 Nov. 1780.] An attempt to establish a rendezvous here in
1804 proved a failure. The seamen fled, no "business" could be done,
and officer and gang were soon withdrawn.

In comparison with the seething Deeside hamlet, Liverpool was tameness
itself. Now and then, as in 1745, the sailor element rose in arms,
demanding who was master; but as a rule it suffered the gang, if not
gladly, at least with exemplary patience. Homing seamen who desired to
evade the press in that city--and they were many--fled ashore from
their ships at Highlake, a spot so well adapted to their purpose that
it required "strict care to catch them." From Highlake they made their
way to Parkgate, swelling still further the sailor population of that
far-famed nest of skulkers.

Cork was a minor Parkgate. A graphic account of the conditions
obtaining in that city has been left to us by Capt. Bennett, of H.M.S.
_Lennox_, who did port duty there from May 1779 till March 1783.
"Many hundreds of the best Seamen in this Province," he tells us,
"resort in Bodys in Country Villages round about here, where they are
maintained by the Crimps, who dispose of them to Bristol, Liverpool
and other Privateers, who appoint what part of the Coast to take them
on Board. They go in Bodys, even in the Town of Cork, and bid defiance
to the Press-gangs, and resort in houses armed, and laugh at both
civil and military Power. This they did at Kinsale, where they
threatened to pull the Jail down in a garrison'd Town." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1502--Capt. Bennett, 12 and 26 April
1782.] These tactics rendered the costly press-gangs all but useless.
A hot press at Cork, in 1796, yielded only sixteen men fit for the

Space fails us to tell of how, owing to a three days' delay in the
London post that brought the warrants to Newhaven in the spring of
'78, the "alarm of soon pressing" spread like wildfire along that
coast and drove every vessel to sea; of how "three or four hundred
young fellows" belonging to Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, who had no
families and could well have been spared without hindrance to the
seafaring business of those towns, thought otherwise and took a little
trip of "thirty or forty miles in the country to hide from the
service"; or of how Capt. Routh, of the rendezvous at Leeds, happened
upon a great concourse of skulkers at Castleford, whither they had
been drawn by reasons of safety and the alleged fact that

"Castleford woman must needs be fair,
Because they wash both in Calder and Aire,"

and after two unsuccessful attempts at surprise, at length took them
with the aid of the military. These were everyday incidents which were
accepted as matters of course and surprised nobody. Nevertheless the
vagaries of the wayward children of the State, who chose to run away
and hide instead of remaining to play the game, cost the naval
authorities many an anxious moment. _They_ had to face both
evasion and invasion, and the prevalence of the one did not help to
repel the other.

His country's fear of invasion by the French afforded the seafaring
man the chance of the century. Pitt's Quota Bill put good money in his
pocket at the expense of his liberty, but in Admiral Sir Home Popham's
great scheme for the defence of the coasts against Boney and his
flat-bottomed boats he scented something far more to his advantage and

From the day in 1796 when Capt. Moriarty, press-gang-officer at Cork,
reported the arrival of the long-expected Brest fleet off the Irish
coast, [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1621--Capt. Crosby, 30
Dec. 1796.] the question how best to defend from sudden attack so
enormously extended and highly vulnerable a seaboard as that of the
United Kingdom, became one of feverish moment. At least a hundred
different projects for compassing that desirable end at one time or
another claimed the attention of the Navy Board. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 581--Admiral Knowles, 25 Jan. 1805.] One
of these was decidedly ingenious. It aimed at destroying the French
flotilla by means of logs of wood bored hollow and charged with
gunpowder and ball. These were to be launched against the invaders
somewhat after the manner of the modern torpedo, of which they were,
in fact, the primitive type and original. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 580--Rear-Admiral Young, 14 Aug. 1803, and secret
enclosure, as in the Appendix. The Admiral's "machine," as he termed
it, though embodying the true torpedo idea of an explosive device to
be propelled against an enemy's ship, was not designed to be so
propelled on its own buoyancy, but by means of a fishing-boat, in
which it lay concealed. Had his inventive genius taken a bolder flight
and given us a more finished product in place of this crudity, the
Whitehead torpedo would have been anticipated, in something more than
mere principle, by upwards of half a century.]

Meantime, however, the Admiralty had adopted another plan--Admiral
Popham, already famous for his improved code of signals, its
originator. On paper it possessed the merits of all Haldanic
substitutes for the real thing. It was patriotic, cheap, simple as
kissing your hand. All you had to do was to take the fisherman, the
longshoreman and other stalwarts who lived "one foot in sea and one on
shore," enroll them in corps under the command (as distinguished from
the control) of naval officers, and practise them (on Sundays, since
it was a work of strict necessity) in the use of the pike and the
cannon, and, hey presto! the country was as safe from invasion as if
the meddlesome French had never been. The expense would be trivial.
Granting that the French did not take alarm and incontinently drop
their hostile designs upon the tight little island, there would be a
small outlay for pay, a trifle of a shilling a day on exercise days,
but nothing more--except for martello towers. The boats it was
proposed to enroll and arm would cost nothing. Their patriotic owners
were to provide them free of charge.

Such was the Popham scheme on paper. On a working basis it proved
quite another thing. The pikes provided were old ship-pikes, rotten
and worthless. The only occasion on which they appear to have served
any good purpose was when, at Gerrans and St. Mawes, the Fencibles
joined the mob and terrified the farmers, who were ignorant of the
actual condition of the pikes, into selling their corn at something
less than famine prices. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
579--Capt. Spry, 14 April 1801.] Guns hoary with age, requisitioned
from country churchyards and village greens where they had rusted,
some of them, ever since the days of Drake and Raleigh, were dragged
forth and proudly grouped as "parks of artillery." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1513--Capt. Bradley, 21 Aug. 1796.] Signal
stations could not be seen one from the other, or, if visible,
perpetrated signals no one could read. The armed smacks were equally
unreliable. In Ireland they could not be "trusted out of sight with a
gun." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1529--Capt. Bowen, 12
Oct. 1803.] In England they left the guns behind them. The weight, the
patriotic owners discovered, seriously hampered the carrying capacity
and seaworthiness of their boats; so to abate the nuisance they hove
the guns overboard on to the beach, where they were speedily buried in
sand or shingle, while the appliances were carried off by those who
had other uses for them than their country's defence. The vessels thus
armed, moreover, were always at sea, the men never at home. When it
was desired to practise them in the raising of the sluice-gates which,
in the event of invasion, were to convert Romney Marsh into an inland
sea, no efforts availed to get together sufficient men for the
purpose. Immune from the press by reason of their newly created status
of Sea-Fencibles, they were all elsewhere, following their
time-honoured vocations of fishing and smuggling with industry and
gladness of heart. As a means of repelling invasion the Popham scheme
was farcical and worthless; as a means of evading the press it was the
finest thing ever invented. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
581--Admiral Berkeley, Reports on Sea-Fencibles, 1805; Admiral Lord
Keith, Sentiments upon the Sea-Fencible System, 7 Jan. 1805.] The only
benefits the country ever drew from it, apart from this, were two. It
provided the Admiralty with an incomparable register of seafaring men,
and some modern artists with secluded summer retreats.

It goes without saying that a document of such vital consequence to
the seafaring man as an Admiralty protection did not escape the
attention of those who, from various motives, sought to aid and abet
the sailor in his evasion of the press. Protections were freely lent
and exchanged, bought and sold, "coaxed," concocted and stolen.
Skilful predecessors of Jim the Penman imitated to the life the
signatures of Pembroke and Sandwich, Lord High Admirals, and of the
lesser fry who put the official hand to those magic papers. "Great
abuses" were "committed that way." Bogus protections could be obtained
at Sunderland for 8s. 6d., Stephenson and Collins, the disreputable
schoolmasters who made a business of faking them, coining money by the
"infamous practice." In London "one Broucher, living in St. Michael's
Lane," supplied them to all comers at 3 Pounds apiece. Even the Navy
Office was not above suspicion in this respect, for in '98 a clerk
there, whose name does not transpire, was accused of adding to his
income by the sale of bogus protections at a guinea a head. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 2740--Lieut. Abbs, 5 Oct. 1798.]

