NEWS

Press Gangs

CHAPTER ONE:

ORIGINS OF THE  PRACTICE AND ITS DEVELOPMENT.

ITS INSTRUMENT: THE PRESS GANGS

The film, “Mutiny on the Bounty” portrayed graphically the cruel treatment meted out to seamen in previous centuries. That some captains were sadists is beyond dispute in an age when severe punishment was awarded often for what to us now seem  minor transgressions It was no wonder that recruitment into the naval service, especially the Royal Navy, was a problem. Books and films set in this period always reinforce the impression that a very harsh discipline was the order of the day on board His (or Her) Majesty`s ships. Even allowing for some licence, this impression is not far from the reality. There were just Captains – but they were few.

 

One who knew what life was like on ship in the early 19th century was R.H. Dana who wrote  the following poignant lines in his famous book TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST, published in 1840.

“A sailor`s life is at best but a mixture of  a little good with much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain. The beautiful is mixed with the revolting, the sublime with the commonplace, and the solemn with the ludicrous.” (p. 40 of the 1911 Macmillan edition)

It follows that any history of Impressment is bound to be more concerned with evil and pain than with the good and  the pleasant. But where these latter two are warranted, they  are not ignored in this study..

 

IMPRESSMENT

Our study is concerned therefore with the practice (over several centuries) whereby the authority of the state (the Crown) is exercised to “press” or to forcibly (usually) recruit the services of an individual into the navy or army ,especially for  the defence of the realm.  Put simply, Press Gangs were naval parties who went round England compelling civilians (or out of work seamen) to join the navy (or army). These gangs were composed of tough naval petty officers who were most active in time of war. True sailors hid or fled from them so that in order to make up numbers, landsmen were pressed. The sheriffs and mayors of towns often supplied the gangs with men by clearing out the prisons. This introduction of bad characters into the navy was one of the principal causes of the mutiny of 1797.

It is common to suppose that Impressment is a phenomenon of mainly the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. This in fact is not so; what is true is that Impressment was at its height in these times. The practice in its early days was by and large a peaceful process, persuading men to enlist by getting them to accept the “King`s Shilling” as it was known: only in later years was it to become the very physical encounter we associate with press ganging.

The power to “press” is in fact a basic and elemental right of any state where serious threat to the  nation is perceived. National Service ( or Conscription) is or was a form of it in modern times. Some countries still have it (Israel); others have recently dispensed with it (the USA where it is called the “Draft”) During the American Civil War men were “drafted” for sevice. America and England were however by no means the only countries to resort to impressment in times of need. Other European countries have employed the system from time to time as circumstances demanded: France, Holland, Spain  among them – (usually when they were at war with England!)  The practice did not give rise to a general revulsion, although some brave (or foolhardy) individuals voiced dissatisfaction, because it was accepted by custom and necessity as being a fact of life, and therefore justified – among the highest in the land…and among the populace.

 

IMPRESSMENT:  THE  EARLY DAYS

 

The institution and early development of Impressment  is to be seen in the centuries from Saxon times (after the Romans left Britain), usually called the  “Dark Ages” to about 1700; at least  we will use this time scale for the present narrative. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Impressment underwent a more widespread and violent change, with the growing depredations of the Press Gangs.

There is evidence to suggest that even in the time of the Saxon and Danish invasions men were required to crew the ships in pathetic attempts to repell the invaders. Volunteers were never enough so the practice of compelling men to serve on board ship – impressment, began. Upto about 1100 “pressing” was confined to England; documents dating from the Plantagenet era tell how forced service had come to Wales (on the authority of the Lords Marchers) and Irishmen could be pressed (on the authority of  the Lords Deputy for war against France, destined to become a traditional enemy.)

1337 saw the commencement of the Hundred Years War in the reign of Edward 111 and as soldiers and seamen were required now more than ever, impressment increased greatly. In these early centuries, conscription was more in evidence in relation to the soldiery than to the navy; it was not until the 17th and 18th centuries that the practice was overwhelmingly applied to naval personnel. As it was, in Edward`s long reign (1327-1377) parliament had cause so early on to complain about the frequent use of forcible recruitment or “pressing” as it came to be called. It may be opportune here to look at the original term.  The 1910 edition of the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA contains a neat and succinct interpretation of the term, “press”. When first used the term was “prest” denoting “a sum of money advanced …to a person to enable him to perform some undertaking, hence used of earnest money given to soldiers on enlistment…” In time, “prest” (derived from the French, “preter”, to lend) became “press”. “The methods of compulsion used to get men for military service naturally connected the word with “to press” (from the Latin verb pressare, meaning to force.” (p. 346)   “A small sum of money called imprest-money was given to the pressed men  to enable them to reach an appointed rendezvous.” (346) Subsequent monarchs raised men in this way and even Oliver Cromwell populated his New Model Army largely by impressment. However by the end of the 18th century forcible recruitment into the army had fallen into disuse (for reasons we will go into later). Pressing into navy service however gathered momentum.

