Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Press-Gang Afloat and Ashore by John R. Hutchinson

Part 4 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

however, for the attempt, like that made at Shoreham a few years
later, when there "appear'd in Sight, from towards Brighthelmstone,
about two or three Hundred Men arm'd with different Weapons, who
came with an Intent to Attack the _Dispatch_ sloop," failed
ignominiously, the attackers being routed on both occasions by a
timely use of swivel guns and musketry. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1482--Lieut. Barnsley, 25 March 1746.]

Similar disaster overtook the organisers of the Tooley Street affair,
of which one Taylor, lieutenant to Capt. William Boys of the _Royal
Sovereign_, was the active cause. At the "Spread-Eagle" in Tooley
Street he and his gang one evening pressed a privateersman--an insult
keenly resented by the master of the ship. He accordingly sent off to
the tender, whither the pressed man had been conveyed for security's
sake, two wherries filled with armed seamen of the most piratical
type. The fierce fight that ensued had a dramatic finish. "Two Pistols
we took from them," says the narrator of the incident, in his quaint
old style, "and three Cutlasses, and Six Men; but one of the Men took
the Red Hott Poker out of the Fire, and our Men, having the Cutlasses,
Cutt him and Kill'd him in Defence of themselves." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1488--Lieut. Taylor, 1 April 1757.]

In attacks of this nature the fact that the tender was afloat told
heavily in her favour, for unless temporarily hung up upon a mud-bank
by the fall of the tide, she could only be got at by means of boats.
With the rendezvous ashore the case was altogether different. Here you
had a building in a public street, flaunting its purpose provocatively
in your very face, and having a rear to guard as well as a front. For
these reasons attacks on the rendezvous were generally attended with a
greater measure of success than similar attempts directed against the
tenders. The face of a pressed man had only to show itself at one of
the stoutly barred windows, and immediately a crowd gathered. To the
prisoner behind the bars this crowd was friendly, commiserating or
chaffing him by turns; but to the gangsmen responsible for his being
there it was invariably and uncompromisingly hostile, so much so that
it needed only a carelessly uttered threat, or a thoughtlessly lifted
hand, to fan the smouldering fires of hatred into a blaze. When this
occurred, as it often did, things happened. Paving-stones hurtled
through the curse-laden air, the windows flew in fragments, the door,
assailed by overwhelming numbers, crashed in, and despite the stoutest
resistance the gang could offer the pressed man was hustled out and
carried off in triumph.

The year 1755 witnessed a remarkable attack of this description upon
the rendezvous at Deal, where a band of twenty-seven armed men made a
sudden descent upon that obnoxious centre of activity and cut up the
gang most grievously. As all wore masks and had their faces blackened,
identification was out of the question. A reward of 200 Pounds,
offered for proof of complicity in the outrage, elicited no
information, and as a matter of fact its perpetrators were never

In Capt. McCleverty's time the gang at Waterford was once very roughly
handled whilst taking in a pressed man, and Mr. Mayor Alcock came
hurrying down to learn what was amiss. He found the rendezvous beset
by an angry and dangerous gathering. "Sir," said he to the captain,
"have you no powder or shot in the house?" McCleverty assured him that
he had. "Then, sir," cried the mayor, raising his voice so that all
might hear, "do you make use of it, and I will support you." The crowd
understood that argument and immediately dispersed. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1500--Deposition of Lieut. M Kellop,

Had the Admiralty reasoned in similar terms with those who beat its
gangsmen, converted its rendezvous into match-wood and carried off its
pressed men, it would have quickly made itself as heartily feared as
it was already hated; but in seeking to shore up an odious cause by
pacific methods it laid its motives open to the gravest
misconstruction. Prudence was construed into timidity, and with every
abstention from lead the sailor's mobbish friends grew more daring and

One night in the winter of 1780, whilst Capt. Worth of the Liverpool
rendezvous sat lamenting the temporary dearth of seamen, Lieut.
Haygarth came rushing in with a rare piece of news. On the road from
Lancaster, it was reported, there was a whole coach-load of sailors.
The chance was too good to be lost, and instant steps were taken to
intercept the travellers. The gangs turned out, fully armed, and took
up their position at a strategic point, just outside the town,
commanding the road by which the sailors had to pass. By and by along
came the coach, the horses weary, the occupants nodding or asleep. In
a trice they were surrounded. Some of the gangsmen sprang at the
horses' heads, others threw themselves upon the drowsy passengers.
Shouts, curses and the thud of blows broke the silence of the night.
Then the coach rumbled on again, empty. Its late occupants, fifteen in
number, sulkily followed on foot, surrounded by their captors, who, as
soon as the town was reached, locked them into the press-room for the
rest of the night, it being the captain's intention to put them on
board the tender in the Mersey at break of day.

In this, however, he was frustrated by a remarkable development in the
situation. Unknown to him, the coach-load of seamen had been designed
for the _Stag_ privateer, a vessel just on the point of sailing.
News of their capture reaching the ship soon after their arrival in
the town, Spence, her 1st lieutenant, at once roused out all his
available men, armed them, to the number of eighty, with cutlass and
pistol, and led them ashore. There all was quiet, favouring their
design. The hour was still early, and the silent, swift march through
the deserted streets attracted no attention and excited no alarm. At
the rendezvous the opposition of the weary sentinels counted for
little. It was quickly brushed aside, the strong-room door gave way
beneath a few well-directed blows, and by the time Liverpool went to
breakfast the _Stag_ privateer was standing out to sea, her crew
not only complete, but ably supplemented by eight additional occupants
of the press-room who had never, so far as is known, travelled in that
commodious vehicle, the Lancaster coach. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 7, 300--Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 19.]

The neighbouring city of Chester in 1803 matched this exploit by
another of great audacity. Chester had long been noted for its
hostility to the gang, and the fact that the local volunteer
corps--the Royal Chester Artillery--was composed mainly of ropemakers,
riggers, shipwrights and sailmakers who had enlisted for the sole
purpose of evading the press, did not tend to allay existing friction.
Hence, when Capt. Birchall brought over a gang from Liverpool because
he could not form one in Chester itself, and when he further
signalised his arrival by pressing Daniel Jackson, a well-known
volunteer, matters at once came to an ugly head. The day happened to
be a field-day, and as Birchall crossed the market square to wait upon
the magistrates at the City Hall, he was "given to understand what
might be expected in the evening," for one of the artillerymen,
striking his piece, called out to his fellows: "Now for a running
ball! There he goes!" with hissing, booing and execrations. At seven
o'clock one of the gang rushed into the captain's lodgings with
disquieting news. The volunteers were attacking the rendezvous. He
hurried out, but by the time he arrived on the scene the mischief was
already done. The enraged volunteers, after first driving the gang
into the City Hall, had torn down the rendezvous colours and staff,
and broken open the city jail and rescued their comrade, whom they
were then in the act of carrying shoulder-high through the streets,
the centre of a howling mob that even the magistrates feared to face.
By request Birchall and his gang returned to Liverpool, counting
themselves lucky to have escaped the "running ball" they had been
threatened with earlier in the day. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1529--Capt. Birchall, 29 Dec. 1803.]

Another town that gave the gang a hot reception was Whitby. As in the
case of Chester the gang there was an importation, having been brought
in from Tyneside by Lieuts. Atkinson and Oakes. As at Chester, too, a
place of rendezvous had been procured with difficulty, for at first no
landlord could be found courageous enough to let a house for so
dangerous a purpose. At length, however, one Cooper was prevailed upon
to take the risk, and the flag was hung out. This would seem to have
been the only provocative act of which the gang was guilty. It
sufficed. Anticipation did the rest; for just as in some individuals
gratitude consists in a lively sense of favours to come, so the
resentment of mobs sometimes avenges a wrong before it has been

On Saturday the 23rd of February 1793, at the hour of half-past seven
in the evening, a mob of a thousand persons, of whom many were women,
suddenly appeared before the rendezvous. The first intimation of what
was about to happen came in the shape of a furious volley of brickbats
and stones, which instantly demolished every window in the house, to
the utter consternation of its inmates. Worse, however, was in store
for them. An attempt to rush the place was temporarily frustrated by
the determined opposition of the gang, who, fearing that all in the
house would be murdered, succeeded in holding the mob at bay for an
hour and a half; but at nine o'clock, several of the gangsmen having
been in the meantime struck down and incapacitated by stones, which
were rained upon the devoted building without cessation, the door at
length gave way before an onslaught with capstan-bars, and the mob
swarmed in unchecked. A scene of indescribable confusion and fury
ensued. Savagely assaulted and mercilessly beaten, the gangsmen and
the unfortunate landlord were thrown into the street more dead than
alive, every article of furniture on the premises was reduced to
fragments, and when the mob at length drew off, hoarsely jubilant over
the destruction it had wrought, nothing remained of His Majesty's
rendezvous save bare walls and gaping windows. Even these were more
than the townsfolk could endure the sight of. Next evening they
reappeared upon the scene, intending to finish what they had begun by
pulling the house down or burning it to ashes; but the timely arrival
of troops frustrating their design, they regretfully dispersed.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 2739--Lieut. Atkinson, 26 Feb.
and 27 June 1793.]

Out at sea the sailor, if he could not set the tune by running away
from the gang, played up to it with great heartiness. To sink the
press-boat was his first aim. With this end in view he held stolidly
on his course, if under weigh, betraying his intention by no sign till
the boat, manoeuvring to get alongside of him, was in the right
position for him to strike. Then, all of a sudden, he showed his hand.
Clapping his helm hard over, he dexterously ran the boat down, leaving
the struggling gangsmen to make what shift they could for their lives.
Many a knight of the hanger was sent to Davy Jones in this summary
fashion, unloved in life and cursed in the article of death.

The attempt to best the gang by a master-stroke of this description
was not, it need hardly be said, attended with uniform success. A miss
of an inch or two, and the boat was safe astern, pulling like mad to
recover lost ground. In these circumstances the sailor recalled how he
had once seen a block fall from aloft and smash a shipmate's head, and
from this he argued that if a suitable object such as a heavy
round-shot, or, better still, the ship's grindstone, were deftly
dropped over the side at the psychological moment, it must either have
a somewhat similar effect upon the gangsmen below or sink the boat by
knocking a hole in her bottom. The case of the _John and
Elizabeth_ of Sunderland, that redoubtable Holland pink whose
people were "resolved sooner to dye than to be impressed," affords an
admirable example of the successful application of this theory.