American protections were the Admiralty's pet bugbear. For many years
after the successful issue of the War of Independence a bitter
animosity characterised the attitude of the British naval officer
towards the American sailor. Whenever he could be laid hold of he was
pressed, and no matter what documents he produced in evidence of his
American birth and citizenship, those documents were almost invariably
pronounced false and fraudulent. There were weighty reasons, however,
for refusing to accept the claim of the alleged American sailor at its
face value. No class of protection was so generally forged, so
extensively bought and sold, as the American. Practically every
British seaman who made the run to an American port took the
precaution, during his sojourn in that land of liberty, to provide
himself with spurious papers against his return to England, where he
hoped, by means of them, to checkmate the gang. The process of
obtaining such papers was simplicity itself. All the sailor had to do,
at, say, New York, was to apply himself to one Riley, whose other name
was Paddy. The sum of three dollars having changed hands, Riley and
his client betook themselves to the retreat of some shady Notary
Public, where the Irishman made ready oath that the British seaman was
as much American born as himself. The business was now as good as
done, for on the strength of this lying affidavit any Collector of
Customs on the Atlantic coast would for a trifling fee grant the
sailor a certificate of citizenship. Riley created American citizens
in this way at the rate, it is said, of a dozen a day, [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1523-Deposition of Zacharias Pasco, 20
Jan. 1800.] and as he was only one of many plying the same lucrative
trade, the effect of such wholesale creations upon the impress service
in England, had they been allowed to pass unchallenged, may be readily

The fraud, worse luck for the service, was by no means confined to
America. Almost every home seaport had its recognised perveyor of
"false American passes." At Liverpool a former clerk to the Collector
of Customs for Pembroke, Pilsbury by name, grew rich on them, whilst
at Greenock, Shields and other north-country shipping centres they
were for many years readily procurable of one Walter Gilly and his
confederates, whose transactions in this kind of paper drove the Navy
Board to desperation. They accordingly instructed Capt. Brown,
gang-officer at Greenock, to take Gilly at all hazards, but the
fabricator of passes fled the town ere the gang could be put on his
track. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1549--Capt. Brown, 22
Aug. 1809.]

Considering that every naval officer, from the Lord High Admiral
downwards, had these facts and circumstances at his fingers' end, it
is hardly suprising that protections having, or purporting to have, an
American origin, should have been viewed with profound distrust
--distrust too often justified, and more than justified, by
the very nature of the documents themselves. Thus a gentleman of
colour, Cato Martin by name, when taken out of the _Dolly_
West-Indiaman at Bristol, had the assurance to produce a white man's
pass certifying his eyes, which were undeniably yellow, to be a soft
sky-blue, and his hair, which was hopelessly black and woolly, to be
of that well-known hue most commonly associated with hair grown north
of the Tweed. It was reserved, however, for an able seaman bearing the
distinguished name of Oliver Cromwell to break all known records in
this respect. When pressed, he unblushingly produced a pass dated in
America the 29th of May and viséd by the American Consul in London on
the 6th of June immediately following, thus conferring on its bearer
the unique distinction of having crossed the Atlantic in eight days at
a time when the voyage occupied honester men nearly as many weeks. To
press such frauds was a public benefit. On the other hand, one
confesses to a certain sympathy with the American sailor who was
pressed because he "spoke English very well." [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 2734--Capt. Yorke, 8 March 1798.]

Believing in the simplicity of his heart that others were as gullible
as himself, the fugitive sailor sought habitually to hide his identity
beneath some temporary disguise of greater or less transparency. That
of farm labourer was perhaps his favourite choice. The number of
seamen so disguised, and employed on farms within ten miles of the
coast between Hull and Whitby prior to the sailing of the Greenland
and Baltic ships in 1803, was estimated at more than a thousand
able-bodied men. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 580--Admiral
Phillip, Report on Rendezvous, 25 April 1804.] Seamen using the
Newfoundland trade of Dartmouth were "half-farmer, half-sailor." When
the call of the sea no longer lured them, they returned to the land in
an agricultural sense, resorting in hundreds to the farmsteads in the
Southams, where they were far out of reach of the gangs. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 579--Admiral M'Bride, Report on Rendezvous,
28 Feb. 1795]



In his endeavours to escape the gang the sailor resembled nothing so
much as that hopelessly impotent fugitive the flying-fish. For both
the sea swarmed with enemies bent on catching them. Both sought to
evade those enemies by flight, and both, their ineffectual flight
ended, returned to the sea again whether they would or not. It was
their fate, a deep-sea kismet as unavoidable as death.

The ultimate destination of the sailor who by strategy or accident
succeeded in eluding the triple line of sea-gangs so placed as to head
him off from the coast, was thus never in doubt. His longest flights
were those he made on land, for here the broad horizon that stood the
gangs in such good stead at sea was measurably narrower, while
hiding-places abounded and were never far to seek. All the same, in
spite of these adventitious aids to self-effacement, the predestined
end of the seafaring man sooner or later overtook him. The gang met
him at the turning of the ways and wiped him off the face of the land.
In the expressive words of a naval officer who knew the conditions
thoroughly well, the sailor's chances of obtaining a good run for his
money "were not worth a chaw of tobacco."

For this inevitable finish to all the sailor's attempts at flight on
shore there existed in the main two reasons. The first of these lay in
the sailor himself, making of him an unconscious aider and abettor in
his own capture. Just as love and a cough cannot be hid, so there was
no disguising the fact that the sailor was a sailor. He was marked by
characteristics that infallibly betrayed him. His bandy legs and
rolling gait suggested irresistibly the way of a ship at sea, and no
"soaking" in alehouse or tavern could eliminate the salt from the
peculiar oaths that were as natural to him as the breath of life.
Assume what disguise he would, he fell under suspicion at sight, and
he had only to open his mouth to turn that suspicion into certainty.
It needed no Sherlock Holmes of a gangsman to divine what he was or
whence he came.

The second reason why the sailor could never long escape the gangs was
because the gangs were numerically too many for him. It was no
question of a chance gang here and there. The country swarmed with

Take the coast. Here every seaport of any pretensions in the way of
trade, together with every spot between such ports known to be
favoured or habitually used by the homing sailor as a landing-place,
with certain exceptions already noted, either had its own particular
gang or was closely watched by some gang stationed within easy access
of the spot. In this way the whole island was ringed in by gangs on
shore, just as it was similarly ringed in by other gangs afloat.

"If their Lordships would give me authority to press here," says
Lieut. Oakley, writing to the Sea Lords from Deal in 1743, "I could
frequently pick up good seamen ashoar. I mean seamen _who by some
means escape being prest by the men of war and tenders_."

In this modest request the lieutenant states the whole case for the
land-gang, at once demonstrating its utility and defining its
functions. Unconsciously he does more. He echoes a cry that
incessantly assailed the ears of Admiralty: "The sailor has escaped!
Send us warrants and give us gangs, and we will catch him yet."

It was this call, the call of the fleet, that dominated the situation
and forced order out of chaos. The men must be "rose," and only method
could do it. The demand was a heavy one to make upon the most
unsystematic system ever known, yet it survived the ordeal. The coast
was mapped out, warrants were dispatched to this point and that,
rendezvous were opened, gangs formed. No effort or outlay was spared
to take the sailor the moment he got ashore, or very soon after.

In this systematic setting of land-traps that vast head-centre of the
nation's overseas trade, the metropolis, naturally had first place.
The streets, and especially the waterside streets, were infested with
gangs. At times it was unsafe for any able-bodied man to venture
abroad unless he had on him an undeniable protection or wore a dress
that unmistakeably proclaimed the gentleman. The general rendezvous
was on Tower Hill; but as ships completing their complement nearly
always sent a gang or two to London, minor rendezvous abounded. St.
Katherine's by the Tower was specially favoured by them. The
"Rotterdam Arms" and the "Two Dutch Skippers," well-known taverns
within that precinct, were seldom without the bit of bunting that
proclaimed the headquarters of the gang. At Westminster the "White
Swan" in King's Street usually bore a similar decoration, as did also
the "Ship" in Holborn.

A characteristic case of pressing by a gang using the last-named house
occurred in 1706. Ransacking the town in quest of pressable subjects
of Her Majesty, they came one day to the "Cock and Rummer" in Bow
Street, where a big dinner was in progress. Here nothing would suit
their tooth but mine host's apprentice, and as ill-luck would have it
the apprentice was cook to the establishment and responsible for the
dinner. Him they nevertheless seized and would have hurried away in
spite of his master's supplications, protests and offers of free
drinks, had it not been for the fact that a mob collected and forcibly
prevented them. Other gangs hurrying to the assistance of their
hard-pressed comrades--to the number, it is said, of sixty men--a free
fight ensued, in the course of which a burly constable, armed with a
formidable longstaff, was singled out by the original gang, doubtless
on account of the prominent part he took in the fray, as a fitting
substitute for the apprentice. By dint of beating the poor fellow till
he was past resistance they at length got him to the "Ship," where
they were in the very act of bundling him into a coach, with the
intention of carrying him to the waterside below bridge, and of their
putting him on board the press-smack, when in the general confusion he
somehow effected his escape. [Footnote: "A Horrible Relation,"
_Review_, 17 March 1705-6.] Such incidents were common enough not
only at that time but long after.