Not all able-bodied men were thus recruited. Exceptions were made in the case of men who in some way derived their livelihood from the sea or river – a privilege that was of course not extended to erstwhile seamen who were fair game. This exemption was reinforced by subsequent Acts of Parliament. In distinction, the extent to which the power of the press had developed is illustrated by the passing of an Act in 1597 (in Queen Elizabeth`s reign) by which disorderly men and criminals could be pressed for fleet service, irrespective of whether they had been seamen or not. Not unnaturally complaints were made by navy officers of the poor quality of the men under their command. The Press Gangs themselves were often guilty of extorting money and arresting people illegally .

In the same year (1597) appeared Shakespeare`s play “Henry IV, Part 1” in which Falstaff`s famous reflections on his pressing activities are given to his partner in crime, Bardolph. Although amusing, his words reflect common practice then. . They indicate the prevalence of impressment at (or before) the time of Shakespeare (died 1616).

“If I be not ashamed of my soldiers, I am a soused gurnet. I have misusd the king`s press damnably.  I have got in exchange of a hundred and fifty soldiers, three hundred and odd pounds. I press me none but good householders, yeomens`s sons; inquire me out contracted bachelors, such as had been asked twice on the bans – such a commodity of warm slaves as had as lieve hear the devil as a drum, such as fear the report of a caliver worse than a struck fowl or a hurt wild duck. I pressed me none but such toasts-and-butter with hearts in their bellies no bigger than pins`heads and they have bought out their services; and now my whole charge consists of ancients, corporals, lieutenants, gentlemen of companies – slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the painted cloth, where the glutton`s dogs liked his sores; and such as indeed were never soldiers but discarded unjust servingmen, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters, and ostlers trade-fallen ; the cankers of a calm world and a long peace; ten times more dishonourable ragged than an old fazed [faced] ancient; and such have I to fill up the rooms of them as have bought out their services that you would think that I had a hundred and fifty tattered prodigals lately come from swine keeping, from eating draff and husks. A mad fellow met me on the way and told me I had unloaded all the gibbets and pressed the dead bodies. No eye hath seen such scarecrows. I`ll not march through Coventry with them, that`s flat. Nay, and the villains march wide betwixt the legs as if they had the gives [irons] on for indeed I had the most of them out of prison. There`s not a shirt and a half in all my company and the half shirt is  two napkins tacked together and thrown over the shoulders like a herald`s coat without sleeves; and the shirt to say the truth stol`n from my host at Saint Albans…”

IMPRESS SERVICE

Although as we have said, impressment was almost equally into the army and into the navy, pre about 1660 (the restoration of the monarchy), and as Falstaff`s words indicate, forced conscription however came to be a preserve of the fleet after this time. A few words have already been said about the derivation of the word “press” . The press was the arm of the Impress Service, originally Imprest Service. This “Service” organised gangs of about a dozen men lead by an officer to locate people with sea experience , preferably between the ages of 18 and 55. Their object of course was to try and persuade them to join the navy, resorting to violence if their blandishments were not accepted. Often, men would be knocked unconscious, otherwise threatened or made the worse for wear by drink. Either way, the victim came to his senses miles out to sea…

Not all  “selected” men were  unwilling. Some actually volunteered – no doubt those down on their luck. An inducement, (as we have mentioned) was the offering of the “King`s Shilling” as a sort of signing- on fee. No doubt some took the bounty, as it was called, contrived to escape and repeat the manoeuvre. Taking of the King`s Shilling was regarded as as an earnest of a contract to serve in the forces. On occasion a shilling would be slipped into a pocket so that on discovery of the coin it could be claimed (by the gang) that the unfortunate recipient had agreed to serve. In this way, the crews of ships were largely composed; impress men mainly, some volunteers, (often beginning as boys) and some (generally experienced) men taken from merchant vessels (by force). As time went on of course ships became larger and more complex, so more men proportionately were needed, especially in times of war. (In peace times the men-o-war were usually laid up – which produced many personnel problems.)