As the _John and Elizabeth_ was running into Sunderland harbour
one afternoon in February 1742, three press-boats, hidden under cover
of the pier-head, suddenly darted out as she surged past that point
and attempted to board her. They met with a remarkable repulse. For
ten minutes, according to the official account of the affair, the air
was filled with grindstones, four-pound shot, iron crows, handspikes,
capstan-bars, boat-hooks, billets of wood and imprecations, and when
it cleared there was not in any of the boats a man who did not bear
upon his person some bloody trace of that terrible fusillade. They
sheered off, but in the excitement of the moment and the mortification
of defeat Midshipmen Clapp and Danton drew their pistols and fired
into the jeering crew ranged along the vessel's gunwhale, "not
knowing," as they afterwards pleaded, "that there was any balls in the
pistols." Evidence to the contrary was quickly forthcoming. A man fell
dead on the pink's deck, and before morning the two middies were safe
under lock and key in that "dismal hole," Durham jail. It was a
notable victory for the sailor and applied mechanics. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1439--Capt. Allen, 13 March 1741-2, and

The affair of the _King William_ Indiaman, a ship whose people
kept the united boats'-crews of two men-of-war at bay for nearly
twenty-four hours, carried the sailor's resistance to the press an
appreciable step further and developed some surprising tactics.
Between three and four o'clock in the afternoon of a day in September
1742, two ships came into the Downs in close order. They had been
expected earlier in the day, and both the _Shrewsbury_ frigate
and the _Shark_ sloop were on the lookout for them. A shot from
the former brought the headmost to an anchor, but the second, the
_King William_, hauled her wind and stood away close to the
Goodwins, out of range of the frigate's guns. Here, the tide being
spent and the wind veering ahead, she was obliged to anchor, and the
warships' boats were at once manned and dispatched to press her men.
Against this eventuality the latter appear to have been primed "with
Dutch courage," as the saying went, the manner of which was to broach
a cask of rum and drink your fill. On the approach of the press-boats
pandemonium broke loose. The maddened crew, brandishing their
cutlasses and shouting defiance, assailed the on-coming boats with
every description of missile they could lay hands on, not excepting
that most dangerous of all casual ammunition, broken bottles.
The _Shrewsbury's_ mate fell, seriously wounded, and finding
themselves unable to face the terrible hail of missiles, the boats
drew off. Night now came on, rendering further attempts temporarily
impossible--a respite of which the Indiaman's crew availed themselves
to confine the master and break open the arms-chest, which he had
taken the precaution to nail down. With morning the boats returned to
the attack. Three times they attempted to board, and as often were
they repulsed by pistol and musketry fire. Upon this the _Shark_,
acting under peremptory orders from the _Shrewsbury_, ran down to
within half-gunshot of the Indiaman and fired a broadside into her,
immediately afterwards repeating the dose on finding her still
defiant. The ship then submitted and all her men were pressed save
two. They had been killed by the _Shark's_ gun-fire. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1829--Capt. Goddard, 22 Sept. and 16 Oct.,
and his Deposition, 19 Oct. 1742.]

With the appearance of the gang on the deck of his ship there was
ushered in the last stage but one of the sailor's resistance to the
press afloat. How, when this happened, all hands were mustered and the
protected sheep separated from the unprotected goats, has been fully
described in a previous chapter. These preliminaries at an end, "Now,
my lads," said the gang officer, addressing the pressable contingent
in the terms of his instructions, "I must tell you that you are at
liberty, if you so choose, to enter His Majesty's service as
volunteers. If you come in in that way, you will each receive the
bounty now being paid, together with two months' advance wages before
you go to sea. But if you don't choose to enter volunteerly, then I
must take you against your wills"

It was a hard saying, and many an old shellback--ay! and young one
too--spat viciously when he heard it. Conceive the situation! Here
were these poor fellows returning from a voyage which perhaps had cut
them off from home and kindred, from all the ordinary comforts and
pleasures of life, for months or maybe years; here were they, with the
familiar cliffs and downs under their hungry eyes, suddenly confronted
with an alternative of the cruellest description, a Hobson's choice
that left them no option but to submit or fight. It was a
heartbreaking predicament for men, and more especially for sailor-men,
to be placed in, and if they sometimes rose to the occasion like men
and did their best to heave the gang bodily into the sea, or to drive
them out of the ship with such weapons as their hard situation and the
sailor's Providence threw in their way--if they did these things in
the gang's despite, they must surely be judged as outraged husbands,
fathers and lovers rather than as disloyal subjects of an exacting
king. They would have made but sorry man-o'-war's-men had they
entertained the gang in any other way.

Opposed to the service cutlass, the sailor's emergency weapon was but
a poor tool to stake his liberty upon, and even though the numerical
odds chanced to be in his favour he often learnt, in the course of his
pitched battles with the gang, that the edge of a hanger is sharper
than the corresponding part of a handspike. Lucky for him if, with his
shipmates, he could then retreat to close quarters below or between
decks, there to make a final stand for his brief spell of liberty
ashore. This was his last ditch. Beyond it lay only surrender or

The death of the sailor at the hands of the gang introduces us to a
phase of pressing technically known as the accidental, wherein the
accidents were of three kinds--casual, unavoidable, and

The casual accident was one that could be neither foreseen nor
averted, as when Capt. Argles, returning to England on the breaking up
of the Limerick rendezvous in 1814, was captured by an American
privateer "well up the Bristol Channel," a place where no one ever
dreamed of falling in with such an enemy. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1455--Capt. Argles, 17 Aug. 1814.]

To the unavoidable accident every impress officer and agent was liable
in the execution of his duty. It could thus be foreseen in the
abstract, though not in the instance. Hence it could not be avoided.
Wounds given and received in the heat and turmoil of pressing came
under this head, provided they did not prove fatal.

The accident "disagreeable" was peculiar to pressing. It consisted in
the killing of a man, by whatever means and in whatever manner, whilst
endeavouring to press him, and the immediate effect of the act, which
was common enough, was to set up a remarkable contradiction in terms.
The man killed was not the victim of the accident. The victim was the
officer or gangsman who was responsible for striking him off the roll
of His Majesty's pressable subjects, and who thus let himself in for
the consequences, more or less disagreeable, which inevitably

While it was naturally the ambition of every officer engaged in
pressing "to do the business without any disagreeable accident
ensuing," he preferred, did fate ordain it otherwise, that the
accident should happen at sea rather than on land, since it was on
land that the most disagreeable consequences accrued to the
unfortunate victim. These embraced flight and prolonged expatriation,
or, in the alternative, arrest, preliminary detention in one of His
Majesty's prisons, and subsequent trial at the Assizes. What the
ultimate punishment might be was a minor, though still ponderable
consideration, since, where naval officers or agents were concerned,
the law was singularly capricious. [Footnote: As in Lacie's case, 25
Elizabeth, where a mortal wound having been inflicted at sea, whereof
the party died on land, the prisoner was acquitted because neither the
Admiralty nor a jury could inquire of it.] At sea, on the other hand,
the conditions which on land rendered accidents of this nature so
uniformly disagreeable, were almost entirely reversed. How and why
this was so can be best explained by stating a case.

The accident in point occurred in the year 1755, and is associated
with the illustrious name of Rodney. The Seven Years War was at the
time looming in the near future, and England's secret complicity in
the causes of that tremendous struggle rendered necessary the placing
of her Navy upon a footing adequate to the demands which it was
foreseen would be very shortly made upon it. In common with a hundred
other naval officers, Rodney, who was then in command of the _Prince
George_ guardship at Portsmouth, had orders to proceed without loss
of time to the raising of men. One of his lieutenants was accordingly
sent to London, that happy hunting-ground of the impress officer,
while two others, with picked crews at their backs, were put in charge
of tenders to intercept homeward-bounds. This was near the end of May.

[Illustration: ANNE MILLS. Who served on board the _Maidstone_
in 1740.]

On the 1st of June, in the early morning, one of these tenders--the
_Princess Augusta_, Lieut. Sax commander--fell in, off Portland
Bill, with the _Britannia_, a Leghorn trader of considerable
force. In response to a shot fired as an intimation that she was
expected to lay-to and receive a gang on board, the master, hailing,
desired permission to retain his crew intact till he should have
passed that dangerous piece of navigation known as the Race. To this
reasonable request Sax acceded and the ship held on her course,
closely followed by the tender. By the time the Race was passed,
however, the merchant-man's crew had come to a resolution. They should
not be pressed by "such a pimping vessel" as the _Princess
Augusta_. Accordingly, they first deprived the master of the
command, and then, when again hailed by the tender, "swore they would
lose their lives sooner than bring too." The Channel at this time
swarmed with tenders, and to Sax's hint that they might just as well
give in then and there as be pressed later on, they replied with
defiant huzzas and the discharge of one of their maindeck guns. The
tender was immediately laid alongside, but on the gang's attempting to
board they encountered a resistance so fierce that Sax, thinking to
bring the infuriated crew to their senses, ordered his people to fire
upon them. Ralph Sturdy and John Debusk, armed with harpoons, and John
Wilson, who had requisitioned the cook's spit as a weapon, fell dead
before that volley. The rest, submitting without further ado, were at
once confined below.

Now, three questions of moment are raised by this accident: What
became of the ship? what was done with the dead men? and what
punishment was meted out to the lieutenant and his gang? The crew once
secured under hatches, the safety of the ship became of course the
first consideration. It was assured by a simple expedient. The gang
remained on board and worked the vessel into Portsmouth harbour,
where, after her hands had been taken out--Rodney the receiver--"men
in lieu" were put on board, as explained in our chapter on pressing
afloat, and with this make-shift crew she was navigated to her
destination, in this instance the port of London.

As persons killed at sea, the three sailors who lay dead on the ship's
deck did not come within the jurisdiction of the coroner. That
official's cognisance of such matters extended only to high-water mark
when the tide was at flood, or to low-water mark when it was at ebb.
Beyond those limits, seawards, all acts of violence done in great
ships, and resulting in mayhem or the death of a man, fell within the
sole purview and jurisdiction of the Station Admiral, who on this
occasion happened to be Sir Edward Hawke, commander of the White
Squadron at Portsmouth. Now Sir Edward was not less keenly alive to
the importance of keeping such cases hidden from the public eye than
were the Lords Commissioners. Hence he immediately gave orders that
the bodies of the dead men should be taken "without St. Helens" and
there committed to the deep. Instead of going to feed the Navy, the
three sailors thus went to feed the fishes, and another stain on the
service was washed out with a commendable absence of publicity and

There still remained the lieutenant and his gang to be dealt with and
brought to what, by another singular perversion of terms, was called
justice. On shore, notwithstanding the lenient view taken of such
accidents, an indictment of manslaughter, if not of murder, would have
assuredly followed the offence; and though in the circumstances it is
doubtful whether any jury would have found the culprits guilty of the
capital crime, yet the alternative verdict, with its consequent
imprisonment and disgrace, held out anything but a rosy prospect to
the young officer who had still his second "swab" to win. That was
where the advantage of accidents at sea came in. On shore the
judiciary, however kindly disposed to the naval service, were
painfully disinterested. At sea the scales of justice were held, none
too meticulously, by brother officers who had the service at heart.
Under the judicious direction of Admiral Osborn, who in the meantime
had succeeded Sir Edward Hawke in the Portsmouth command, Lieut. Sax
and his gang were consequently called upon to face no ordeal more
terrible than an "inquiry into their proceedings and behaviour."
Needless to say, they were unanimously exonerated, the court holding
that the discharge of their duty fully justified them in the discharge
of their muskets. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 5925--Minutes
at a Court-Martial held on board H.M.S. _Prince George_ at
Portsmouth, 14 Nov. 1755. Precedent for the procedure in this case is
found in _Admiralty Records_ 7. 298--Law Officers' Opinions,
1733-56, No. 27.] When such disagreeable accidents had to be
investigated, the disagreeable business was done--to purloin an apt
phrase of Coke's--"without prying into them with eagles' eyes."

But it is time to leave the trail of blood and turn to a more
agreeable phase of pressing.