At Gravesend sailors came ashore in such numbers from East India and
other ships as to keep a brace of gangs busy. Another found enough to
do at Broadstairs, whence a large number of vessels sailed in the
Iceland cod fishery and similar industries. Faversham was a port and
had its gang, and from Margate right away to Portsmouth, and from
Portsmouth to Plymouth, nearly every town of any size that offered
ready hiding to the fugitive sailor from the Channel was similarly
favoured. Brighton formed a notable exception, and this circumstance
gave rise to an episode about which we shall have more to say

To record in these pages the local of all the gangs that were
stationed in this manner upon the seaboard of the kingdom would be as
undesirable as it is foreign to the scope of this chapter. Enough to
repeat that the land, always the sailor's objective in eluding the
triple cordon of sea-borne gangs, was ringed in and surrounded by a
circle of land-gangs in every respect identical with that described as
hedging the southern coast, and in its continuity almost as unbroken
as the shore itself. Both sea-gangs and coast-gangs were amphibious,
using either land or sea at pleasure.

Inland the conditions were the same, yet materially different. What
was on the coast an encircling line assumed here the form of a vast
net, to which the principal towns, the great cross-roads and the
arterial bridges of the country stood in the relation of reticular
knots, while the constant "ranging" of the gangs, now in this
direction, now in that, supplied the connecting filaments or threads.
The gangs composing this great inland net were not amphibious. Their
most desperate aquatic ventures were confined to rivers and canals.
Ability to do their twenty miles a day on foot counted for more with
them than a knowledge of how to handle an oar or distinguish the
"cheeks" of a gaff from its "jaw."

Just as the sea-gangs in their raids upon the land were the Danes and
"creekmen" of their time, so the land-gangsman was the true highwayman
of the century that begot him. He kept every strategic point of every
main thoroughfare, held all the bridges, watched all the ferries,
haunted all the fairs. No place where likely men were to be found
escaped his calculating eye.

He was an inveterate early riser, and sailors sauntering to the fair
for want of better employment ran grave risks. In this way a large
number were taken on the road to Croydon fair one morning in September
1743. For actual pressing the fair itself was unsafe because of the
great concourse of people; but it formed one of the best possible
hunting-grounds and was kept under close observation for that reason.
Here the gangsman marked his victim, whose steps he dogged into the
country when his business was done or his pleasure ended, never for a
moment losing sight of him until he walked into the trap all ready set
in some wayside spinny or beneath some sheltering bridge.

Bridges were the inland gangsman's favourite haunt. They not only
afforded ready concealment, they had to be crossed. Thus Lodden
Bridge, near Reading, accounted one of the "likeliest places in the
country for straggling seamen," was seldom without its gang. Nor was
the great bridge at Gloucester, since, as the first bridge over the
Severn, it drew to itself all the highroads and their users from Wales
and the north. To sailors making for the south coast from those parts
it was a point of approach as dangerous as it was unavoidable. Great
numbers were taken here in consequence. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 58l--Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 14 April

So of ferries. The passage boats at Queensferry on the Firth of Forth,
watched by gangs from Inverkeithing, yielded almost as many men in the
course of a year as the costly rendezvous at Leith. Greenock ferries
proved scarcely less productive. But there was here an exception. The
ferry between Glenfinart and Greenock plied only twice a week, and as
both occasions coincided with market-days the boat was invariably
crowded with women. Only once did it yield a man. Peter Weir, the hand
in charge, one day overset the boat, drowning every soul on board
except himself. Thereupon the gang pressed him, arguing that one who
used the sea so effectively could not fail to make a valuable addition
to the fleet.

Inland towns traversed by the great highroads leading from north to
south, or from east to west, were much frequented by the gangs.
Amongst these Stourbridge perhaps ranked first. Situated midway
between the great ports of Liverpool and Bristol, it easily and
effectually commanded Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Bridgnorth, Bewdley,
Kidderminster and other populous towns, while it was too small to
afford secure hiding within itself. The gangs operating from
Stourbridge brought in an endless procession of ragged and
travel-stained seamen. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1500
--Letters of Capt. Beecher, 1780.]

From ports on the Bristol Channel to ports on the English Channel, and
the reverse, many seamen crossed the country by stage-coach or wagon,
and to intercept them gangs were stationed at Okehampton, Liskeard and
Exeter. Taunton and Salisbury also, as "great thoroughfares to and
from the west," had each its gang, and a sufficient number of sailors
escaped the press at the latter place to justify the presence of
another at Romsey. Andover had a gang as early as 1756, on the
recommendation of no less a man than Rodney.

Shore gangs were of necessity ambulatory. To sit down before the
rendezvous pipe in hand, and expect the evasive sailor to come of his
own accord and beg the favour of being pressed, would have been a
futile waste of time and tobacco. The very essence of the gangman's
duty lay in the leg-work he did. To that end he ate the king's
victuals and wore the king's shoe-leather. Consequently he was early
afoot and late to bed. Ten miles out and ten home made up his daily
constitutional, and if he saw fit to exceed that distance he did not
incur his captain's displeasure. The gang at Reading, a strategic
point of great importance on the Bath and Bristol road, traversed all
the country round about within a radius of twenty miles--double the
regulation distance. That at King's Lynn, another centre of unmeasured
possibilities, trudged as far afield as Boston, Ely, Peterborough and
Wells-on-Sea. And the Isle of Wight gang, stationed at Cowes or Ryde,
now and then co-operated with a gang from Portsmouth or Gosport and
ranged the whole length and breadth of the island, which was a noted
nest of deserters and skulkers. "Range," by the way, was a word much
favoured by the officers who led such expeditions. Its use is happy.
It suggests the object well in view, the nicely calculated distance,
the steady aim that seldom missed its mark. The gang that "ranged"
rarely returned empty-handed.

On these excursions the favourite resting-place was some secluded nook
overlooking the point of crossing of two or more highroads; the
favourite place of refreshment, some busy wayside alehouse. Both were
good to rest or refresh in, for at both the chances of effecting a
capture were far more numerous than on the open road.

The object of the gang in taking the road was not, however, so much
what could be picked up by chance in the course of a day's march, as
the execution of some preconcerted design upon a particular person or
place. This brings us to the methods of pressing commonly adopted,
which may be roughly summarised under the three heads of surprise,
violence and the hunt. Frequently all three were combined; but as in
the case of gangs operating on the waters of rivers or harbours, the
essential element in all pre-arranged raids, attacks and predatory
expeditions was the first-named element, surprise. In this respect the
gangsmen were genuine "Peep-o'-Day Boys." The siege of Brighton is a
notable case in point.

The inhabitants of Brighton, better known in the days of the
press-gang as Brighthelmstone, consisted largely of fisher-folk in
respect to whom the Admiralty had been guilty of one of its rare
oversights. For generations no call was made upon them to serve the
king at sea. This accidental immunity in course of time came to be
regarded by the Brighton fisherman as his birthright, and the
misconception bred consequences. For one thing, it made him
intolerably saucy. He boasted that no impress officer had power to
take him, and he backed up the boast by openly insulting, and on more
than one occasion violently assaulting the king's uniform. With all
this he was a hardy, long-lived, lusty fellow, and as his numbers were
never thinned by that active corrector of an excessive birth-rate, the
press-gang, he speedily overstocked the town. An energetic worker
while his two great harvests of herring and mackerel held out, he was
at other times indolent, lazy and careless of the fact that his
numerous progeny burdened the rates. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 580--Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 31 Dec.
1804.] These unpleasing circumstances having been duly reported to the
Admiralty, their Lordships decided that what the Brighton fisherman
required to correct his lax principles and stiffen his backbone was a
good hot press. They accordingly issued orders for an early raid to be
made upon that promising nursery of man-o'-war's-men.

The orders, which were of course secret, bore date the 3rd of July
1779, and were directed to Capt. Alms, who, as regulating officer at
Shoreham, was likewise in charge of the gang at Newhaven under Lieut.
Bradley, and of the gang at Littlehampton under Lieut. Breedon. At
Shoreham there was also a tender, manned by an able crew. With these
three gangs and the tender's crew at his back, Alms determined to lay
siege to Brighton and teach the fishermen there a lesson they should
not soon forget. But first, in order to render the success of the
project doubly sure, he enlisted the aid of Major-General Sloper,
Commandant at Lewes, who readily consented to lend a company of
soldiers to assist in the execution of the design.

These preparations were some little time in the making, and it was not
until the Thursday immediately preceding the 24th of July that all was
in readiness. On the night of that day, by preconcerted arrangement,
the allied forces took the road--for the Littlehampton gang, a matter
of some twenty miles--and at the first flush of dawn united on the
outskirts of the sleeping town, where the soldiers were without loss
of time so disposed as to cut off every avenue of escape. This done,
the gangs split up and by devious ways, but with all expedition,
concentrated their strength upon the quay, expecting to find there a
large number of men making ready for the day's fishing. To their
intense chagrin the quay was deserted. The night had been a
tempestuous one, with heavy rain, and though the unfortunate gangsmen
were soaked to the skin, the fishermen all lay dry in bed. Hearing the
wind and rain, not a man turned out.