PRESS “GANGING”

There was no getting away from the basic problem of obtaining more  men. A general perception is that press ganging was mainly a land based activity – but this is not really so. Much pressing happened at sea, probably the majority. Merchant men, homeward bound, were confronted (their ships invaded) and press ganged “volunteers” were the result. Even those with so-called “protections” (conferring immunity from impressment) were taken. (More on protections later) It has to be realised that press gangs had the law on their side, and that consequently they had much power. But they themselves had to be careful for it was a dangerous game. The gangs sought skilled seamen first and foremost, though they were not averse to landsmen (i.e. those with no sea experience) if numbers demanded, and as a consequence although sea ports and towns were the favourite places to infest, they also roamed the countryside looking for victims. One of the basic problems facing the crewing of Royal Navy ships, if not the main problem was the very harsh regime prevalent on board. As a consequence, there was a very high number of desertions. And these “vacancies” had to be filled!

It is opportune now to look at an official document dated 1672, i.e. in the reign of Charles 11 at the time of the outbreak of the Second Dutch War in the same year. This is a letter from Viscount Castleton (1631-1714)  a Vice-Admiral, to the “Lord and Gentlemen” of the Admiralty, concerning the impressment of men for the King`s ships. The import of this letter was to pass on the information that he had received orders from the King “to impress and levy 80 seamen and also to disburse such moneys as should be requisite “…and consequently of his appointment  of “Prestmasters”. The imprest men were conveyed to the Port of Hull, to await redeployment. These “imprest” men were in all probability convicts and n`er-do-wells  who were expressly targeted by the Vagrancy Act of 1597. Authority to press came down from on high, as we can see!

In fact, impressment was used by many nations, including England, to rid society of undesirables, petty criminals and the like, while “respectable” people, men of property, and so on, were generally exempted – by law. As can be imagined, abuse of the system was rife (see Falstaff above) and personal vendettas took place in the “pressing” process. It can be readily seen that such a practice would fill ships with people who hated the sea , the navy and the discipline that went with it, so that the army in the early days, and the royal navy were populated by dissident groups, ready for mutiny and desertion. It must be appreciated however that Captains  were held responsible for recruiting on board their  own vessels and could be dismissed (from captaincy) if they did not find enough men to work their ship. Recruiting posters were used but their inducements tended to be ignored by the majority. We have mentioned that criminals often ended up on board ship and one of the ways this was done was by magistrates  passing sentences giving those convicted of petty crimes the option of a jail term or joining the Royal Navy. Of course his “term” was usually much longer on becoming a seaman!  Having convicts as crew however was not regarded as a happy situation by Captains. The Impress Service therefore  provided most of the  seamen. Men with some experience of the sea were most desired.

Accordingly, Captains used to stop and board ships on port or even on the high seas and press any British subject they found, leaving only just enough men to handle the pirated ship. In fact, pressing foreigners into the British service was accepted, but not so pressing American sailors.  This latter practice was justified by the British, but was hated by the Americans. This factor was one of the main causes of the American-British war which broke out I 1812. (More on this in later sections) Land based impressment however remained the province of the Impress Service – but not exclusively so as sometimes Captains sent recruiting parties ashore.   The “Service”  held men until they were needed by a ship, and with an office, or HQ (known as a rendezvous or rondy for short) the Service was efficiently organised. (See later chapter for more on “rondies”) Despite all strategems the supply of men was never enough and most ships sailed without their full complement.

PEACE TIME AND WAR TIME

The point was that in times of peace seamen were not wanted, but in times of war they were. In peace time everything was run down; in war everything had quickly to be geared up. Hence, impressment appeared to be the answer. It was also the cheapest solution – or so it seemed. First of all, a general  Press Warrant was issued by the Government, press gang operations increased hectically until ships could put to sea. Of course, Bounties were offered to volunteers, but it never produced enough men; impressment really took off and a “hot press” ,as it was called, ensued. The government of the day can therefore be blamed for the practice; it emanated from them. Treatment of the pressed men was execrable, before they experienced the punishments on deck. Moreover the forced seamen never knew how long they would have to serve, ill-fed, ill-clothed, and ill-paid. In fact there had been no rise in Royal Navy seamen`s wages since the time of Cromwell (1649-1660) until 1797. Merchant seamen did much better – another cause of great dissatisfaction.