The reasons assigned for the pressing of men who ought never to have
made the acquaintance of the warrant or the hanger were often as
far-fetched as they are amusing. "You have no right to press a person
of my distinction!" warmly protested an individual of the superior
type when pounced upon by the gang. "Lor love yer! that's the wery
reason we're a-pressin' of your worship," replied the grinning minions
of the service. "We've such a set of black-guards aboard the tender
yonder, we wants a toff like you to learn 'em manners."

The quixotic idea of inculcating manners by means of the press
infected others besides the gangsman. In a Navy whose officers not
only plumed themselves on representing the _ne plus ultra_ of
etiquette, but demanded that all who approached them should do so
without sin either of omission or commission, the idea was universal.
Pride of service and pride of self entered into its composition in
about equal proportions; hence the sailing-master who neglected to
salute the flag, or who through ignorance, crass stupidity, or malice
aforethought flew prohibited colours, was no more liable to be taught
an exemplary lesson than the bum-boatman who sauced the officer of the
watch when detected in the act of smuggling spirits or women into one
of His Majesty's ships.

For all such offenders the autocracy of the quarter-deck, from the
rigid commander down to the very young gentleman newly joined, kept a
jealous lookout, and many are the instances of punishment, swift and
implacable, following the offence. Insulted dignity could of course
take it out of the disrespectful fore-mastman with the rattan, the cat
or the irons; but for the ill-mannered outsider, whether pertaining to
sea or land, the recognised corrective was His Majesty's press. A
solitary exception is found in the case of Henry Crabb of Chatham, a
boatman who rejoiced in incurable lameness; rejoiced because, although
there were many cripples on board the Queen's ships in his day, his
infirmity was such as to leave him at liberty to ply for hire "when
other men durst not for feare of being Imprest." He was an impudent,
over-reaching knave, and Capt. Balchen, of the _Adventure_
man-o'-war, whose wife had suffered much from the fellow's abusive
tongue and extortionate propensities, finding himself unable to press
him, brought him to the capstan and there gave him "eleven lashes with
a Catt of Nine Tailes." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1466--Capt. Balchen, 10 March 1703-4.]

A letter written in the early forties-a letter as breezy as the sea
from which it was penned--gives us a striking picture of the old-time
naval officer as a teacher of deportment. Cruising far down-Channel,
Capt. Brett, of the _Anglesea_ man-o'-war, there fell in with a
ship whose character puzzled him sorely. He consequently gave chase,
but the wind falling light and night coming on, he lost her. Early
next morning, as luck would have it, he picked her up again, and
having now a "pretty breeze," he succeeded in drawing within range of
her about two o'clock in the afternoon, when he fired a shot to bring
her to. The strange sail doubtless feared that she was about to lose
her hands, for instead of obeying the summons she trained her
stern-chasers on the _Anglesea_ and for an hour and a half blazed
away at her as fast as she could load. "They put a large marlinespike
into one of their guns," the indignant captain tells us, "which struck
the carriage of the chase gun upon our forecastle, dented it near two
inches, then broke asunder and wounded one of the men in the leg, and
had it come a yard higher, must infallibly have killed two or three.
By all this behaviour I concluded she must be an English vessel taken
by the Spaniards. However, when we came within a cable's length of him
he brought to, so we run close under his stern in order to shoot a
little berth to leeward of him, and at the same time bid them hoist
their boats out. Our people, as is customary upon such occasions, were
then all up upon the gunhill and in the shrouds, looking at him. Just
as we came under his quarter he pointed a gun that was sticking out a
little abaft his main-shrouds right at us, and put the match to it,
but it happened very luckily that the gun blew. A fellow that was
standing on the quarter-deck then took up a blunderbuss and presented
it, which by its not going off must have missed fire. As it was almost
impossible, they being stripp'd and bareheaded, besides having their
faces besmeared with powder, for us to judge them by their looks, I
concluded they must be a Parcell of Light-headed Frenchmen run mad,
and thinking it by no means prudent to let them kill my men in such a
ridiculous manner, I ordered the marines, who were standing upon the
quarter-deck with their musquets shoulder'd, to fire upon them. As
soon as they saw the musquets presented they fell flat upon the decks
and by that means saved themselves from being kill'd. Some of our
people at the same time fired a 9-pounder right into his quarter, upon
which they immediately submitted. I own I never was more surprised in
all my life to find that she was an English vessel, tho' my surprise
was lessened a good deal when I came to see the master and all his
fighting men so drunk as to be scarce capable of giving a rational
answer to any question that was asked them. I was very glad to find
that none of them were hurt; _but I found out the man who presented
the blunderbuss, and upon his behaving saucily when I taxed him with
it, I took him out of the vessel._" [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1479--Capt. Brett, 17 April 1743. The captain's use of
gender is philologically instructive. Not till later times, it seems,
did ships lose the character of a "strong man armed" and take on,
uniformly, the attributes of the skittish female.]

[Illustration: SAILORS CAROUSING. From the mezzotint after J. Ibbetson.]

So abhorrent a condiment was "sauce" to the naval palate, whether of
officer or impress agent, that its use invariably brought its own
punishment with it. "You are no gentleman!" said Gangsman Dibell to
one Hartnell, a currier who accidentally jostled him whilst he was
drinking in a Poole taproom. "No, nor you neither!" replied Hartnell.
The retort cost him a most disagreeable experience. Dibell and his
comrades collared him and dragged him off to the rendezvous, where he
was locked up in the black-hole till the next day. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 580--Inquiry into the Conduct of the
Impress Officers at Poole, 13 Aug. 1804.]

At Waterford Capt. Price went one better than this, for a man who was
totally unfit for the service having one day shown him some trifling
disrespect, the choleric old martinet promptly set the gang upon him
and had him conveyed on board the tender, "where," says Lieut.
Collingwood, writing a month later, "he has been eating the king's
victuals ever since." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1501
--Lieut. Collingwood, 18 March 1781.] Punishment enough, surely!

One night at Londonderry, as Lieut. Watson was making his way down to
the quay for the purpose of boarding the _Hope_ tender, of which
he was commander, he accidentally ran against a couple of strangers.

"Hallo! my lads," cried he, "who and what are you?"

"I am what I am," replied one of them, insolently.

The lieutenant, who had been dining, fired up at this and demanded to
know if language such as that was proper to be addressed to a king's

"As you please," said he of the insolent tongue. "If you like it
better, I'll say I'm a piece of a man."

"So I see by your want of manners," retorted the lieutenant. "Come
along with me, my brave piece! I know those who will make a whole man
of you before they're done."

With that he seized the fellow, meaning to take him to his boat, which
lay near by, but the pressed man, watching his chance, tripped him up
and made off. Next day there was a sequel. The lieutenant "was taken
possession of by the Civil Power" on a charge of assault. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1531--Lieut. Watson, 27 Oct. 1804.]

Another officer who met with base ingratitude from a pressed man whose
manners he attempted to reform was Capt. Bethel of the _Phoenix_.
At the Nore he was once grossly abused by the crew of a Customs-House
boat, and in retaliation took one of their number and carried him to
sea. Peremptory orders reaching him at one of the Scottish ports,
however, he discharged the man and paid his passage south. He was
immediately sued for false imprisonment and cast in heavy damages.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1493--Capt. Bethel, 29 Aug.

Capt. Brereton, of the _Falmouth_, was "had" in similar fashion
by the master of an East-Indiaman whom he pressed at Manilla because
of his insolence, and who afterwards, by a successful suit at law, let
him in for 400 Pounds damages and costs. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1494--Capt. Brereton, 18 Oct. 1765.]

This was turning the tables of etiquette on its professors with a

Such costly lessons in the art of politeness, however, did not in the
least abash the naval officer or deter him from the continued
inculcation of manners. Young fellows idly roystering on the river
could not be permitted to miscall with impunity the gorgeous admiral
passing in his twelve-oared barge, [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_
1. 577--Admiral the Marquis of Carmarthen, 24 June 1710.] nor irate
shipmasters who flouted the impress service of the Crown as a
"pitiful" thing and its officers as "little scandalous creatures," be
allowed to go scot-free. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
2379--Capt. Robinson, 21 Feb. 1725-6.] At whatever cost, the dignity
of the service must be maintained.

Nowhere did the use of invective attain such extraordinary perfection
as amongst those who plied their vocations on the country's busy
waterways. Here "sauce" was reduced to a science and vituperation to a
fine art. Thames watermen and Tyne keelmen in particular acquired an
astounding proficiency in the choice and application of abusive
epithets, but of the two the keelman carried off the palm. The
wherryman, it is true, possessed a ripe vocabulary, but the fact that
it embraced only a single dialect seriously handicapped him in his
race with the keelman, who had no less than three to draw upon, all
equally prolific. Between "keelish," "coblish" and "sheelish," the
respective dialects of the north-country keelman, pilot and tradesman,
he had at his command a source of supply unrivalled in vituperative
richness, abundance and variety. With these at his tongue's end none
could touch, much less outdo him in power and scope of abusive
description. He became in consequence of these superior advantages so
"insupportably impudent" that the only known cure for his complaint
was to follow the prescription of Capt. Atkins of the _Panther_,
and "take him as fast as you could ketch him"; [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1438--Capt. Atkins, 23 Dec. 1720.] but even this
drastic method of curbing his tongue was robbed of much of its
efficacy by the jealous care with which he was "protected."

Failure to amain, that is, to douse your topsail or dip your colours
when you meet with a ship of war--the marine equivalent for raising
one's hat--constituted a gross contempt of the king's service. The
custom was very ancient, King John having instituted it in the second
year of his reign. At that time, and indeed for long after, the salute
was obligatory, its omission entailing heavy penalties; [Footnote: A
copy of the original proclamation may be seen in Lansdowne MSS.,
clxxi, f. 218, where it is also summarised in the following terms:
_"Anno 2 regni Johannis regis: Frends not amaining at the j sumons
but resisting the King his lieutenant, the L. Admirall or his
lieutenant, to lose the ship and goods, & theire bodies to be
imprisoned."_] but with the advent of the century of pressing
another means of inspiring respect for the flag, now exacted as a
courtesy rather than a right, came into vogue. The offending vessel
paid for its omission in men.

If you were anything but a king's ship, and flew a flag that only
king's ships were entitled to fly, you were guilty, in the eyes of
every right-seeing naval officer, of another piece of ill manners so
gross as to be deserving of the severest punishment the press was
capable of inflicting upon you. You might fly the "flag and Jack
white, with a red cross (commonly called St. George's cross) passing
quite through the same"; likewise the "ensign red, with the cross in a
canton of white at the upper corner thereof, next to the staff"; but
if you presumed to display His Majesty's Jack, commonly called the
Union Jack, or any other of the various flags of command flown by
ships of war or vessels employed in the naval service, swift
retribution overtook you. Similarly, the inadvertent hoisting of your
colours "wrong end uppermost," or in any other manner deemed
inconsistent with the dignity of the service which permitted you to
fly them, laid you open to reprisals of the most summary nature.
Before you realised the heinousness of your offence, a gang boarded
you and your best man or men were gone beyond recall. The joy of
waterside weddings--occasions prolific in the display of wrong
colours--was often turned into sorrow in this way.