By this time the few people who were abroad on necessary occasions had
raised the alarm, and on every hand were heard loud cries of
"Press-gang!" and the hurried barricading of doors. For ten hours
"every man kept himself locked up and bolted." For ten hours Alms
waited in vain upon the local Justice of the Peace for power to break
and enter the fishermen's cottages. His repeated requests being
refused, he was at length "under the necessity of quitting the town
with only one man." So ended the siege of Brighton; but Bradley, on
his way back to Newhaven, fell in with a gang of smugglers, of whom he
pressed five. Brighton did not soon forget the terrors of that
rain-swept morning. For many a long day her people were "very shy, and
cautious of appearing in public." The salutary effects of the raid,
however, did not extend to the fishermen it was intended to benefit.
They became more insolent than ever, and a few years later marked
their resentment of the attempt to press them by administering a sound
thrashing to Mr. Midshipman Sealy, of the Shoreham rendezvous, whom
they one day caught unawares. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1445-46--Letters of Capt. Alms.]

The surprise tactics of the gang of course varied according to
circumstances, and the form they took was sometimes highly ingenious.
A not uncommon stratagem was the impersonation of a recruiting party
beating up for volunteers. With cockades in their hats, drums rolling
and fifes shrilling, the gangsmen, who of course had their arms
concealed, marched ostentatiously through the high-street of some
sizable country town and so into the market-place. Since nobody had
anything to fear from a harmless recruiting party, people turned out
in strength to see the sight and listen to the music. When they had in
this way drawn as many as they could into the open, the gangsmen
suddenly threw off their disguise and seized every pressable person
they could lay hands on. Market-day was ill-adapted to these tactics.
It brought too big a crowd together.

A similar ruse was once practised with great success upon the
inhabitants of Portsmouth by Capt. Bowen of the _Dreadnought_, in
connection with a general press which the Admiralty had secretly
ordered to be made in and about that town. Dockyard towns were not as
a rule considered good pressing-grounds because of the drain of men
set up by the ships of war fitting out there; but Bowen had certainly
no reason to subscribe to that opinion. Late on the night of the 8th
of March 1803, he landed a company of marines at Gosport for the
purpose, as it was given out, of suppressing a mutiny at Fort
Monckton. The news spread rapidly, drawing crowds of people from their
homes in anticipation of an exciting scrimmage. This gave Bowen the
opportunity he counted upon. When the throngs had crossed Haslar
Bridge he posted marines at the bridge-end, and as the disappointed
people came pouring back the "jollies" pressed every man in the crowd.
Five hundred are said to have been taken on this occasion, but as the
nature of the service forbade discrimination at the moment of
pressing, nearly one-half were next day discharged as unfit or exempt.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1057--Admiral Milbanke, 9 March

Sometimes, though not often, it was the gang that was surprised. All
hands would perhaps be snug in bed after a long and trying day, when
suddenly a thunderous knocking at the rendezvous door, and stentorian
cries of: "Turn out! turn out there!" coupled with epithets here
unproducible, would bring every man of them into the street in the
turn of a handspike, half-dressed but fully armed and awake to the
fact that a party of belated seamen was coming down the road. The
sailors were perhaps more road-weary than the gangsmen, and provided
none of them succeeded in slipping away in the darkness, or made a
successful resistance, in half-an-hour's time or less the whole party
would be safe under lock and key, cursing luck for a scurvy trickster
in delivering them over to the gang.

The sailor's well-known partiality for drink was constantly turned to
account by the astute gangsman. If a sailor himself, he laid aside his
hanger or cudgel and played the game of "What ho! shipmate" at the
cost of a can or two of flip, gently guiding his boon companion to the
rendezvous when he had got him sufficiently corned. Failing these
tactics, he adopted others equally effective. At Liverpool, where the
seafaring element was always a large one, it was a common practice for
the gangs to lie low for a time, thus inducing the sailor to believe
himself safe from molestation. He immediately indulged in a desperate
drinking bout and so put himself entirely in their power. Whether
rolling about the town "very much in liquor," or "snugly moored in
Sot's Bay," he was an easy victim.

Another ineradicable weakness that often landed the sailor in the
press-room was his propensity to indulge in "swank." Two jolly tars,
who were fully protected and consequently believed themselves immune
from the press, once bought a four-wheeled post-chaise and hired a
painter in Long Acre to ornament it with anchors, masts, cannon and a
variety of other objects emblematic of the sea. In this ornate vehicle
they set out, behind six horses, with the intention of posting down to
Alnwick, where their sweethearts lived. So impatient were they to get
over the road that they could not be prevailed upon, at any of the
numerous inns where they pulled up for refreshment, to stop long
enough to have the wheels properly greased, crying out at the delay:
"Avast there! she's had tar enough," and so on again. Just as they
were making a triumphal entry into Newcastle-upon-Tyne the wheels took
fire, and the chaise, saturated with the liquor they had spilt in the
course of their mad drive, burst into flames fore and aft. The sailors
bellowed lustily for help, whereupon the spectators ran to their
assistance and by swamping the ship with buckets of water succeeded in
putting out the fire. Now it happened that in the crowd drawn together
by such an unusual occurrence there was an impress officer who was
greatly shocked by the exhibition. He considered that the sailors had
been guilty of unseemly behaviour, and on that ground had them
pressed. Notwithstanding their protections they were kept.

In his efforts to swell the returns of pressed men the gangsman was
supposed--we may even go so far as to say enjoined--to use no more
violence than was absolutely necessary to attain his end. The question
of force thus resolved itself into one of the degree of resistance he
encountered. Needless to say, he did not always knock a man down
before bidding him stand in the king's name. Recourse to measures so
extreme was not always necessary. Every sailor had not the pluck to
fight, and even when he had both the pluck and the good-will, hard
drinking, weary days of tramping, or long abstinence from food had
perhaps sapped his strength, leaving him in no fit condition to hold
his own in a scrap with the well-fed gangsman. The latter consequently
had it pretty much his own way. A firm hand on the shoulder, or at the
most a short, sharp tussle, and the man was his. But there were
exceptions to this easy rule, as we shall see in our next chapter.

Hunting the sailor was largely a matter of information, and
unfortunately for his chances of escape informers were seldom wanting.
Everywhere it was a game at hide-and-seek. Constables had orders to
report him. Chapmen, drovers and soldiers, persons who were much on
the road, kept a bright lookout for him. The crimp, habitually given
to underhand practices, turned informer when prices for seamen ruled
low in the service he usually catered for. His mistress loved him as
long as his money lasted; when he had no more to throw away upon her
she perfidiously betrayed him. And for all this there was a reason as
simple as casting up the number of shillings in the pound. No matter
how penniless the sailor himself might be, he was always worth that
sum at the rendezvous. Twenty shillings was the reward paid for
information leading to his apprehension as a straggler or a skulker,
and it was largely on the strength of such informations, and often
under the personal guidance of such detestable informers, that the
gang went a-hunting.

Apart from greed of gain, the motive most commonly underlying
informations was either jealousy or spite. Women were the greatest
sinners in the first respect. Let the sailorman concealed by a woman
only so much as look with favour upon another, and his fate was
sealed. She gave him away, or, what was more profitable, sold him
without regret. There were as good fish in the sea as ever came out.
Perhaps better.

On the wings of spite and malice the escapades of youth often came
home to roost after many years. Men who had run away to sea as lads,
but had afterwards married and settled down, were informed on by
evil-disposed persons who bore them some grudge, and torn from their
families as having used the sea. Stephen Kemp, of Warbelton in Sussex,
one of the many who suffered this fate, had indeed used the sea, but
only for a single night on board a fishing-boat. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1445--Capt. Alms, 9 June 1777.]

In face of these infamies it is good to read of how they dealt with
informers at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There the role was one fraught with
peculiar danger. Rewards were paid by the Collector of Customs, and
when a Newcastle man went to the Customs-House to claim the price of
some sailor's betrayal, the people set upon him and incontinently
broke his head. One notorious receiver of such rewards was "nearly
murther'd." Thereafter informers had to be paid in private places for
fear of the mob, and so many persons fell under suspicion of playing
the dastardly game that the regulating captain was besieged by
applicants for "certificates of innocency." [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1497--Letters of Capt. Bover, 1777.]

A play-bill announcing the suspension of the Gang's operations on
"Play Nights"; in the collection of Mr. A. M. Broadley, by whose kind
permission it is reproduced.]

Informations not infrequently took the form of anonymous
communications addressed by the same hand to two different gangs at
one and the same time, and when this was the case, and both gangs
sallied forth in quest of the skulker, a collision was pretty sure to
follow. Sometimes the encounter resolved itself into a running fight,
in the course of which the poor sailor, who formed the bone of
contention, was pressed and re-pressed several times over between his
hiding-place and one or other of the rendezvous.

Rivalry between gangs engaged in ordinary pressing led to many a
stirring encounter and bloody fracas. A gang sent out by H.M.S.
_Thetis_ was once attacked, while prowling about the waterside
slums of Deptford, by "three or four different gangs, to the number of
thirty men." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1502--Capt.
Butcher, 29 Oct. 1782.] There was a greater demand for bandages than
for sailors in Deptford during the rest of the night.