We have mentioned the “receiving” ships (a sort of transit camp for pressed personnel) and the “tenders” in which the unfortunates were first imprisoned.  It might  be instructive here to read  an account of the conditions aboard one of these tenders – given by one who was pressed into service: by name of C.R.Pemberton in his reminiscences (about 1750); he was one of the few who could read and write.   He speaks of  “A hole, called the Steerage, …I looked down and as I did so a hot and pestilential effluvia rose and enveloped me.   I looked through a heavy wooden grating across which was a strong iron bar with a huge padlock attached to it; and I saw that which threw me back almost fainting with horror. In that short glance, I had seen a crowded mass of disgusting and fearful heads, with eyes all glaring upwards from that terrible den; and heaps of filthy limbs, trunks and heads, bundled and scattered, scrambling, laughing, cursing, screaming and fighting at one moment.”

PRESS WARRANTS

Such was the treatment wreaked upon pressed men by the system.  As we said, the wheels were set in motion by the official issue of Press Warrants by the Admiralty. A typical Press Warrant was one issued in 1742, stating it was by the Commissioners for the office of the Lord High Admiral of Great Britain and Ireland.

“In pursuance of his Majesty`s order in council dated the 19th day of January 1742, we do hereby impower and direct you [officers of the navy] to impress or cause to be impressed so many seamen and seafaring men and persons whose occupations and callings are to work in vessels and boats upon rivers as shall be necessary not only to compleat  the number of men allowed to his Majesty`s ships under your command but also to mann such others of his Majesty`s ships as may be in want of men; giving unto each man so impressed one shilling for press money; …and in due execution of the same thereof, all mayors, sheriffs, justices of the peace, bailiffs, constables, …and all other  of his Majesty`s officers and subjects whom it may concern are hereby required to to be aiding and assisting you .…”

The legality of the practice was clearly taken for granted, although it had never actually  been legalized by Parliament.

NAVAL LIFE

It is important to know something of the nature and conditions  of life aboard ship in these times  to enable us to put impressment, press gangs and press warrants properly into context. Generally  speaking it was a cruel age, harsh conditions on land as well as on ship were taken for granted , piracy flourished (in the 16th, 17th centuries especially, the slave trade was in full swing, destitute people were inhumanely treated, the insane witchcraft hunts persisted, retribution for minor crimes entailed imprisonment, and/or often barbaric corporal  punishment. Add to these the exigencies of wars, (the First Dutch war ocurred in 1653-4), straightened economic circumstances, and it can readily be seen life then was very hard. Nevertheless from all accounts life on board was anything but irreligious (except when in dock and “visitors” came aboard! (More on this later) And despite  the compulsion and barbarity of it all, the seamen of the time never seemed to lose their strong sense of loyalty to the Crown and to their ship.

Victualling was always a problem; not so much in quantity (though this obtained as well) as in quality. Keeping food fresh was an impossiblity: salting was the lone remedy for all types of meat. Fish, meat, biscuit and cheese were the staples of the sailors` diet. Beer was the main drink. Even in this respect, the seaman was cheated, as the contractors who supplied the foodstuffs practised “fiddles” whereby short measure came aboard ship while profit was maximised for the suppliers. Medical knowledge was rudimentary and there were no anaesthetics (apart from strong liquor); illness and disease were rife, especially scurvy, as the value of fruits and green vegetables was not realised. Suitable clothing was not a priority. Pay was very poor. (In 1558 sailors` wages were raised from 6s 8d to 10s per month –   still a miserable pittance.)  The social status of  seamen was very low. (It was not until fourteen years after the Armada of 1588 that pensions for wounded men came in.} It has to be said that rogues and vagabonds made up a large portion of ships` crews – a direct consequence of the depredations of the gangs. Some of those who did sign on, did so because of the thought of loot, and “prize money” they would get on capturing an enemy vessel.