Inability to do the things you professed to do involved grave risk of
making intimate acquaintance with the gang. If, for example, you were
a skipper and navigated your vessel more like a 'prentice than a
master hand, some one belonging to you was bound, in waters swarming
with ships of war, to pay the piper sooner or later. "A few days ago,"
writes Capt. Archer of the _Isis_, "a ship called the _Jane_,
Stewart master, ran on board of us in a most lubberly manner
--for which, as is customary on such occasions, I took four of
his people." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1448--Capt.
Archer, 17 May 1795.]

Ability to handle a musical instrument sometimes proved as fatal to
one's liberty as inability to handle a ship. Queen Anne was directly
responsible for this. Almost immediately after her accession she
signed a warrant authorising the pressing of "drummers, fife and haut
boys for sea and land." [Footnote: _Home Office Military Entry
Books_, clxviii, f. 406.] Though the authorisation was only
temporary, the practice thus set up continued long after its origin
had been relegated to the scrap-heap of memory, and not only
continued, but was interpreted in a sense much broader than its royal
originator ever intended it should be. This tendency to take an ell in
lieu of the stipulated inch was illustrated as early as 1705, when
Lieut. Thomson, belonging to the _Lickfield_, chancing to meet
one Richard Bullard, fiddler, "persuaded him to go as far as Woolwich
with him, to play a tune or two to him and some friends who had a mind
to dance, saying he would pay him for it"--which he did, when tired of
dancing, by handing him over to the press-gang. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1467--Capt. Byron, 13 July 1705.]

In 1781, again, a "stout lad of 17" was pressed at Waterford because,
as a piper, he was considered likely to be "useful in amusing the
new-raised men"; [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1501--Lieut.
Collingwood, 18 March 1781.] and as late as 1807 a gang at Portsmouth,
acting under orders from Capt. Sir Robert Bromley, took one Madden, a
blind man, because of his "qualification of playing on the Irish
bagpipes." His affliction saved him. He was discharged, and the amount
of his pay and victualling was deducted from Sir Robert's wages as a
caution to him to be more careful in future. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1544--Capt. Sir Robert Bromley, 1 Dec. 1808.]

Perhaps the oddest reasons ever adduced in justification of specific
acts of pressing were those put forward in the cases of James Baily, a
Gosport ferry-man who was pressed on account of his "great
inactivity," and of John Conyear, exempt passenger on the packet-boat
plying between Dartmouth and Poole, subjected to the same process
because, as the officer responsible ingenuously put it when called to
book for the act, if Conyear had not been on board, "another would,
who might have been a proper person to serve His Majesty."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1451--Capt. Argles, 4 May 1807;
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 2485--Capt. Scott, 13 March 1780.]

An ironical interest attaches to the pressing of John Hagin, a youth
of nineteen who cherished an ambition to go a-whaling. Tramping the
riverside at Hull one day in search of a ship, he accidentally met one
of the lieutenants employed in the local impress service, and
mistaking him for the master of a Greenland ship, stepped up to him
and asked him for a berth. "Berth?" said the obliging officer. "Come
this way;" and he conducted the unsuspecting youth to the rendezvous.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1455--Capt. Ackton, 23 March

Before you took a voyage for the benefit of your health in those days
it was always advisable to satisfy yourself as to the nature of the
cargo the vessel carried or intended to carry, otherwise you were
liable to be let in for a longer voyage than health demanded. Richard
Gooding of Bawdsey, in the county of Suffolk, a twenty-one-year-old
yeoman who knew nothing of the iniquities practised in ships, in an
evil hour acted on the advice of his apothecary and ran across to
Holland for the sake of his health, which the infirmities of youth
appear to have undermined. All went well until, on the return trip,
just before Bawdsey Ferry hove in sight, down swooped a revenue
cutter's boat with an urgent request that the master should open up
his hatches and disclose what his hold contained. He demurred,
alleging that it held nothing of interest to revenue men; but on their
going below to see for themselves they discovered an appreciable
quantity of gin. Thereupon the master wickedly declared Gooding to be
the culprit, and he was pressed on suspicion of attempting to run a
cargo of spirits. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1530--Capt.
Broughton, 20 April 1803, and enclosure.]

Into the operations of the gang this element of suspicion entered very
largely, especially in the pressing of supposed sailors. To carry
about on your person any of the well-known marks of the seafaring man
was to invite certain disaster. When pressed, like so many others,
because he was "in appearance very much like a sailor," John Teede
protested vehemently that he had never been to sea in his life, and
that all who said he had were unmitigated liars. "Strip him," said the
officer, who had a short way with such cases. In a twinkling Teede's
shirt was over his head and the sailor stood revealed. Devices
emblematic of love and the sea covered both arms from shoulder to
wrist. "You and I will lovers die, eh?" said the officer, with a
twinkle, as he spelt out one of the amatory inscriptions. "Just so,
John! I'll see to that. Next man!" [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_
1. 1522--Description of a Person calling himself John Teede, 28 Dec.

Bow-legged men ran the gravest of risks in this respect, and the goose
of many a tailor was effectually cooked because of the damning fact,
which no protestations of innocence of the sea could mitigate, that
long confinement to the board had warped his legs into a fatal
resemblance to those of a typical Jack-tar. Harwich once had a mayor
who, after vowing that he would "never be guilty of saying there was
no law for pressing sailors," as a convincing proof that he knew what
was what, and was willing to provide it to the best of his ability,
straightway sent out and pressed--a tailor! [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1436--Capt. Allen, 26 March 1706.]

The itinerant Jewish peddler who hawked his wares about the country
suffered grievously on this account. However indisputably Hebraic his
name, his accent and his nose might be, those evidences of nationality
were Anglicised, so to speak, by the fact that his legs were the legs
of a sailor, and the bandy appendages so characteristic of his race
sooner or later brought the gang down upon him in full cry and landed
him in the fleet.

In the year 1780 the fishing town of Cromer was thrown into a state of
acute excitement by the behaviour of a casual stranger--a great,
bearded man of foreign aspect who, taking a lodging in the place,
resorted daily to the beach, where he walked the sands "at low water
mark," now writing with great assiduity in a book, again gesticulating
wildly to the sea and the cliffs, whence the suspicious townsfolk,
then all unused to "visitors" and their eccentricities, watched his
antics in wonder and consternation. The principal inhabitants of the
place, alarmed by his vagaries, constituted themselves a committee of
safety, and with the parson at their head went down to interview him;
and when, in response to their none too polite inquiries, he flatly
refused to give any account of himself, they by common consent voted
him a spy and a public menace, telling each other that he was
undoubtedly engaged in drawing plans of the coast in order to
facilitate' the landing of some enemy; for did not the legend run:--

"He who would Old England win,
Must at Weybourn Hope begin?"

and was not the "Hoop," as it was called locally, only a few miles to
the northward? No time was to be lost. Post-haste they dispatched a
messenger to Lieut. Brace at Yarmouth, begging him, if he would save
his country from imminent danger, to lose not a moment in sending his
gang to seize the suspect and nip his fell design in the bud. With
this alarming request Brace promptly complied, and the stranger was
dragged away to Yarmouth. Arraigned before the mayor, he with
difficulty succeeded in convincing that functionary that he was
nothing more dangerous than a stray agriculturist whom the Empress
Catherine had sent over from Russia to study the English method of
growing-turnips! [Footnote: _State Papers_, Russia, cv.--Lieut.
Brace, 18 Aug. 1780.]

The unhandsome treatment meted out to the inoffensive Russian is of a
piece with the whole aspect of pressing by instigation, of which it is
at once a specimen and a phase. The incentive here was suspicion; but
in the fertile field of instigation motives flourished in forms as
varied as the weaknesses of human nature.

Thomas Onions, respectable burgess of Bridgnorth, engaged in working a
trow from that place to Bristol, fell under suspicion owing to the
mysterious disappearance of a portion of the cargo, which consisted of
china. The rest of the crew being metaphorically as well as literally
in the same boat, the consignee's agent, on the trow's arrival at
Bristol, hinted at a more than alliterative connection between china
and chests, which he was proceeding to search when Onions objected,
very rightly urging that he had no warrant. "Is it a warrant you're
wanting?" demanded the baffled agent. "Very well, we'll see if we
cannot find one." With that he stepped ashore and hurried to the
rendezvous, where he knew the officers, and within the hour the gang
added Onions to the impress stock-pot. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1542--Memorial of the Inhabitants and Burgesses of
Bridgnorth, 12 March 1808.]

Much the same motive led to the pressing of Charles M'Donald, a
north-country youth of education and property. His mother wished him
to enter the army, but his guardians, piqued by her insistence, "had
him kidnapped on board the impress tender at Shields, under pretence
of sending him on a visit." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1537--Capt. Bland, 29 Nov. 1806, and enclosure.]

An "independent fortune of fourteen hundred pounds," bequeathed to him
by his "Aunt Elizabeth," was instrumental in launching John Stillwell
of Clerkenwell upon a similar career. His step-mother and uncle
desired to retain possession of the money, of which they were
trustees; so they suborned the gang and the young man disappeared.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1539--Capt. Burton, 25 April
1806, and enclosure.]

A more legitimate pastime of the gang was the pressing of incorrigible
sons. George Clark of Birmingham and William Barnicle of Margate, the
one a notorious thief, the other the despair of his family because of
his drunken habits, were two out of many shipped abroad by this cheap
but effectual means, the instigator of the gang being in each case the
lad's own father. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1537--Jeremiah
Clark, 30 July 1806; _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1547--Lieut. Dawe, 4 Sept.
1809.] The distracting problem, "What to do with our sons?" was in this
way amazingly simplified.

In thus utilising the gang as a means of retaliating upon those who
incurred their displeasure, both naval officers and private
individuals, had they been arraigned for the offence, could have
pleaded in justification of their conduct the example of no less
exalted a body than the Admiralty itself. The case of the bachelor
seamen of Dover, pressed because of an official animus against that
town, was as notorious as their Lordships' futile attempt to teach the
Brighton fishermen respect for their betters, or their later orders to
Capt. Culverhouse, of the Liverpool rendezvous, instructing him "to
take all opportunities of impressing seafaring men belonging to the
Isle of Man," as a punishment for the "extreme ill-conduct of the
people of that Island to His Majesty's Officers on the Impress
Service." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 3. 148--Admiralty
Minutes, 11 Oct. 1803.] The Admiralty method of paying out anyone
against whom you cherished a grudge possessed advantages which
strongly commended it to the splenetic and the vindictive. For suppose
you lay in wait for your enemy and beat or otherwise maltreated him:
the chances were that he would either punish you himself or invoke the
law to do it for him; while if you removed him by means of the garrot,
the knife or the poisoned glass, no matter how discreetly the deed was
done the hangman was pretty sure to get you sooner or later. But the
gang--it was as safe as an epidemic! The fact was not lost upon the
community. People in almost every station of life appreciated it at
its true worth, and, encouraged by the example of the Admiralty,
availed themselves of the gang as the handiest, speediest and safest
of mediums for wiping out old scores.