The most extraordinary affair of this description to be met with in
the annals of pressing is perhaps one that occurred early in the reign
of Queen Anne. Amongst the men-of-war then lying at Spithead were
the _Dorsetshire_, Capt. Butler commander, and the _Medway_.
Hearing that some sailors were in hiding at a place a little distance
beyond Gosport, Capt. Butler dispatched his 1st and 2nd lieutenants,
in charge of thirty of his best men, with instructions to take them
and bring them on board. It so happened that a strong gang was at the
same time on shore from the _Medway_, presumably on the same
errand, and this party the Dorsetshires, returning to their ship with
the seamen they had taken, found posted in the Gosport road for the
avowed purpose of re-pressing the pressed men. By a timely detour,
however, they reached the waterside "without any mischief done."

Meanwhile, a rumour had somehow reached the ears of Capt. Butler to
the effect that a fight was in progress and his 1st lieutenant killed.
He immediately took boat and hurried over to Gosport, where, to his
relief, he found his people all safe in their boats, but on the Point,
to use his own graphic words, "severall hundred People, some with
drawn Swords, some with Spitts, others with Clubbs, Staves &
Stretchers. Some cry'd 'One & All!' others cry'd 'Medways!' and some
again swearing, cursing & banning that they would knock my People's
Brains out. Off I went with my Barge to the Longboat," continues the
gallant captain, "commanding them to weigh their grappling & goe with
me aboard. In the meantime off came about twelve Boats full with the
_Medway's_ men to lay my Longboat aboard, who surrounded us with
Swords, Clubbs, Staves & divers Instruments, & nothing would do but
all our Brains must be Knock't out. Finding how I defended the
Longboat, they then undertook to attack myselfe and people, One of
their Boats came upon the stern and made severall Blows at my Coxwain,
and if it had not been for the Resolution I had taken to endure all
these Abuses, I had Kill'd all those men with my own Hand; but this
Boat in particular stuck close to me with only six men, and I kept a
very good Eye upon her. All this time we were rowing out of the
Harbour with these Boats about us as far as Portsmouth Point, my
Coxwain wounded, myselfe and People dangerously assaulted with Stones
which they brought from the Beech & threw at us, and as their Boats
drop'd off I took my opportunity & seized ye Boat with the Six Men
that had so attack'd me, and have secured them in Irons." With this
the incident practically ended; for although the Medways retaliated by
seizing and carrying off the _Dorsetshire's_ coxwain and a crew
who ventured ashore next day with letters, the latter were speedily
released; but for a week Capt. Butler--fiery old Trojan! who could
have slain a whole boat's-crew with his own hand--remained a close
prisoner on board his ship. "Should I but put my foot ashoar," we hear
him growl, "I am murther'd that minute." [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1467--Capt. Butler, 1 June 1705.]

With certain exceptions presently to be noted, every man's hand was
against the fugitive sailor, and this being so it followed as a matter
of course that in his inveterate pursuit of him the gangsman found
more honourable allies than that nefarious person, the man-selling
informer. The class whom the sailor himself, in his contempt of the
good feeding he never shared, nicknamed "big-bellied placemen"--the
pompous mayors, the portly aldermen and the county magistrate who knew
a good horse or hound but precious little law, were almost to a man
the gangsman's coadjutors. Lavishly wined and dined at Admiralty
expense, they urbanely "backed" the regulating captain's warrants,
consistently winked at his glaring infractions of law and order, and
with the most commendable loyalty imaginable did all in their power to
forward His Majesty's service. Even the military, if rightly
approached on their pinnacle of lofty superiority, now and then
condescended to lend the gangsman a hand. Did not Sloper,
Major-General and Commandant at Lewes, throw a whole company into the
siege of Brighton?

These post-prandial concessions on the part of bigwigs desirous of
currying favour in high places on the whole told heavily against the
sorely harassed object of the gangsman's quest, rendering it, amongst
other things, extremely unsafe for him to indulge in those
unconventional outbursts which, under happier conditions, so uniformly
marked his jovial moods. At the playhouse, for example, he could not
heave empty bottles or similar tokens of appreciation upon the stage
without grave risk of incurring the fate that overtook Steven David,
Samuel Jenkins and Thomas Williams, three sailors of Falmouth town
who, merely because they adopted so unusual a mode of applauding a
favourite, were by magisterial order handed over to Lieut. Box of
H.M.S. _Blonde_, with a peremptory request that they should be
transferred forthwith to that floating stage where the only recognised
"turns" were those of the cat and the capstan. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1537--Capt. Ballard, 13 Dec. 1806.]

Luckily for the sailor and those of other callings who shared his
liability to the press, the civil authorities did not range themselves
on the gangsman's side with complete unanimity. Local considerations
of trade, coupled with some faint conception of the hideous injustice
the seafaring classes groaned under, and groaned in vain, here and
there outweighed patriotism and dinners. Little by little a
cantankerous spirit of opposition got abroad, and every now and then,
at this point or at that, some mayor or alderman, obsessed by this
spirit beyond his fellows and his time, seized such opportunities as
office threw in his way to mark his disapproval of the wrongs the
sailor suffered. Had this attitude been more general, or more
consistent in itself, the press-gang would not have endured for a day.

The role of Richard Yea and Nay was, however, the favourite one with
urban authorities. Towns at first not "inclinable to allow a
pressing," afterwards relented and took the gang to their bosom, or
entertained it gladly for a time, only to cast it out with contumely.
A lieutenant who was sent to Newcastle to press in 1702 found "no
manner of encouragement there"; yet seventy-five years later the
Tyneside city, thanks to the loyal co-operation of a long succession
of mayors, and of such men as George Stephenson, sometime
Deputy-Master of the Trinity House, had become one of the riskiest in
the kingdom for the seafaring man who was a stranger within her gates.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1498--Capt. Bover, 11 Aug.

The attitude of Poole differed in some respects from that of other
towns. Her mayors and magistrates, while they did not actually oppose
the pressing of seamen within the borough, would neither back the
warrants nor lend the gangs their countenance. The reason advanced for
this disloyal attitude was of the absurdest nature. Poole held that in
order to press twenty men you were not at liberty to kill the
twenty-first. That, in fact, was what had happened on board the
_Maria_ brig as she came into port there, deeply laden with fish
from the Banks, and the corporation very foolishly never forgot the
trivial incident.

It did not, of course, follow that the Poole sailor enjoyed freedom
from the press. Far from it. What he did enjoy was a reputation that,
if not all his own, was yet sufficiently so to be shared by few. Bred
in that roughest of all schools, the Newfoundland cod fishery, he was
an exceptionally tough nut to crack.

"If Poole were a fish pool
And the men of Poole fish,
There'd be a pool for the devil
And fish for his dish,"

was how the old jibe ran, and in this estimate of the Poole man's
character the gangs fully concurred. They knew him well and liked him
little, so when bent on pressing him they adopted no squeamish
measures, but very wisely "trusted to the strength of their right arms
for it." Some of their attempts to take him make strange reading.

About eight o'clock on a certain winter's evening, Regulating Captain
Walbeoff, accompanied by Lieut. Osmer, a midshipman and eight
gangsmen, broke into the house of William Trim, a seafaring native of
the place whom they knew to be at home and had resolved to press.
Alarmed by the forcing of the door, and only too well aware of what it
portended, Trim made for the stairs, where, turning upon his pursuers,
he struck repeatedly and savagely at the midshipman, who headed them,
with a red-hot poker which he had snatched out of the fire at the
moment of his flight. He was, however, quickly overpowered, disarmed
and dragged back into the lower room, where his captors threw him
violently to the floor and with their hangers took effective measures
to prevent his escape or further opposition. His sister happened to be
in the house, and whilst this was going on the lieutenant brutally
assaulted her, presumably because she wished to go to her brother's
assistance. Meanwhile Trim's father, a man near seventy years of age,
who lived only a stone's-throw away, hearing the uproar, and being
told the gang had come for his son, ran to the house with the
intention, as he afterwards declared, of persuading him to go quietly.
Seeing him stretched upon the floor, he stooped to lift him to his
feet, when one of the gang attacked him and stabbed him in the back.
He fell bleeding beside the younger man, and was there beaten by a
number of the gangsmen whilst the remainder dragged his son off to the
press-room, whence he was in due course dispatched to the fleet at
Spithead. The date of this brutal episode is 1804; the manner of it,
"nothing more than what usually happened on such occasions" in the
town of Poole. [Footnote _Admiralty Records_ 1. 580--Admiral
Phillip, Inquiry into the Conduct of the Impress Officers at Poole, 13
Aug. 1804.]

