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- The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore - 1/54 -


THE PRESS-GANG AFLOAT AND ASHORE

BY J. R. HUTCHINSON

CONTENTS

I. HOW THE PRESS-GANG CAME IN.

II. WHY THE GANG WAS NECESSARY.

III. WHAT THE PRESS-GANG WAS.

IV. WHOM THE GANG MIGHT TAKE.

V. WHAT THE GANG DID AFLOAT.

VI. EVADING THE GANG.

VII. WHAT THE GANG DID ASHORE.

VIII. AT GRIPS WITH THE GANG.

IX. THE GANG AT PLAY.

X. WOMEN AND THE PRESS-GANG.

XI. IN THE CLUTCH OF THE GANG.

XII. HOW THE GANG WENT OUT.

APPENDIX: ADMIRAL YOUNG'S TORPEDO.

INDEX

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS:

AN UNWELCOME VISIT FROM THE PRESS GANG.

MANNING THE NAVY. Reproduced by kind permission from a rare print in the collection of Mr. A. M. BROADLEY.

THE PRESS-GANG SEIZING A VICTIM.

SEIZING A WATERMAN ON TOWER HILL ON THE MORNING OF HIS WEDDING DAY.

JACK IN THE BILBOES. From the Painting by MORLAND.

ONE OF THE RAREST OF PRESS-GANG RECORDS. 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.

SAILORS CAROUSING. From the Mezzotint after J. IBBETSON.

ANNE MILLS WHO SERVED ON BOARD THE _MAIDSTONE_ IN 1740.

MARY ANNE TALBOT.

MARY ANNE TALBOT DRESSED AS A SAILOR.

THE PRESS GANG, OR ENGLISH LIBERTY DISPLAYED.

ADMIRAL YOUNG'S TORPEDO. Reproduced from the Original Drawing at the Public Record Office.

THE PRESS-GANG.

CHAPTER I.

HOW THE PRESS-GANG CAME IN.

The practice of pressing men--that is to say, of taking by intimidation or force those who will not volunteer--would seem to have been world-wide in its adoption.

Wherever man desired to have a thing done, and was powerful enough to insure the doing of it, there he attained his end by the simple expedient of compelling others to do for him what he, unaided, could not do for himself.

The individual, provided he did not conspire in sufficient numbers to impede or defeat the end in view, counted only as a food-consuming atom in the human mass which was set to work out the purpose of the master mind and hand. His face value in the problem was that of a living wage. If he sought to enhance his value by opposing the master hand, the master hand seized him and wrung his withers.

So long as the compelling power confined the doing of the things it desired done to works of construction, it met with little opposition in its designs, experienced little difficulty in coercing the labour necessary for piling its walls, excavating its tanks, raising its pyramids and castles, or for levelling its roads and building its ships and cities. These were the commonplace achievements of peace, at which even the coerced might toil unafraid; for apart from the normal incidence of death, such works entailed little danger to the lives of the multitudes who wrought upon them. Men could in consequence be procured for them by the exercise of the minimum of coercion--by, that is to say, the mere threat of it.

When peace went to the wall and the pressed man was called upon to go to battle, the case assumed another aspect, an acuter phase. Given a state of war, the danger to life and limb, the incidence of death, at once jumped enormously, and in proportion as these disquieting factors in the pressed man's lot mounted up, just in that proportion did his opposition to the power that sought to take him become the more determined, strenuous, and undisguised.

Particularly was this true of warlike operations upon the sea, for to the extraordinary and terrible risks of war were here added the ordinary but ever-present dangers of wind and wave and storm, sufficient in themselves to appal the unaccustomed and to antagonise the unwilling. In face of these superlative risks the difficulty of procuring men was accentuated a thousand-fold, and with it both the nature and the degree of the coercive force necessary to be exercised for their procuration.

In these circumstances the Ruling Power had no option but to resort to more exigent means of attaining its end. In times of peace, working through myriad hands, it had constructed a thousand monuments of ornamental or utilitarian industry. These, with the commonweal they represented, were now threatened and must be protected at all costs. What more reasonable than to demand of those who had built, or of their successors in the perpetual inheritance of toil, that they should protect what they had reared. Hitherto, in most cases, the men required to meet the national need had submitted at a threat. They had to live, and coercive toil meant at least a living wage. Now, made rebellious by a fearful looking forward to the risks they were called upon to incur, they had to be met by more effective measures. Faced by this emergency, Power did not mince matters. It laid violent hands upon the unwilling subject and forced him, _nolens volens_, to sail its ships, to man its guns, and to fight its battles by sea as he already, under less overt compulsion, did its bidding by land.

It is with this phase of pressing--pressing open, violent and unashamed--that we purpose here to deal, and more particularly with pressing as it applies to the sea and sailors, to the Navy and the defence of an Island Kingdom.

At what time the pressing of men for the sea service of the Crown was first resorted to in these islands it is impossible to determine. There is evidence, however, that the practice was not only in vogue, but firmly established as an adjunct of power, as early as the days of the Saxon kings. It was, in fact, coeval with feudalism, of which it may be described as a side-issue incidental to a maritime situation; for though it is impossible to point to any species of fee, as understood of the tenure of land, under which the holder was liable to render service at sea, yet it must not be forgotten that the great ports of the kingdom, and more especially the Cinque Ports, were from time immemorial bound to find ships for national purposes, whenever called upon to do so, in return for the peculiar rights and privileges conferred upon them by the Crown. The supply of ships necessarily involved the supply of men to sail and fight them, and in this supply, or, rather, in the mode of obtaining it, we have undoubtedly the origin of the later impress system.

With the reign of John the practice springs into sudden prominence. The incessant activities of that uneasy king led to almost incessant pressing, and at certain crises in his reign commission after commission is directed, in feverish succession, to the sheriffs of counties and the bailiffs of seaports throughout the kingdom, straitly enjoining them to arrest and stay all ships within their respective jurisdictions, and with the ships the mariners who sail them. [Footnote: By a plausible euphemism they were said to be "hired." As a matter of fact, both ships and men were retained during the royal pleasure at rates fixed by custom.] No exception was taken to these edicts. Long usage rendered the royal lien indefeasible. [Footnote: In more modern times the pressing of ships, though still put forward as a prerogative of the Crown, was confined in the main to unforeseen exigencies of transport. On the fall of Louisburg in 1760, vessels were pressed at that port in order to carry the prisoners of war to France (_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1491--Capt. Byron, 17 June 1760); and in 1764, again, we find Capt. Brereton, of the _Falmouth_, forcibly impressing the East India ship _Revenge_ for the purpose of transporting to Fort St. George, in British India, the company, numbering some four hundred and twenty-one souls, of the _Siam_, then recently condemned at Manilla as unseaworthy.--_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1498--Letters of Capt. Brereton, 1764.]

In the carrying out of the royal commands there was consequently, at this stage in the development of pressing, little if any resort to


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