On shipboard, where life was more cramped and men consequently came
into sharper contact than on shore, resentments were struck from daily
intercourse like sparks from steel. Like sparks some died, impotent to
harm their object; but others, cherished in bitterness of spirit
through many a lonely watch, flashed into malicious action with that
hoped-for opportunity, the coming of the gang. John Gray, carpenter of
a merchant ship, in a moment of anger threatened to cut the skipper
down with an axe. This happened under a West-Indian sun. Months
afterwards, as the ship swung lazily into Bristol river and the gang
came aboard, the skipper found his opportunity. Beckoning to the
impress officer, he pointed to John Gray and said: "Take that man!"
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1542--Capt. Barker, 22 June
1808, and enclosure.] Gray never again lifted an axe on board a
merchant vessel.

Certain amenities which once passed between the master and the mate of
the _Lady Shore_ serve to throw an even broader light upon the
origin of quarrels at sea and the methods of settling them then in
vogue. The _Lady Shore_ was on the passage home from Quebec when
the master one day gave certain sailing directions which the mate, who
was a sober, careful seaman, thought fit to disregard on the ground
that the safety of the ship would be endangered if he followed them.
The master, an irascible, drunken brute, at this flew into a passion
and sought to ingraft his ideas of seamanship upon the mate through
the medium of a handspike, with which he caught him a savage blow
"just above the eye, cutting him about three inches in length." It was
in mid-ocean that this lesson in navigation was administered. By the
time Scilly shoved its nose above the horizon the skipper's "down" on
the mate had reached an acute stage. His resentment of the latter's
being the better seaman had now deepened into hatred, and to this, as
the voyage neared its end, was added growing fear of prosecution. At
this juncture a man-o'-war hove in sight and signalled an inspection
of hands. "Get your chest on deck, Mr. Mate," cried the exultant
skipper. "You are too much master here. It is time for us to part."
Taken out of the ship as a pressed man, the mate was ultimately
discharged by order of the Admiralty; but the skipper had his revenge.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 583--Matthew Gill to Admiral
Moorsom, 15 Jan. 1813.]

A riot that occurred at King's Lynn in the year '55 affords a striking
instance of the retaliatory use of the gang on shore. In the course of
the disturbance mud and stones were thrown at the magistrates, who had
come out to do what they could to quell it. Angered by so gross an
indignity, they supplied the gang with information that led to the
pressing of some sixty persons concerned in the tumult, but as these
consisted mainly of "vagrants, gipsies, parish charges, maimed, halt
and idiots," the magisterial resentment caused greater rejoicings at
Lynn than it did at Spithead, where the sweepings of the borough were
eventually deposited. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 920
--Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, 8 June 1755.]

There is a decided smack of the modern about the use the gang was put
to by the journeymen coopers of Bristol. Considering themselves
underpaid, they threatened to go on strike unless the masters raised
their wages. In this they were not entirely unanimous, however. One of
their number stood out, refusing to join the combine; whereupon the
rest summoned the gang and had the "blackleg" pressed for his
contumacy. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1542--Capt. Barker,
20 Aug. 1808, and enclosure.]

In pressing William Taylor of Broadstairs the gang nipped in the bud
as tender a romance as ever flourished in the shelter of the Kentish
cliffs, which is saying not a little. Taylor was only a poor
fisherman, and when he dared to make love to the pretty daughter of
the Ramsgate Harbour-Master, that exalted individual, who entertained
for the girl social ambitions in which fishermen's shacks had no
place, resented his advances as insufferable impertinence. A word to
Lieut. Leary, his friend at the local rendezvous, did the rest. Taylor
disappeared, and though he was afterwards discharged from His
Majesty's ship Utrecht on the score of his holding a Sea-Fencible's
ticket, the remedy had worked its cure and the Harbour-Master was
thenceforth free to marry his daughter where he would. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1450--Capt. Austen, 23 Sept. 1803.]

So natural is the transition from love to hate that no apology is
needed for introducing here the story of Sam Burrows, the ex-beadle of
Chester who fell a victim to the harsher in much the same manner as
Taylor did to the gentler passion. Burrows' evil genius was one Rev.
Lucius Carey, an Irish clergyman--whether Anglican or Roman we know
not, nor does it matter--who had contracted the unclerical habit of
carrying pistols and too much liquor. In this condition he was found
late one night knocking in a very violent manner at the door of the
"Pied Bull," and swearing that, while none should keep him out, any
who refused to assist him in breaking in should be shot down
forthwith. Burrows, the ex-beadle, happened to be passing at the
moment. He seized the drunken cleric and with the assistance of James
Howell, one of the city watchmen, forcibly removed him to the
watch-house, whence he was next day taken before the mayor and bound
over to appear at the Sessions. Now it happened that certain members
of the local press-gang were Carey's boon companions, so no sooner did
he leave the presence of the mayor than he looked them up. That same
evening Burrows was missing. Carey had found him a "hard bed,"
otherwise a berth on board a man-o'-war. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1532--Capt Birchall, 17 July 1804, and enclosures.]

In the columns of the _Westminster Journal_, under date of both
May 1743, we read of a sailor who, dying at Ringsend, was brought to
Irishtown church-yard, near Dublin, for burial. "When they laid him on
the ground," the narrative continues, "the coffin was observed to
stir, on which he was taken up, and by giving him some nourishment he
came to himself, and is likely to do well." Whether this sailor was
ever pressed, either before or after his abortive decease, we are not
informed; but there is on record at least one well-authenticated
instance of that calamity overtaking a person who had passed the
bourne whence none is supposed to return.

In the year 1723 a young lad whose name has not been preserved, but
who was at the time apprentice to a master sailmaker in London, set
out from that city to visit his people, living at Sandwich. He appears
to have travelled afoot, for, getting a "lift" on the road, he was
carried into Deal, where he arrived late at night, and having no money
was glad to share a bed with a seafaring man, the boatswain of an
Indiaman then in the Downs. From this circumstance sprang the events
which here follow. Along in the small hours of the night the lad
awoke, and finding the room stuffy and day on the point of breaking,
he rose and dressed, purposing to see the town in the cool of the
morning. The catch of the door, however, refused to yield under his
hand, and while he was endeavouring to undo it the noise he made
awakened the boatswain, who told him that if he looked in his breeches
pocket he would find a knife there with which he could lift the latch.
Acting on this hint, the lad succeeded in opening the door, and
thereupon went downstairs in accordance with his original intention.
When he returned some half-hour later, as he did for the purpose of
restoring the knife, which he had thoughtlessly slipped into his
pocket, the bed was empty and the boatswain gone. Of this he thought
nothing. The boatswain had talked, he remembered, of going off to his
ship at an early hour, in order, as he had said, to call the hands for
the washing down of the decks. The lad accordingly left the house and
went his way to Sandwich, where, as already stated, his people lived.

Meantime the old inn at Deal, and indeed the whole town, was thrown
into a state of violent commotion by a most shocking discovery. Going
about their morning duties at the inn, the maids had come to the bed
in which the boatswain and the apprentice had slept, and to their
horror found it saturated with blood. Drops of blood, together with
marks of blood-stained hands and feet, were further discovered on the
floor and the door of the chamber, down the stairs, and along the
passage leading to the street, whence they could be distinctly traced
to the waterside, not so very far away. Imagination, working upon
these ghastly survivals of the hours of darkness, quickly
reconstructed the crime which it was evident had been committed. The
boatswain was known to have had money on him; but the youth, it was
recalled, had begged his bed. It was therefore plain to the meanest
understanding that the youth had murdered the boatswain for his money
and thrown the body into the sea.

At once that terrible precursor of judgment to come, the hue and cry
was raised, and that night the footsore apprentice lay in Sandwich
jail, a more than suspected felon, for his speedy capture had supplied
what was taken to be conclusive evidence of his guilt. In his pocket
they discovered the boatswain's knife, and both it and the lad's
clothing were stained with blood. Asked whose blood it was, and how it
came there, he made no answer. Asked was it the boatswain's knife, he
answered, "Yes, it was," and therewith held his peace. In face of such
evidence, and such an admission, he stood prejudged. His trial at the
Assizes was a mere formality. The jury quickly found him guilty, and
sentence of death was passed upon him.

The day of execution came. Up to this point Fate had set her face
steadfastly against our apprentice lad; but now, in the very hour and
article of death, she suddenly relented and smiled upon him. The
dislocating "drop" was in those days unknown. When you were hanged,
you were hanged from a cart, which was suddenly whisked from under
you, leaving you dangling in mid-air like a kind of death-fruit
nearly, but not quite, ready to fall. Much depended on the
executioner, and that grim functionary was in this case a raw hand,
unused to his work, who bungled the job. The knot was ill-adjusted,
the rope too long, the convict tall and lank. This last circumstance
was no fault of the executioner's, but it helped. When they turned him
off, the lad's feet swept the ground, and his friends, gathering round
him like guardian angels, bore him up. Cut down at the end of a tense
half-hour, he was hurried away to a surgeon's and there copiously
bled. And being young and virile, he revived.

Trudging to Portsmouth some little time after, with the intention of
for ever leaving a country to which he was legally dead, he fell in
with one of the numerous press-gangs frequenting that road, and was
sent on board a man-o'-war. There, in course of time, he rose to be
master's mate, and in that capacity, whilst on the West-India station,
was transferred to another ship. On this ship he met the surprise of
his life--if life can be said to hold further surprises for one who
has died and lived again. As he stepped on deck the first person he
met was his old bed-fellow, the boatswain.

The explanation of the amazing series of events which led up to this
amazing meeting is very simple. On the evening of that fateful night
at Deal the boatswain, who had been ailing, was let blood. In his
sleep the bandage slipped and the wound reopened. Discovering his
condition when awakened by the apprentice, he rose and left the house,
intending to have the wound re-dressed by the barber-surgeon who had
inflicted it, with more effect than discretion, some hours earlier. At
the very door of the inn, however, he ran into the arms of a
press-gang, by whom he was instantly seized and hurried on board ship.
[Footnote: Watts, _Remarkable Events in the History of Man_,



The medieval writer who declared women to be "capable of disturbing
the air and exciting tempests" was not indulging a mere quip at the
expense of that limited storm area, his own domestic circle. He
expressed what in his day, and indeed for long after, was a cardinal
article of belief--that if you were so ill-advised as to take a woman
to sea, she would surely upset the weather and play the mischief with
the ship.

To this ungallant superstition none subscribed more heartily than the
sailor, though always, be it understood, with a mental reservation.
Unlike many landsmen who held a similar belief, he limited the malign
influence of the sex strictly to the high-seas, where, for that
reason, he vastly preferred woman's room to her company; but once he
was safe in port, woman in his opinion ceased to be dangerous, and he
then vastly preferred her company to her room.

For her companionship he had neither far to seek nor long to wait. It
was a case of

"Deal, Dover and Harwich,
The devil gave his daughter in marriage."

All naval seaports were full of women, and to prevent the supply from
running short thoughtful parish officials--church-wardens and other
well-meaning but sadly misguided people--added constantly to the
number by consigning to such doubtful reformatories the undesirable
females of their respective petty jurisdictions. The practice of
admitting women on board the ships of the fleet, too--a practice as
old as the Navy itself--though always forbidden, was universally
connived at and tacitly sanctioned. Before the anchor of the returning
man-of-war was let go a flotilla of boats surrounded her, deeply laden
with pitiful creatures ready to sell themselves for a song and the
chance of robbing their sailor lovers. No sooner did the boats lay
alongside than the last vestige of Jack's superstitious dread of the
malevolent sex went by the board, and discipline with it. Like monkeys
the sailors swarmed into the boats, where each selected a mate,
redeemed her from the grasping boatman's hands with money or blows
according to the state of his finances or temper, and so brought his
prize, save the mark! in triumph to the gangway. It was a point of
honour, not to say of policy, with these poor creatures to supply
their respective "husbands," as they termed them, with a drop of
good-cheer; so at the gangway they were searched for concealed liquor.
This was the only formality observed on such occasions, and as it was
enforced in the most perfunctory manner imaginable, there was always
plenty of drink going. Decency there was none. The couples passed
below and the hell of the besotted broke loose between decks, where
the orgies indulged in would have beggared the pen of a Balzac.
[Footnote: Statement of Certain Immoral Practices, 1822.]