For this deplorable state of things Poole had none but herself to
thank. Had she, instead of merely refusing to back the warrants, taken
effective measures to rid herself of the gang, that mischievous body
would have soon left her in peace. Rochester wore the jewel of
consistency in this respect. When Lieut. Brenton pressed a youth there
who "appeared to be a seafaring man," but turned out to be an exempt
city apprentice, he was promptly arrested and deprived of his sword,
the mayor making no bones of telling him that his warrant was "useless
in Rochester." With this broad hint he was discharged; but the people
proved less lenient than the mayor, for they set about him and beat
him unmercifully. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 7. 301--Law
Officers' Opinions, 1784-92, No. 42: Deposition of Lieut. Brenton.]

Save on a single occasion, already incidentally referred to, civic
Liverpool treated the gang with uniform kindness. In 1745, at a time
when the rebels were reported to be within only four miles of the
city, the mayor refused to back warrants for the pressing of sailors
to protect the shipping in the river. His reason was a cogent one. The
captains of the _Southsea Castle_, the _Mercury_ and the _Loo_,
three ships of war then in the Mersey, had just recently
"manned their boats with marines and impressed from the shore near
fifty men," and the seafaring element of the town, always a formidable
one, was up in arms because of it. This so intimidated the mayor that
he dared not sanction further raids "for fear of being murder'd."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1440--Letters of Capt. Amherst,
Dec. 1745.] His dread of the armed sailor was not shared by Henry
Alcock, sometime mayor of Waterford. That gentleman "often headed the
press-gangs" in person. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1500--Capt. Bennett, 13 Nov. 1780.]

Deal objected to the press for reasons extending back to the reign of
King John. As a member of the Cinque Ports that town had constantly
supplied the kings and queens of the realm, from the time of Magna
Charta downwards, with great numbers of able and sufficient seamen
who, according to the ancient custom of the Five Ports, had been
impressed and raised by the mayor and magistrates of the town, acting
under orders from the Lord Warden, and not by irresponsible gangs from
without. It was to these, and not to the press as such, that Deal
objected. The introduction of gangs in her opinion bred disorder.
Great disturbances, breaches of the peace, riots, tumults and even
bloodshed attended their steps and made their presence in any
peaceably disposed community highly undesirable. Within the memory of
living man even, Deal had obliged no less than four hundred seamen to
go on board the ships of the fleet, and she desired no more of those
strangers who recently, incited by Admiral the Marquis of Carmarthen,
had gone a-pressing in her streets and grievously wounded divers
persons. [Footnote: _State Papers Domestic_, Anne, xxxvi: No. 24:
Petition of the Mayor, Jurats and Commonalty of the Free Town and
Borough of Deal.]

In this commonsense view of the case Deal was ably supported by Dover,
the premier Cinque Port. Dover, it is true, so far as we know never
embodied her objections to the press in any humble petition to the
Queen's Majesty. She chose instead a directer method, for when the
lieutenant of the _Devonshire_ impressed six men belonging to a
brigantine from Carolina in her streets, and attempted to carry them
beyond the limits of the borough, "many people of Dover, in company
with the Mayor thereof, assembled themselves together and would not
permit the lieutenant to bring them away." The action angered the
Lords Commissioners, who resolved to teach Dover a lesson. Orders were
accordingly sent down to Capt. Dent, whose ship the _Shrewsbury_
man-o'-war was then in the Downs, directing him to send a gang ashore
and press the first six good seamen they should meet with, taking
care, however, since their Lordships did not wish to be too hard upon
the town, that the men so pressed were bachelors and not householders.
Lieut. O'Brien was entrusted with this delicate punitive mission. He
returned on board after a campaign of only a few hours' duration,
triumphantly bearing with him the stipulated hostages for Dover's
future good behaviour--"six very good seamen, natives and inhabitants,
and five of them bachelors." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1696--Capt. Dent, 24 Aug. 1743.] The sixth was of course a
householder, a circumstance that made the town's punishment all the

Its effects were less salutary than the Admiralty had anticipated.
True, both Dover and Deal thereafter withdrew their opposition to the
press so far as to admit the gang within their borders; but they kept
a watchful eye upon its doings, and every now and then the old spirit
flamed out again at white heat, consuming the bonds of some poor devil
who, like Alexander Hart, freeman of Dover, had been irregularly
taken. On this occasion the mayor, backed by a posse of constables,
himself broke open the press-room door. A similar incident, occurring
a little later in the same year, so incensed Capt. Ball, who aptly
enough was at the time in command of the _Nemesis_, that he
roundly swore "to impress every seafaring man in Dover and make them
repent of their impudence." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 7.
301--Law Officers' Opinions, 1784-92, No. 44; _Admiralty Records_
1. 1507--Capt. Ball, 15 April 1791.]

Where the magistrate had it most in his power to make or mar the
fugitive sailor's chances was in connection with the familiar fiction
that the Englishman's house is his castle. To hide a sailor was to
steal the king's chattel--penalty, 5 Pounds forfeited to the parish;
and if you were guilty of such a theft, or were with good reason
suspected of being guilty, you found yourself in much the same case as
the ordinary thief or the receiver of stolen goods. A search warrant
could be sworn out before a magistrate, and your house ransacked from
cellar to garret. Without such warrant, however, it could not be
lawfully entered. In the heat of pressing forcible entry was
nevertheless not unusual, and many an impress officer found himself
involved in actions for trespass or damages in consequence of his own
indiscretion or the excessive zeal of his gang. The defence set up by
Lieut. Doyle, of Dublin, that the "Panel of the Door was Broke by
Accident," would not go down in a court of law, however avidly it
might be swallowed by the Board of Admiralty.

More than this. The magistrate was by law empowered to seize all
straggling seamen and landsmen and hand them over to the gangs for
consignment to the fleet. The vagabond, as the unfortunate tramp of
those days was commonly called, had thus a bad time of it. For him all
roads led to Spithead. The same was true of persons who made
themselves a public nuisance in other ways. By express magisterial
order many answering to that description followed Francis Juniper of
Cuckfield, "a very drunken, troublesome fellow, without a coat to his
back," who was sent away lest he should become "chargeable to the
parish." The magistrate in this way conferred a double benefit upon
his country. He defended it against itself whilst helping it to defend
itself against the French. Still, the latter benefit was not always
above suspicion. The "ignorant zeal of simple justices," we are told,
often impelled them to hand over to the gangs men whom "any old woman
could see with half an eye to be properer objects of pity and charity
than fit to serve His Majesty."

"Send your myrmidons," was a form of summons familiar to every gang
officer. As its tone implies, its source was magisterial, and when the
officer received it he hastened with his gang to the Petty Sessions,
the Assizes or the prison, and there took over, as an unearned
increment of His Majesty's fleet, the person of some misdemeanant
willing to exchange bridewell for the briny, or the manacled body of
some convicted felon who preferred to swing in a hammock at sea rather
than on the gallows ashore.

A strangely assorted crew it was, this overflow of the jails that
clanked slowly seawards, marshalled by the gang. Reprieves and
commutations, if by no means universal in a confirmed hanging age,
were yet common enough to invest it with an appalling sameness that
was nevertheless an appalling variety. Able seamen sentenced for
horse-stealing or rioting, town dwellers raided out of night-houses,
impostors who simulated fits or played the maimed soldier, fishermen
in the illicit brandy and tobacco line, gentlemen of the road, makers
of "flash" notes and false coin, stealers of sheep, assaulters of
women, pickpockets and murderers in one unmitigated throng went the
way of the fleet and there sank their vices, their roguery, their
crimes and their identity in the number of a mess.

Boys were in that flock of jail-birds too--youths barely in their
teens, guilty of such heinous offences as throwing stones at people
who passed in boats upon the river, or of "playing during divine
service on Sunday" and remaining impenitent and obdurate when
confronted with all the "terrific apparatus of fetters, chains and
dark cells" pertaining to a well-equipped city jail. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1534, 1545--Capt. Barker, 1 March 1805, 20
Aug. 1809, and numerous instances.] The turning over of such young
reprobates to the gang was one of the pleasing duties of the



When all avenues of escape were cut off and the sailor found himself
face to face with the gang and imminent capture, he either surrendered
his liberty at the word of command or staked it on the issue of a

His choice of the latter alternative was the proverbial turning of the
worm, but of a worm that was no mean adversary. Fear of the gang,
supposing him to entertain any, was thrown to the winds. Fear of the
consequences--the clink, or maybe the gallows for a last
land-fall--which had restrained him in less critical moments when he
had both room to run and opportunity, sat lightly on him now. In red
realism there flashed through his brain the example of some doughty
sailor, the hero of many an anchor-watch and forecastle yarn, who had
fought the gang to its last man and yet come off victor. The swift
vision fired his blood and nerved his arm, and under its obsession he
stood up to his would-be captors with all the dogged pluck for which
he was famous when facing the enemy at sea.

In contests of this description the weapon perhaps counted for as much
as the man who wielded it, and as its nature depended largely upon
circumstances and surroundings, the range of choice was generally wide
enough to please the most elective taste. Pressing consequently
introduced the gangsman to some strange weapons.