Having said this, it is only fair to point out that these early seamen lived in an heroic age when Britain became master of the seas. Their heroism and strong sense of nationalism appeared never to be in doubt, despite all. Sailors manned ships that made voyages of discovery, although these were not generally press-ganged men. There were occasionally mutinies (few and far between), minor rebellions and individual transgressions – but infrequent in the several centuries we are considering in this chapter. Some of the men must indeed have been hard to control, press-ganged and deprived as they were. There is an interesting comment made by Sir Richard Hawkins  about the seamen of his time:

“Mariners are like to a stiffe necked horse which taking the bridle between his teeth forceth his rider to what him list, mauger his will: so they having once concluded, and resolved, are with great difficultie brought to yeald to the raynes of reason.” (OBSERVATIONS; 1622)

However, it was not the nature of the men that alone made conditions on board ship wellnigh intolerable. Many of the Captains had much to answer for. Some of them were simply inept, owing their position to social status. Dishonesty and venality were not uncommon among the administrative officers also, especially during the reign of the Stuarts, when the navy was neglected. In addition, victualling ships and paying seamen had not improved to any extent. During the rule of Parliament, in Cromwell`s time, matters did improve a little with regard to pay and the removal of some of the worst abuses. Also, a type of promotion ladder was instituted whereby seamen could be promoted to midshipmen. Punishments however remained severe and in fact the cat-o`-nine-tails had yet to make an appearance which it did  about 1630. An insight into punishment is given us by a Capt. Nathaniel Boteler, writing in 1634. He tells of….

“the ducking at the main yard-arm when a malefactor by having a rope fastened under his arms and about his middle  and under his breech is thus hoised up to the end of the yard  and from thence is violently let fall into the sea sometimes three several times one after another; and if the offence be very foul, he is also drawn under the keel of the ship which is termed keel-raking. Whilst he is thus under water a great gun is fired right over his head,the which is done as well to astonish  him so much the more with the thunder of the shot as to give warning unto all others of the fleet to look out  and to be wary by his harms.”

THE SECOND DUTCH WAR occurred  in 1665-1667 which was far more demanding on the British nation than the First one had been. In reality the Dutch had been gaining the ascendancy in world trade for some time, due largely to Government inaction in matters naval.A “hot” press was begun in all seaports to recruit men for the rapidly expanding navy.   Many ships were commissioned again. When the war began in earnest, a severe defeat was inflicted on the British and many Englishmen were prisoners in Holland. Allied to the fact that no pay was being issued, and poor (if any) treatment for the wounded was experienced, some of the sailors deserted the navy and joined the Dutch fleet where conditions were much better. In 1667, the Dutch actually sailed up the Medway and destroyed some British chips. This ignominy ironically resulted in the amelioration of the seamen`s condition, largely under the direction of Samuel Pepys  of diary fame. He was responsible for restoring a sense of pride to the navy – although he was not succesful in all he tried to do. Pepys tried to reform the dual captaincy situation which had obtained  since Elizabeth`s days. There were two types of captain a float: the “gentlemen” and the “tarpaulin”. The former held their position by favourtism; the latter by working their way up the ladder, and were therefore men of experience, liked by the seaman. On the other hand the “gentlemen” Captains brought the navy into disrepute. Pepys did bring some measure of reform into captaincy however, and was instrumental in opposing the appointment of “gentlemen” Captains. Thus a spirit of professionalism was created among the naval hierarchy, since all officers eventually benefited, as lieutenants and midshipment discovered a new sense of honour. The reforms of Pepys  did much  to improve the lot of the seamen. Pay, victualling and clothing were all improved. Sanitary arrangements were though as bad as ever, as was surgery and medical treatment generally. Drink (or over-indulgence) was still a great evil as was the practice of allowing women (so-called “wives” on board, with attendant scenes of debauchery, and incidences of venereal disease. These “liberties” were countenanced however as it seemed to be recognised that the seaman`s greatest hardship was the  loss of liberty on board ship, for an indeterminate period; a seaman who in many cases had been forced to serve.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the naval service had regained some lost pride: the Dutch had been beaten as had the Spanish, and the seaman was conscious of his great pedigree. He was able to appreciate the professionalism of his officers and his own skill in fighting. This time saw the rudimentary beginnings of the modern service. After Pepys fell fom office in 1688, it was inevitable that some return to the old conditions would follow. But permanent reforms had been made.