During the earlier decades of the century these conditions, monstrous
though they were, passed almost unchallenged, but as time wore on and
their pernicious effects upon the _morale_ of the fleet became
more and more appalling, the service produced men who contended
strenuously, and in the end successfully, with a custom that, to say
the least of it, did violence to every notion of decency and clean
living. In 1746 the ship's company of the _Sunderland_ complained
bitterly because not even their wives were "suffer'd to come aboard to
see them." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1482--Capt. Brett,
22 Feb. 1745-6.] It was a sign of the times. By the year '78 the
practice had been fined down to a point where, if a wherry with a
woman in it were seen hovering in a suspicious manner about a ship of
war, the boatman was immediately pressed and the woman turned on
shore. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1498--Capt. Boteler, 18
April 1778.] Another twenty years, and the example of such men as
Jervis, Nelson and Collingwood laid the evil for good and all. The
seamen of the fleet themselves pronounced its requiescat when, drawing
up certain "Rules and Orders" for their own guidance during the mutiny
of '97, they ordained that "no woman shall be permitted to go on shore
from any ship, but as many come in as pleases." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 5125--A Detail of the Proceedings on Board
the _Queen Charlotte_ in the Year 1797.]

An unforeseen consequence of thus suppressing the sailor's impromptu
liaisons was an alarming increase in the number of desertions. On
shore love laughs at locksmiths; on shipboard it derided the
boatswain's mate. To run and get caught meant at the worst "only a
whipping bout," and, the sailor's hide being as tough as his heart was
tender, he ran and took the consequences with all a sailor's stoicism.
In this respect he was perhaps not singular. The woman in the case so
often counts for more than the punishment she brings.

Few of those who deserted their ships for amatory reasons had the
luck--viewing the escapade from the sailor's standpoint--that attended
the schoolmaster of the _Princess Louisa_. Going ashore at
Plymouth to fetch his chest from the London wagon, he succumbed to the
blandishments of an itinerant fiddler's wife, whom he chanced to meet
in the husband's temporary absence, and was in consequence "no more
heard of." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1478--Capt. Boys, 5
April 1742.]

Had it always been a case of the travelling woman, the sailor's flight
in response to the voice of the charmer would seldom have landed him
in the cells or exposed his back to the caress of the ship's cat.
Where he was handicapped in his love flights was this. The haunt or
home of his seducer was generally known to one or other of his
officers, and when this was not the case there were often other women
who gladly gave him away. "Captain Barrington, Sir," writes "Nancy of
Deptford" to the commander of a man-o'-war in the Thames, "there is a
Desarter of yours at the upper water Gate. Lives at the sine of the
mantion house. He is an Irishman, gose by the name of Youe (Hugh)
MackMullins, and is trying to Ruing a Wido and three Children, for he
has Insenuated into the Old Woman's faver so far that she must
Sartingly come to poverty, and you by Sarching the Cook's will find
what I have related to be true and much oblidge the hole parrish of
St. Pickles Deptford." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1495
--Capt. Barrington, 22 Oct. 1771, enclosure.]

A favourite resort of the amatory tar was that extra-parochial spot
known as the Liberty of the Fleet, where the nuptial knot could be
tied without the irksome formalities of banns or licence. The fact
strongly commended it to the sailor and brought him to the precinct in
great numbers.

"I remember once on a time," says Keith, the notorious Fleet parson,
"I was at a public-house at Ratcliffe, which was then full of Sailors
and their Girls. There was fiddling, piping, jigging and eating. At
length one of the Tars starts up and says: 'Damn ye, Jack! I'll be
married just now; I will have my partner.' The joke took, and in less
than two hours Ten Couples set out for the Flete. They returned in
Coaches, five Women in each Coach; the Tars, some running before, some
riding on the Coach Box, and others behind. The Cavalcade being over,
the Couples went up into an upper Room, where they concluded the
evening with great Jollity. The landlord said it was a common thing,
when a Fleet comes in, to have 2 or 3 Hundred Marriages in a week's
time among the Sailors." [Footnote: Keith, Observations on the Act for
Preventing Clandestine Marriages, 1753.]

In the "Press-Gang, or Love in Low Life," a play produced at Covent
Garden Theatre in 1755, Trueblue is pressed, not in, but out of the
arms of his tearful Nancy. The situation is distressingly typical. The
sailor's happiness was the gangsman's opportunity, however Nancy might
suffer in consequence.

For the average gangsman was as void of sentiment as an Admiralty
warrant, pressing you with equal avidity and absence of feeling
whether he caught you returning from a festival or a funeral. To this
callosity of nature it was due that William Castle, a foreign denizen
of Bristol who had the hardihood to incur the marital tie there, was
called upon, as related elsewhere, to serve at sea in the very heyday
of his honeymoon. Similarly, if four seamen belonging to the
_Dundee_ Greenland whaler had not stolen ashore one night at
Shields "to see some women," they would probably have gone down to
their graves, seawards or landwards, under the pleasing illusion that
the ganger was a man of like indulgent passions with themselves. The
negation of love, as exemplified in that unsentimental individual, was
thus brought home to many a seafaring man, long debarred from the
society of the gentler sex, with startling abruptness and force. The
pitiful case of the "Maidens Pressed," whose names are enrolled in the
pages of Camden Hotten, [Footnote: Hotten, List of Persons of Quality,
etc., who Went from England to the American Plantations.] is in no way
connected with pressing for naval purposes. Those unfortunates were
not victims of the gangsman's notorious hardness of heart, but of
their own misdeeds. Like the female disciples of the "diving hand"
stated by Lutterell [Footnote: Lutterell, Historical Relation of State
Affairs, 12 March 1706.] to have been "sent away to follow the army,"
they were one and all criminals of the Moll Flanders type who "left
their country for their country's good" under compulsion that differed
widely, both in form and purpose, from that described in these pages.

To assert, however, that women were never pressed, in the enigmatic
sense of their being taken by the gang for the manning of the fleet,
would be to do violence to the truth as we find it in naval and other
records. As a matter of fact, the direct contrary was the case, and
there were in the kingdom few gangs of which, at one time or another
in their career, it could not be said, as Southey said of the gang at
Bristol, that "they pressed a woman."

The incident alluded to will be familiar to all who know the poet as
distinguished from the Bard of Avon. It is found in the second
"English Eclogue," under the caption of the "Grandmother's Tale," and
has to do with the escapade, long famous in the more humorous annals
of Southey's native city, of blear-eyed Moll, a collier's wife, a
great, ugly creature whose voice was as gruff as a mastiff's bark, and
who wore habitually a man's hat and coat, so that at a few yards'
distance you were at a loss to know whether she was man or woman.

"There was a merry story told of her,
How when the press-gang came to take her husband
As they were both in bed, she heard them coming,
Drest John up in her nightcap, and herself
Put on his clothes and went before the captain."

A case of pressing on all-fours with this is said to have once
occurred at Portsmouth. A number of sailors, alarmed by the rumoured
approach of a gang while they were a-fairing, took it into their
heads, so the story goes, to effect a partial exchange of clothing
with their sweethearts, in the hope that the hasty shifting of
garments would deceive the gang and so protect them from the press. It
did. In their parti-garb make-up the women looked more sailorly than
the sailors themselves. The gang consequently pressed them, and there
were hilarious scenes at the rendezvous when the fair recruits were
"regulated" and the ludicrous mistake brought to light.

It was not only on shore, however, or on special occasions such as
this, that women played the sailor. A naval commander, accounting to
the Admiralty for his shortness of complement, attributes it mainly to
sickness, partly to desertion, and incidentally to the discharge of
one of the ship's company, "who was discovered to be a woman."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1503--Capt. Burney, 15 Feb.

His experience is capped by that of the master of the _Edmund and
Mary_, a vessel engaged in carrying coals to Ipswich. Shrewdly
suspecting one of his apprentices, a clever, active lad, to be other
than what he seemed, he taxed him with the deception. Taken unawares,
the lad burst into womanly tears and confessed himself to be the
runaway daughter of a north-country widow. Disgrace had driven her to
sea. [Footnote: _Naval Chronicle_, vol. xxx. 1813, p. 184.]

These instances are far from being unique, for both in the navy and
the mercantile marine the masquerading of women in male attire was a
not uncommon occurrence. The incentives to the adoption of a mode of
life so foreign to all the gentler traditions of the sex were various,
though not inadequate to so surprising a change. Amongst them
unhappiness at home, blighted virtue, the secret love of a sailor and
an abnormal craving for adventure and the romantic life were perhaps
the most common and the most powerful. The question of clothing
presented little difficulty. Sailors' slops could be procured almost
anywhere, and no questions asked. The effectual concealment of sex was
not so easy, and when we consider the necessarily intimate relations
subsisting between the members of a ship's crew, the narrowness of
their environment, the danger of unconscious betrayal and the risks of
accidental discovery, the wonder is that any woman, however masculine
in appearance or skilled in the arts of deception, could ever have
played so unnatural a part for any length of time without detection.
The secret of her success perhaps lay mainly in two assisting
circumstances. In theory there were no women at sea, and despite his
occasional vices the sailor was of all men the most unsophisticated
and simple-minded.

Conspicuous among women who threw the dust of successful deception in
the eyes of masters and shipmates is Mary Anne Talbot. Taking to the
sea as a girl in order to "follow the fortunes" of a young naval
officer for whom she had conceived a violent but unrequited affection,
she was known afloat as John Taylor. In stature tall, angular and
singularly lacking in the physical graces so characteristic of the
average woman, she passed for years as a true shellback, her sex
unsuspected and unquestioned. Accident at length revealed her secret.
Wounded in an engagement, she was admitted to hospital in consequence
of a shattered knee, and under the operating knife the identity of
John Taylor merged into that of Mary Anne Talbot. [Footnote: Times, 4
Nov. 1799.]

It is said, perhaps none too kindly or truthfully, that the lady
doctor of the present day no sooner sets up in practice than she
incontinently marries the medical man around the corner, and in many
instances the sailor-girl of former days brought her career on the
ocean wave to an equally romantic conclusion. However skilled in the
art of navigation she might become, she experienced a constitutional
difficulty in steering clear of matrimony. Maybe she steered for it.

A romance of this description that occasioned no little stir in its
day is associated with a name at one time famous in the West-India
trade. Through bankruptcy the name suffered eclipse, and the
unfortunate possessor of it retired to a remote neighbourhood, taking
with him his two daughters, his sole remaining family. There he
presently sank under his misfortunes. Left alone in the world, with
scarce a penny-piece to call their own, the daughters resolved on a
daring departure from the conventional paths of poverty.