Trim, the Poole sailor whose capture is narrated in the foregoing
chapter, defended himself with a red-hot poker. In what may be termed
domestic as opposed to public pressing, the use of this homely utensil
as an impromptu liberty-preserver was not at all uncommon. Hot or
cold, it proved a formidable weapon in the hands of a determined man,
more especially when, as was at that time very commonly the case, it
belonged to the ponderous cobiron or knobbed variety.

Another weapon of recognised utility, particularly in the vicinity of
docks, careening-stations and ship-yards, was the humble tar-mop.
Consisting of a wooden handle some five or six feet in length, though
of no great diameter, terminating in a ball of spun-yarn forming the
actual mop, this implement, when new, was comparatively harmless. No
serious blow could then be dealt with it; but once it had been used
for "paying" a vessel's bottom and sides it underwent a change that
rendered it truly formidable. The ball of ravellings forming the mop
became then thoroughly, charged with tar or pitch and dried in a rough
mass scarcely less heavy than lead. In this condition it was capable
of inflicting a terrible blow, and many were the tussels decided by
it. A remarkable instance of its effective use occurred at Ipswich in
1703, when a gang from the _Solebay_, rowing up the Orwell from
Harwich, attempted to press the men engaged in re-paying a collier.
They were immediately "struck down with Pitch-Mopps, to the great
Peril of their Lives." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1436
--Capt. Aldred, 6 Jan. 1702-3.]

The weapon to which the sailor was most partial, however, was the
familiar capstan-bar. In it, as in its fellow the handspike, he found
a whole armament. Its availability, whether on shipboard or at the
waterside, its rough-and-ready nature, and above all its heft and
general capacity for dealing a knock-down blow without inflicting
necessarily fatal injuries, adapted it exactly to the sailor's
requirements, defensive or the reverse. It was with a capstan-bar that
Paul Jones, when hard pressed by a gang on board his ship at
Liverpool, was reputed to have stretched three of his assailants dead
on deck. Every sailor had heard of that glorious achievement and
applauded it, the killing perhaps grudgingly excepted.

So, too, did he applaud the hardihood of William Bingham, that
far-famed north-country sailor who, adopting pistols as his weapon,
negligently stuck a brace of them in his belt and walked the streets
of Newcastle in open defiance of the gangs, none of which durst lay a
hand on him till the unlucky day when, in a moment of criminal
carelessness that could never be forgiven, he left his weapons at home
and was haled to the press-room fighting, all too late, like a fiend

Not to enlarge on the endless variety of chance weapons, there
remained those good old-standers the musket, the cutlass and the
knife, each of which, in the sailor's grasp, played its part in the
rough-and-tumble of pressing, and played it well. A case in point,
familiar to every seaman, was the last fight put up by that famous
Plymouth sailor, Emanuel Herbert, another fatalist who, like Bingham,
believed in having two strings to his bow. He accordingly provided
himself with both fuzee and hanger, and with these comforting
bed-fellows retired to rest in an upper chamber of the public-house
where he lodged, easy in the knowledge that whatever happened the door
of his crib commanded the stairs. From this stronghold the gang
invited him to come down. He returned the compliment by inviting them
up, assuring them that he had a warm welcome in store for the first
who should favour him with a visit. The ambiguity of the invitation
appears to have been thrown away upon the gang, for "three of my
people," says the officer who led them, "rushed up, and the gun
missing fire, he immediately run one of them through the body with the
hanger"--a mode of welcoming his visitors which resulted in Herbert's
shifting his lodgings to Exeter jail, and in the wounded man's speedy
death. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1473--Capt. Brown, 4
July 1727.]

Here was a serious contingency indeed; but whatever deterrent effect
the fatal issue of this affair, as of many similar ones, may have had
upon the sailor's use of lethal weapons when attacked by the gang,
that effect was largely, if not altogether, neutralised by the upshot
of the famous Broadfoot case, which, occurring some sixteen years
later, gave the scales of justice a decided turn in the sailor's
favour and robbed the killing of a gangsman of its only terror, the
shadow of the gallows. The incident in question opened in Bristol
river, with the boarding of a merchant-man by a tender's gang. As they
came over the side Broadfoot met them, blunderbuss in hand. Being
there to guard the ship, he bade them begone, and upon their
disregarding the order, and closing in upon him with evident intent to
take him, he clapped the blunderbuss, which was heavily charged with
swanshot, to his shoulder and let fly into the midst of them. One of
their number, Calahan by name, fell mortally wounded, and Broadfoot
was in due course indicted for wilful murder. [Footnote:
_Westminster Journal_, 30 April 1743.] How he was found not
guilty on the ground that a warrant directed to the lieutenant gave
the gang no power to take him, and that he was therefore justified in
defending himself, was well known to every sailor in the kingdom. No
jury thereafter ever found him guilty of a capital felony if by chance
he killed a gangsman in self-defence. The worst he had to fear was a
verdict of manslaughter--a circumstance that proved highly inspiriting
to him in his frequent scraps with the gang.

There was another aspect of the case, however, that came home to the
sailor rather more intimately than the risk of being called upon to
"do time" under conditions scarcely worse than those he habitually
endured at sea. Suppose, instead of his killing the gangsman, the
gangsman killed him? He recalled a case he had heard much palaver
about. An able seaman, a perfect Tom Bowling of a fellow, brought to
at an alehouse in the Borough--the old "Bull's Head" it was--having a
mind to lie snug for a while, 'tween voyages. However, one day, being
three sheets in the wind or thereabouts, he risked a run and was made
a prize of, worse luck, by a press-gang that engaged him. Their boat
lay at Battle Bridge in the Narrow Passage, and while they were
bearing down upon her, with the sailor-chap in tow, what should Jack
do but out with his knife and slip it into one of the gangers. 'Twas
nothing much, a waistcoat wound at most, but the ganger resented the
liberty, and swearing that no man should tap his claret for nix, he
ups with his cudgel and fetches Jack a clip beside the head that lost
him the number of his mess, for soon after he was discharged dead
along of having his head broke. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1486--Lieut. Slyford, 24 Nov. 1755. "Discharged dead," abbreviated to
"DD," the regulation entry in the muster books against the names of
persons deceased.]

Risks of this sort raised grave issues for the sailor--issues to be
well considered of in those serious moments that came to the most
reckless on the wings of the wind or the lift of the waves at sea,
what time drink and the gang were remote factors in the problem of
life. But ashore! Ah! that was another matter. Life ashore was far too
crowded, far too sweet for serious reflections. The absorbing business
of pleasure left little room for thought, and the thoughts that came
to the sailor later, when he had had his fling and was again afoot in
search of a ship, decidedly favoured the killing of a gangsman, if
need be, rather than the loss of his own life or of a berth. The
prevalence of these sentiments rendered the taking of the sailor a
dangerous business, particularly when he consorted in bands.

In that part of the west country traversed by the great roads from
Bristol to Liverpool, and having Stourbridge as its approximate
centre, ambulatory bands proved very formidable. The presence of the
rendezvous at Stourbridge accounted for this. Seamen travelled in
strength because they feared it. Two gangs were stationed there under
Capt. Beecher, and news of the approach of a large party of seamen
from the south having one day been brought in, he at once made
preparations for intercepting them. Lieut. Barnsley and his gang
marched direct to Hoobrook, a couple of miles south of Kidderminster,
a point the seamen had perforce to pass. His instructions were to wait
there, picking up in the meantime such of the sailor party as lagged
behind from footsoreness or fatigue, till joined by Lieut. Birchall
and the other gang, when the two were to unite forces and press the
main body. Through unforeseen circumstances, however, the plan
miscarried. Birchall, who had taken a circuitous route, arrived late,
whilst the band of sailors arrived early. They numbered, moreover,
forty-six as against eleven gangsmen and two officers. Four to one was
a temptation the sailors could not resist. They attacked the gangs
with such ferocity that out of the thirteen only one man returned to
the rendezvous with a whole skin. Luckily, there were no casualties on
this occasion; but a few days later, while two of Barnsley's gangsmen
were out on duty some little distance from the town, they were
suddenly attacked by a couple of sailors, presumably members of the
same band, who left one of them dead in the road. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1501--Capt. Beecher, 12 July and 4 Aug.

Owing to its close proximity to the Thames, that remote suburb of
eighteenth century London known as Stepney Fields was much frequented
by armed bands of the above description, who successfully resisted all
attempts to take them. The master-at-arms of the _Chatham_
man-o'-war, chancing once to pass that way, came in for exceedingly
rough usage at their hands, and when next day a lieutenant from the
same ship appeared upon the scene with a gang at his back and tried to
press the ringleaders in that affair, they "swore by God he should
not, and if he offered to lay hands on them, they would cut him down."
With this threat they drew their cutlasses, slashed savagely at the
lieutenant, and "made off through the Mobb which had gathered round
them." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2579--Capt. Townshend,
21 April 1743.]