Fraud of various kinds still went on, from Captains taking more than their fair share of “prizes” on capturing a ship, to brewers with the connivance of officers undersupplying and adulterating the beer.Fraud too there was in the payment (or non-payment) of seamen, especially the system of transferring men from ship to ship, thus depriving them of pay which they were owed. An anonymous author writing in 1702, set out some complaints of seamen:

“the unkind and cruel treatment; the turning them [seamen] over from ship to ship; keeping them out of their wages; querying them; making them Run…” [what came to be known as running the gauntlet]

which was all the more remarkable as protestations putting the case of the  ordinary sailor were by no means common!  As we can readily see, the issue of wages was a crucial factor in dissaffection..The fact that there was such a big discrepancy between the pay of merchant seamen and royal navy personnel exacerbated the situation. In the time of Queen Anne the seaman got 23s a month if he served in the navy; if he served in the merchant service he received 55s a month, – more than double.

All this time the press-gang was still the chief means by which the navy was manned. Along with the men thus “pressed” there were those who were sentenced by JPs to serve in the armed forces. These were mostly petty criminals who were not really serviceable. From a letter to the Fleet Admiral, a certain Captain John Evans writing in about 1700 remarks as follows regarding some of the men sent him: “Most are new men without bedding, and their clothes are …very poor quality. I am of opinion that they were never inspected into by any flag or other officer. These men are either too old, too young or too infirm. I presume to ease ye parish they were taken up. I am sure they will be but lumber in a ship and never answer ye intent of marines.”

THE PLUS SIDE!

However it must be said that during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) conditions did improve. Leave, pay and pensions improved. The establishment of the Seamen`s Hospital in 1694 in Greenwich was a major advance. In addition, pocket money was given to the patients. Money though did not remain long in the pockets of the able bodied.  If they could be cheated by all and sundry, they were. Seamen of the time were ill educated and were often outwitted (fleeced) by the unscrupulous. On board, diet improved considerably in the 18th century, as did his clothing with the issue of something approaching a uniform. Sexual needs continued to be catered for by the continued practice of allowing women on board ship when in harbour. This was not discontinued till much later.

At least, the seaman had a well-nigh permanent job, contrasting with the heavy unemployment ashore. He knew of course that wages were much better in the merchant service or on a privateer (privately owned vessel whose object was to capture enemy ships and loot them) but his chances of getting taken on by the two were slim. He had some medical treatment aboard and a hospital ashore. He had cheap liquor and even cheaper women in harbour. Then again he had the dream of “prize” money if and when an enemy ship were captured. All in all, his lot could have been worse. In fact, many men signed on again; no doubt the bounty money helped, and probably it was better than not being employed at all. A fitting conclusion to this outline of the early days of impressment and the seafarer is given by Peter Kemp in his book, THE BRITISH SAILOR, when he writes about the attraction of the life at sea:

“But far more probably it was …the free and easy life which was the real attraction, coupled wuth the eternal hope that the wheel of fortune would turn and display a fat prize wallowing at sea and ripe for capture. With a little luck over his choice of Captain (and by and large seamen did have the choice under whom to serve unless they were pressed), the sailor`s life was, relative to the standards ashore, not a bad one, and he knew it” (p. 71)

In this chapter, devoted in the main to the origin and spread of the practice of impressment, we have looked at the modus operandi of the press gangs, and the symbolic act of offering the “King`s Shilling”. We saw that the legal power to “press” was in fact quite considerable, emanating from the King and the Admiralty. The initial days of  forced recruitment date back probably to Saxon times. At first only able-bodied men were taken and those with some experience of the sea; as time went on, almost anybody was pressed, as we saw in Falstaff`s words. We saw how Impressment was in fact governed by the Impress Service whose job it was to “select” potential recruits, initially among able-bodied seamen. During this early period, the two Dutch wars of the second half of the seventeenth century, galvanised Britain into (naval) action, in which a period of comparative inaction (peace) was transformed into one of feverish activity (for the wars), initiating the “hot press”. The King and Admiralty issued “Press Warrants” in order to authorise forced recruitment. We had a look at life at sea generally in those times, which enabled us to put in context the Impressment system. Then some of the reforms of Pepys were  mentioned among which was the near abolition of the “Gentlemen” captains while the “Tarpaulin” captains were encouraged. Next we recollected how the sailor then was easily duped and swindled ashore and on board and how severe punishment was still meted out. We ended though on a more optimistic note, pointing out that there were some advantages to a seaman`s life!

In Chapter 2 we shall be looking in more detail  at the life of the seaman “below decks” and generally at life at that time on land. What were the prevailing social conditions in whose light we must consider the need for Impressment. What was the nature of Impressment and Press Gangs in the following centuries, i.e. 17th, 18th and early 19th .