Making their way to Portsmouth, they there dressed themselves as
sailors and in that capacity entered on board a man-o'-war bound for
the West Indies. At the first reduction of Curaçoa, in 1798, as in
subsequent naval engagements, both acquitted themselves like men. No
suspicion of the part they were playing, and playing with such
success, appears to have been aroused till a year or two later, when
one of them, in a brush with the enemy, was wounded in the side. The
surgeon's report terminated her career as a seaman.

[Illustration: MARY ANNE TALBOT.]

Meanwhile the other sister contracted tropical fever, and whilst
lying ill was visited by one of the junior officers of the ship.
Believing herself to be dying, she told him her secret, doubtless with
a view to averting its discovery after death. He confessed that the
news was no surprise to him. In fact, not only had he suspected her
sex, he had so far persuaded himself of the truth of his suspicions as
to fall in love with one of his own crew. The tonic effect of such
avowals is well known. The fever-stricken patient recovered, and on
the return of the ship to home waters the officer in question made his
late foremast hand his wife. [Footnote: Naval Chronicle, vol. viii.
1802, p. 60.]

Of all the veracious yarns that are told of girl-sailors, there is
perhaps none more remarkable than the story of Rebecca Anne Johnson,
the girl-sailor of Whitby. One night a hundred and some odd years ago
a Mrs. Lesley, who kept the "Bull" inn in Halfmoon Alley, Bishopsgate
Street, found at her door a handsome sailor-lad begging for food. He
had eaten nothing for four and twenty hours, he declared, and when
plied with supper and questions by the kind-hearted but inquisitive
old lady, he explained that he was an apprentice to the sea, and had
run from his ship at Woolwich because of the mate's unduly basting him
with a rope's-end. "What! you a 'prentice?" cried the landlady; and
turning his face to the light, she subjected him to a scrutiny that
read him through and through.

Next day, at his own request, he was taken before the Lord Mayor, to
whom he told his story. That he was a girl he freely admitted, and he
accounted for his appearing in sailor rig by asserting that a brutal
father had apprenticed him to the sea in his thirteenth year. More
astounding still, the same unnatural parent had actually bound her,
the sailor-girl's, mother, apprentice to the sea, and in that capacity
she was not only pressed into the navy, but killed at the battle of
Copenhagen, up to which time, though she had followed the sea for many
years and borne this child in the meantime, her sex had never once
been called in question. [Footnote: _Naval Chronicle_, vol. xx.
1808, p. 293.]

While woman was thus invading man's province at sea, that universal
feeder of the Navy, the pressgang, made little or no appeal to her as
a sphere of activity. On Portland Island, it is true, Lieut. McKey,
who commanded both the Sea-Fencibles and the press-gang there, rated
his daughter as a midshipman; [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
581--Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 15 April 1805] but with
this exception no woman is known to have added the hanger to her
adornment. The three merry maids of Taunton, who as gangsmen put the
Denny Bowl quarrymen to rout, were of course impostors.

But if the ganger's life was not for woman, there was ample
compensation for its loss in the wider activities the gang opened up
for her. The gangsman was nothing if not practical. He took the poetic
dictum that "men must work and women must weep"--a conception in his
opinion too sentimentally onesided to be tolerated as one of the
eternal verities of human existence--and improved upon it. By virtue
of the rough-and-ready authority vested in him he abolished the
distinction between toil and tears, decreeing instead that women
should suffer both.

"M'Gugan's wife?" growled Capt. Brenton, gang-master at Greenock, when
the corporation of that town ventured to point out to him that
M'Gugan's wife and children must inevitably come to want unless their
bread-winner, recently pressed, were forthwith restored to
them,--"_M'Gugan's wife is as able to get her bread as any woman in
the town!_" [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1511--Capt. Brenton,
15 Jan. 1795.]

For two hundred and fifty years, off and on--ever since, in fact, the
press-masters of bluff King Hal denuded the Dorset coast of fishermen
and drove the starving women of that region to sea in quest of food
[Footnote: _State Papers Domestic, Henry VIII_.: Lord Russell to
the Privy Council, 22 Aug. 1545.]--the press-gang had been laboriously
teaching English housewives this very lesson, the simple economic
truth that if they wanted bread for themselves and their families
while their husbands were fagging for their country at sea, they must
turn to and work for it. Yet in face of this fact here was M'Gugan's
wife trying to shirk the common lot. It was monstrous!

M'Gugan's wife ought really to have known better. The simplest
calculation, had she cared to make it, would have shown her the utter
futility of hoping to live on the munificent wage which a grateful
country allowed to M'Gugan, less certain deductions for M'Gugan's
slops and contingent sick-benefit, in return for his aid in protecting
it from its enemies; and almost any parish official could have told
her, what she ought in reason to have known already, that she was no
longer merely M'Gugan's wife, dependent upon his exertions for the
bread she ate, but a Daughter of the State and own sister to thousands
of women to whom the gang in its passage brought toil and poverty,
tears and shame--not, mark you, the shame of labour, if there be such
a thing, but the bedraggled, gin-sodden shame of the street, or, in
the scarce less dreadful alternative, the shame of the goodwife of the
ballad who lamented her husband's absence because, worse luck, sundry
of her bairns "were gotten quhan he was awa'."

Lamentable as this state of things undoubtedly was, it was
nevertheless one of the inevitables of pressing. You could not take
forcibly one hundred husbands and fathers out of a community of five
hundred souls, and pay that hundred husbands and fathers the barest
pittance instead of a living wage, without condemning one hundred
wives and mothers to hard labour on behalf of the three hundred
children who hungered. Out of this hundred wives and mothers a certain
percentage, again, lacked the ability to work, while a certain other
percentage lacked the will. These recruited the ranks of the outcast,
or with their families burdened the parish. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 5125--Memorial of the Churchwardens and Overseers of
the Poor of the Parish of Portsmouth, 3 Dec 1793, and numerous
instances.] The direct social and economic outcome of this mode of
manning the Navy, coupled with the payment of a starvation wage, was
thus threefold. It reversed the natural sex-incidence of labour; it
fostered vice; it bred paupers. The first was a calamity personal to
those who suffered it. The other two were national in their calamitous

In that great diurnal of the eighteenth-century navy, the Captains'
Letters and Admirals' Dispatches, no volume can be opened without
striking the broad trail of destitution, misery and heart-break, to
mention no worse consequences, left by the gang. At nearly every turn
of the page, indeed, we come upon recitals or petitions recalling
vividly the exclamation involuntarily let fall by Pepys the
tender-hearted when, standing over against the Tower late one summer's
night, he watched by moonlight the pressed men sent away: "Lord! how
some poor women did cry."

A hundred years later and their heritors in sorrow are crying still.
Now it is a bed-ridden mother bewailing her only son, "the principal
prop and stay of her old age"; again a wife, left destitute "with
three hopeful babes, and pregnant." And here, bringing up the rear of
the sad procession--lending to it, moreover, a touch of humour in
itself not far removed from tears--comes Lachlan M'Quarry. The gang
have him, and amid the Stirling hills, where he was late an indweller,
a motley gathering of kinsfolk mourn his loss--"me, his wife, two
Small helpless Children, an Aged Mother who is Blind, an Aged Man who
is lame and unfit for work, his father in Law, and a sister Insane,
with his Mother in Law who is Infirm." [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 1454--The Humble Petition of Jullions Thomson, Spouse
to Lachlan M'Quarry, 2 May 1812.] The fact is attested by the minister
and elders of the parish, being otherwise unbelievable; and Lachlan is
doubtless proportionately grieved to find himself at sea. Men whose
wives "divorced" them through the medium of the gang--a not uncommon
practice--experienced a similar grief.

Besides the regular employment it so generously provided for wives
bereft of their lawful support, the press-gang found for the women of
the land many an odd job that bore no direct relation to the earning
of their bread. When the mob demolished the Whitby rendezvous in '93,
it was the industrious fishwives of the town who collected the stones
used as ammunition on that occasion; and when, again, Lieut. M'Kenzie
unwisely impressed an able seaman in the house of Joseph Hook,
inn-keeper at Pill, it was none other than "Mrs. Hook, her daughter
and female servant" who fell upon him and tore his uniform in shreds,
thus facilitating the pressed man's escape "through a back way."
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1534--Lieut. M'Kenzie, 20 Oct.

The good people of Sunderland at one time indulged themselves in the
use of a peculiar catch-phrase. Whenever any feat of more than
ordinary daring came under their observation, they spoke of it as "a
case of Dryden's sister." The saying originated in this way. The
Sunderland gang pressed the mate of a vessel, one Michael Dryden, and
confined him in the tender's hold. One night Dryden's sister, having
in vain bribed the lieutenant in command to let him go, at the risk of
her life smuggled some carpenter's tools on board under the very
muzzles of the sentinel's muskets, and with these her brother and
fifteen other men cut their way to freedom. [Footnote: _Admiralty
Records_ 1. 2740--Lieut. Atkinson, 24 June and 10 July 1798.]

A tender lying in King Road, at the entrance to Bristol River, was the
scene of another episode of the "Dryden's sister" type. Going ashore
one morning, the lieutenant in command fell from the bank and broke
his sword. It was an ill omen, for in his absence the hard fate of the
twenty pressed men who lay in the tender's hold, "all handcuft to each
other," made an irresistible appeal to two women, pressed men's wives,
who had been with singular lack of caution admitted on board. Whilst
the younger and prettier of the two cajoled the sentinel from his
post, the elder and uglier secured an axe and a hatchet and passed
them unobserved through the scuttle to the prisoners below, who on
their part made such good use of them that when at length the
lieutenant returned he found the cage empty and the birds flown. The
shackles strewing the press-room bore eloquent testimony to the manner
of their flight. The irons had been hacked asunder, some of them with
as many as "six or seven Cutts." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_
1. 1490--Capt. Brown, 12 May 1759.]

Never, surely, did the gang provide an odder job for any woman than
the one it threw in the way of Richard Parker's wife. The story of his
part in the historic mutiny at the Nore is common knowledge. Her's,
being less familiar, will bear retelling. But first certain incidents
in the life of the man himself, some of them hitherto unknown, call
for brief narration.

Born at Exeter in or about the year 1764, it is not till some nineteen
years later, or, to be precise, the 5th of May 1783, that Richard
Parker makes his debut in naval records. On that date he appears on
board the _Mediator_ tender at Plymouth, in the capacity of a
pressed man. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ Ships' Musters, 1.
9307--Muster Book of H.M. Tender the _Mediator_.]