A spot not many miles distant from Stepney Fields was the scene of a
singular fray many years later. His Majesty's ship _Squirrel_
happened at the time to be lying in Longreach, and her commander,
Capt. Brawn, one day received intelligence that a number of sailors
were to be met with in the town of Barking. He at once dispatched his
1st and 2nd lieutenants with a contingent of twenty-five men and
several petty officers, to rout them out and take them. They reached
Barking about nine o'clock in the evening, the month being July, and
were not long in securing several of the skulkers, who with many of
the male inhabitants of the place were at that hour congregated in
public-houses, unsuspicious of danger. The sudden appearance in their
midst of so large an armed force, however, coupled with the outcry and
confusion inseparable from the pressing of a number of men, alarmed
the townsfolk, who poured into the streets, rescued the pressed men,
and would have inflicted summary punishment upon the intruders had not
the senior officer, seeing his party hopelessly outnumbered, tactfully
drawn off his force. This he did in good order and without serious
hurt; but just as he and his men were congratulating themselves upon
their escape, they were suddenly ambushed, at a point where their road
ran between high banks, by a "large concourse of Irish haymakers, to
the number of at least five hundred men, all armed with sabres
[Footnote: So in the original, but "sabres" is perhaps an error for
"scythes."] and pitchforks," who with wild cries and all the
Irishman's native love of a shindy fell upon the unfortunate gangsmen
and gave them a "most severe beating." [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1529--Capt. Brawn, 3 July 1803.]

Attacks on the gang, made with deliberate intent to rescue pressed men
from its custody, were by no means confined to Barking. The informer
throve in the land, but notwithstanding his hostile activity the
sailor everywhere had friends who possessed at least one cardinal
virtue. They seldom hung back when he was in danger, or hesitated to
strike a blow in his defence.

There came into Limehouse Hole, on a certain day in the summer of
1709, a vessel called the _Martin_ galley. How many men were in
her we do not learn; but whatever their number, there was amongst them
one man who had either a special dread of the press or some more than
usually urgent occasion for wishing to avoid it. Watching his
opportunity, he slipped into one of the galley's boats, sculled her
rapidly to land, and there leapt out--just as a press-gang hove in
sight ahead! It was a dramatic moment. The sailor, tacking at sight of
the enemy, ran swiftly along the river-bank, but was almost
immediately overtaken, knocked down, and thrown into the press-boat,
which lay near by. "This gather'd a Mob," says the narrator of the
incident, "who Pelted the Boat and Gang by throwing Stones and Dirt
from the Shoar, and being Pursued also by the Galley's men, who
brought Cutlasses in the Boat with them to rescue their Prest Man, the
Gang was at last forc'd to betake themselves to a Corn-lighter, where
they might stand upon their Defence. The Galley's men could not get
aboard, but lay with their Boat along the side of the Lighter, where
they endeavouring to force in, and the Gang to keep them out, the Boat
of a sudden oversett and some of the Men therein were Drown'd. Three
of the Press-Gang were forc'd likewise into the Water, whereof 'tis
said one is Drown'd and the other two in Irons in the New Prison. The
remaining part of the Gang leapt into a Wherry, the Galley's men
pursuing them, but, not gaining upon them, they gave over the
Pursuit." The pressed man all this while was laughing in his sleeve.
"He lay on the other side of the Lighter, in the Tender's boat, whence
he made his escape." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1437
--Capt. Aston, 10 Aug. 1709.]

In their efforts to restore the freedom of the pressed man, the
sailor's friends did not confine their attention exclusively to the
gang. When they turned out in vindication of those rights which the
sailor did not possess, they not infrequently found their diversion in
wrecking the gang's headquarters or in making a determined, though
generally futile, onslaught upon the tender. Respectable people, who
had no particular reason to favour the sailor's cause, viewed these
ebullitions of mingled rage and mischief with dismay, stigmatising
those who so lightheartedly participated in them as the "lower
classes" and the "mob."

Few towns in the kingdom boasted--or reprobated, as the case might
be--a more erratically festive mob than Leith. As far back as 1709
Bailie Cockburn had advised the inhabitants of that burgh to "oppose
any impressor," and seizing the occasion of the "Impressure of an
Apprentice Boy," had set them an example by arresting the pinnace of
Her Majesty's ship _Rye_, together with her whole crew, thirteen
in number, and keeping them in close confinement till the lad was
given up. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2448--Capt. Shale, 4
Jan. 1708-9.] The worthy Bailie was in due time gathered unto his
fathers, and with the growth of the century gangs came and went in
endless succession, but neither the precept nor the example was ever
forgotten in Leith. Much pressing was done there, but it was done
almost entirely upon the water. To transfer the scene of action to the
strand meant certain tumult, for there the whim of the mob was law.
Now it pulled the gang-officer's house about his ears because he dared
to press a shipwright; again, it stoned the gang viciously because
they rescued some seamen from a wreck--and kept them. Between whiles
it amused itself by cutting down the rendezvous flag-staff; and if
nothing better offered, it split up into component parts, each of
which became a greater terror than the whole. One night, when the
watch had been set and all was quiet, a party of this description,
only three in number, approached the rendezvous and respectfully
requested leave to drink a last dram with some newly pressed men who
were then in the cage, their quondam shipmates. Suspecting no ulterior
design, the guard incautiously admitted them, whereupon they dashed a
quantity of spirits on the fire, set the place in a blaze, and carried
off the pressed men amid the hullabaloo that followed. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1516-9--Letters of Capt. Brenton, 1797-8;
Lieut. Pierie, 2 Feb. 1798.]

If Leith did this sort of thing well, Greenock, her commercial rival
on the Clyde, did it very much better; for where the Leith mob was but
a sporadic thing, erupting from its slummy fastnesses only in response
to rumour of chance amusement to be had or mischief to be done,
Greenock held her mob always in hand, a perpetual menace to the
gangsman did he dare to disregard the Clydeside ordinance in respect
to pressing. That ordinance restricted pressing exclusively to the
water; but it went further, for it laid it down as an inviolable rule
that members of certain trades should not be pressed at all.

It was with the Trades that the ordinance originated. There was little
or no Greenock apart from the Trades. The will of the Trades was
supreme. The coopers, carpenters, riggers, caulkers and seamen of the
town ruled the burgh. Assembled in public meeting, they resolved
unanimously "to stand by and support each other" in the event of a
press; and having come to this decision they indited a trite letter to
the magistrates, intimating in unequivocal terms that "if they
countenanced the press, they must abide by the consequences," for once
the Trades took the matter in hand "they could not say where they
would stop." With the worthy burgesses laying down the law in this
fashion, it is little wonder that the gangs "seldom dared to press
ashore," or that they should have been able to take "only two coopers
in ten months."

For the Trades were as good as their word. The moment a case of
prohibited pressing became known they took action. Alexander Weir,
member of the Shipwrights' Society, was taken whilst returning from
his "lawful employ," and immediately his mates, to the number of
between three and four hundred, downed tools and marched to the
rendezvous, where they peremptorily demanded his release. Have him
they would, and if the gang-officer did not see fit to comply with
their demand, not only should he never press another man in Greenock,
but they would seize one of the armed vessels in the river, lay her
alongside the tender, where Weir was confined, and take him out of her
by force. Brenton was regulating captain there at the time, and to
pacify the mob he promised to release the man--and broke his word.
Thereupon the people "became very riotous and proceeded to burn
everything that came in their way. About twelve o'clock they hauled
one of the boats belonging to the rendezvous upon the Square and put
her into the fire, but by the timely assistance of the officers and
gangs, supported by the magistrates and a body of the Fencibles, the
boat was recovered, though much damaged, and several of the
ringleaders taken up and sent to prison." The affair did not end
without bloodshed. "Lieut. Harrison, in defending himself, was under
the necessity of running one of the rioters through the ribs."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1508--Letters of Capt. Brenton,

Though Bailie Cockburn once "arrested" the pinnace of a man-o'-war at
Leith, the attempted burning of the Greenock press-boat is worthy of
more than passing note as the only instance of that form of
retaliation to be met with in the history of home pressing. In the
American colonies, on the other hand, it was a common feature of
demonstrations against the gang. Boston was specially notorious for
that form of reprisal, and Governor Shirley, in one of his masterly
dispatches, narrates at length, and with no little humour, how the mob
on one occasion burnt with great éclat what they believed to be the
press-boat, only to discover, when it was reduced to ashes, that it
belonged to one of their own ringleaders. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 38l8--Shirley to the Admiralty, 1 Dec. 1747.]

The threat of the Greenock artificers to lay alongside the tender and
take out their man by force of arms was one for which there existed
abundant, if by no means encouraging precedent. Long before, as early,
indeed, as 1742, the keelmen frequenting Sunderland had set them an
example in that respect by endeavouring, some hundreds strong, to haul
the tender ashore--an attempt coupled with threats so dire that the
officer in command trembled in his shoes lest he and his men should
all "be made sacrifices of." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1439--Capt. Allen, 13 March 1741-2.] Nothing so dreadful happened,


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