The tender carried him to London, where in due course he was delivered
up to the regulating officers, and by them turned over to the
_Ganges_, Captain the Honourable James Lutterell. This was prior
to the 30th of June 1783, the date of his official "appearance" on
board that ship. On the _Ganges_ he served as a midshipman--a
noteworthy fact [Footnote: Though one of rare occurrence, Parker's
case was not altogether unique; for now and then a pressed man by some
lucky chance "got his foot on the ladder," as Nelson put it, and
succeeded in bettering himself. Admiral Sir David Mitchell, pressed as
the master of a merchantman, is a notable example. Admiral Campbell,
"Hawke's right hand at Quiberon," who entered the service as a
substitute for a pressed man, is another; and James Clephen, pressed
as a sea-going apprentice, became master's-mate of the Doris, and
taking part in the cutting out of the Chevrette, a corvette of twenty
guns, from Cameret Bay, in 1801, was for his gallantry on that
occasion made a lieutenant, fought at Trafalgar and died a captain. On
the other hand, John Norris, pressed at Gallions Reach out of a
collier and "ordered to walk the quarter-deck as a midshipman," proved
such a "laisie, sculking, idle fellow," and so "filled the sloop and
men with vermin," that his promoter had serious thoughts of "turning
him ashore."--_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1477--Capt. Bruce, undated
letter, 1741.]--till the 4th of September following, when he was
discharged to the _Bull-Dog_ sloop by order of Admiral Montagu.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ Ships' Musters, 1. 10614--Muster
Book of H.M.S. _Ganges_.]

His transfer from the _Bull-Dog_ banished him from the
quarter-deck and sowed within him the seeds of that discontent which
fourteen years later made of him, as he himself expressed it, "a
scape-goat for the sins of many." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_
1. 5339--Dying Declaration of the Late Unfortunate Richard Parker, 28
June 1797.] He was now, for what reason we do not learn, rated as an
ordinary seaman, and in that capacity he served till the 15th of June
1784, when he was discharged sick to Haslar Hospital. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ Ships' Musters, 1. 10420, 10421--Muster Books
of H.M. Sloop _Bull-Dog_.]

At this point we lose track of him for a matter of nearly fourteen
years, but on the 31st of March 1797, the year which brought his
period of service to so tragic a conclusion, he suddenly reappears at
the Leith rendezvous as a Quota Man for the county of Perth.
Questioned as to his past, he told Brenton, then in charge of that
rendezvous, "that he had been a petty officer or acting lieutenant on
board the _Mediator_, Capt. James Lutterell, at the taking of
five prizes in 1783, when he received a very large proportion of
prize-money." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1517--Capt.
Brenton, 10 June 1797.] The inaccuracies evident on the face of this
statement are unquestionably due to Brenton's defective recollection
rather than to Parker's untruthfulness. Brenton wrote his report
nearly two and a half months after the event.

After a period of detention on board the tender at Leith, Parker, in
company with other Quota and pressed men, was conveyed to the Nore in
one of the revenue vessels occasionally utilised for that purpose, and
there put on board the _Sandwich_, the flag-ship for that
division of the fleet. At half-past nine on the morning of the 12th of
May, upon the 2nd lieutenant's giving orders to "clear hawse," the
ship's company got on the booms and gave three cheers, which were at
once answered from the _Director_. They then reeved yard-ropes as
a menace to those of the crew who would not join them, and trained the
forecastle guns on the quarter-deck as a hint to the officers. The
latter were presently put on shore, and that same day the mutineers
unanimously chose Parker to be their "President" or leader. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 5339--Court-Martial on Richard Parker:
Deposition of Lieut. Justice.] The fact that he had been pressed in
the first instance, and that after having served for a time in the
capacity of a "quarter-deck young gentleman" he had been
unceremoniously derated, singled him out for this distinction. There
was amongst the mutineers, moreover, no other so eligible; for
whatever Parker's faults, he was unquestionably a man of superior
ability and far from inferior attainments.

The reeving of yard-ropes was his idea, though he disclaimed it. An
extraordinary mixture of tenderness and savagery, he wept when it was
proposed to fire upon a runaway ship, the _Repulse_, but the next
moment drove a crowbar into the muzzle of the already heavily shotted
gun and bade the gunner "send her to hell where she belonged." "I'll
make a beefsteak of you at the yard-arm" was his favourite threat.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 5339--Court-Martial on Richard
Parker: Depositions of Capt. John Wood, of H.M. Sloop _Hound_,
William Livingston, boat-swain of the _Director_, and Thomas
Barry, seaman on board the _Monmouth._] It was prophetic, for
that way, as events quickly proved, lay the finish of his own career.

At nine o'clock on the morning of the 30th of June Parker, convicted
and sentenced to death after a fair trial, stood on the scaffold
awaiting his now imminent end. The halter, greased to facilitate his
passing, was already about his neck, and in one of his hands, which
had been freed at his own request, he held a handkerchief borrowed for
the occasion from one of the officers of the ship. This he suddenly
dropped. It was the preconcerted signal, and as the fatal gun boomed
out in response to it he thrust his hands into his pockets with great
rapidity and jumped into mid-air, meeting his death without a tremor
and with scarce a convulsion. Thanks to the clearness of the
atmosphere and the facility with which the semaphores did their work
that morning, the Admiralty learnt the news within seven minutes.
[Footnote: Trial and Life of Richard Parker, Manchester, 1797.] Now
comes the woman's part in the drama on which the curtain rose with the
pressing of Parker in '83, and fell, not with his execution at the
yard-arm of the _Sandwich_, as one would suppose, but four days
after that event.

In one of his spells of idleness ashore Parker had married a Scotch
girl, the daughter of an Aberdeenshire farmer--a tragic figure of a
woman whose fate it was to be always too late. Hearing that her
husband had taken the bounty, she set out with all speed for Leith,
only to learn, upon her arrival there, that he was already on his way
to the fleet. At Leith she tarried till rumours of his pending trial
reached the north country. The magistrates would then have put her
under arrest, designing to examine her, but the Admiralty, to whom
Brenton reported their intention, vetoed the proceeding as
superfluous. The case against Parker was already complete. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1517--Capt. Brenton, 15 June 1797, and
endorsement.] Left free to follow the dictates of her tortured heart,
the distracted woman posted south.

Eating his last breakfast in the gun-room of the _Sandwich_,
Parker talked affectionately of his wife, saying that he had made his
will and left her a small estate he was heir to. Little did he dream
that she was then within a few miles of him.

The _Sandwich_ lay that morning above Blackstakes, the headmost
ship of the fleet, and at the moment when Parker leapt from her
cathead scaffold a boat containing his wife shot out into the stream.
He was run up to the yard-arm before her very eyes. She was again too

He hung there for an hour. Meantime, with a tenacity of purpose as
touching as her devotion, the unhappy woman applied to the Admiral for
the body of her husband. She was denied, and Parker's remains were
committed to the new naval burial ground, beyond the Red-Barrier Gate
leading to Minster. The burial took place at noon. By nightfall the
grief-stricken woman had come to an amazing resolution. _She would
steal the body_.

Ten o'clock that night found her at the place of interment. Save for
the presence of the sentinel at the adjoining Barrier Gate, the
loneliness of the spot favoured her design, but a ten-foot palisade
surrounded the grounds, and she had neither tools nor helpers.
Unexpectedly three women came that way. To them she disclosed her
purpose, praying them for the love of God to help her. Perhaps they
were sailors' wives. Anyhow, they assented, and the four
body-snatchers scaled the fence.

[Illustration: MARY ANNE TALBOT. Dressed as a sailor.]

The absence of tools, as it happened, presented no serious impediment
to the execution of their design. The grave was a shallow one, the
freshly turned mould loose and friable. Digging with their hands, they
soon uncovered the coffin, which they then contrived to raise and
hoist over the cemetery gates into the roadway, where they sat upon it
to conceal it from chance passers-by till four o'clock in the morning.
It was then daylight. The neighbouring drawbridge was let down, and, a
fish-cart opportunely passing on its way to Rochester, the driver was
prevailed upon to carry the "lady's box" into that town. A guinea
served to allay his suspicions.

Three days later a caravan drew up before the "Hoop and Horseshoe"
tavern, in Queen Street, Little Tower Hill. A woman alighted
--furtively, for it was now broad daylight, whereas she had
planned to arrive while it was still dark. A watchman chanced to pass
at the moment, and the woman's strange behaviour aroused his
suspicions. Pulling aside the covering of the van, he looked in and
saw there the rough coffin containing the body of Parker, which the
driver of the caravan had carried up from Rochester for the sum of six
guineas. Later in the day the magistrates sitting at Lambeth Street
Police Court ordered its removal, and it was deposited in the vaults
of Whitechapel church. [Footnote: Trial and Life of Richard Parker,
Manchester, 1797.]

Full confirmation of this extraordinary story, should any doubt it,
may be found in the registers of the church in question. Amongst the
burials there we read this entry: "_July, 1797, Richard Parker,
Sheerness, Kent, age 33. Cause of death, execution. This was Parker,
the President of the Mutinous Delegates on board the fleet at the
Nore. He was hanged on board H.M.S._ Sandwich _on the 30th day of
June_." [Footnote: Burial Registers of St. Mary Matfellon,
Whitechapel, 1797.]



Once the gang had a man in its power, his immediate destination was
either the rendezvous press-room or the tender employed as a
substitute for that indispensable place of detention.

The press-room, lock-up or "shut-up house," as it was variously
termed, must not be confounded with the press-room at Newgate, where
persons indicted for felony, and perversely refusing to plead, were
pressed beneath weights till they complied with that necessary legal
formality. From that historic cell the rendezvous press-room differed
widely, both in nature and in use. Here the pressed men were confined
pending their dispatch to His Majesty's ships. As a matter of course
the place was strongly built, heavily barred and massively bolted,
being in these respects merely a commonplace replica of the average
bridewell. Where it differed from the bridewell was in its walls.
Theoretically these were elastic. No matter how many they held, there
was always room within them for more. As late as 1806 the press-room
at Bristol consisted of a cell only eight feet square, and into this
confined space sixteen men were frequently packed. [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 581--Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous,
14 March 1806.]

Nearly everywhere it was the same gruesome story. The sufferings of
the pressed man went for nothing so long as the pressed man was kept.
Provided only the bars were dependable and the bolts staunch, anything
would do to "clap him up in." The town "cage" came in handy for the
purpose; and when no other means of securing him could be found, he
was thrust into the local prison like a common felon, often amidst
surroundings unspeakably awful.

According to the elder Wesley, no "seat of woe" on this side of the
Bottomless Pit outrivalled Newgate except one. [Footnote: London
Chronicle, 6 Jan. 1761.] The exception was Bristol jail. A filthy,
evil-smelling hole, crowded with distempered prisoners without medical
care, it was deservedly held in such dread as to "make all seamen fly
the river" for fear of being pressed and committed to it. For when the
eight-foot cell at the rendezvous would hold no more, Bristol pressed
men were turned in here--to come out, if they survived the
pestilential atmosphere of the place, either fever-stricken or
pitiful, vermin-covered objects from whom even the hardened gangsman
shrank with fear and loathing. [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1490--Capt. Brown, 4 Aug. 1759.] Putting humane considerations
entirely aside, it is well-nigh inconceivable that so costly an asset
as the pressed man should ever have been exposed to such sanitary
risks. The explanation doubtless lies in the enormous amount of
pressing that was done. The number of men taken was in the aggregate
so great that a life more or less was hardly worth considering.

Of ancient use as a county jail, Gloucester Castle stood far higher in
the pressed man's esteem as a place of detention than did its sister
prison on the Avon. The reason is noteworthy. Richard Evans, for many
years keeper there, possessed a magic palm. Rub it with silver in
sufficient quantity, and the "street door of the gaol" opened before
you at noonday, or, when at night all was as quiet as the keeper's
conscience, a plank vanished from the roof of your cell, and as you
stood lost in wonder at its disappearance there came snaking down
through the hole thus providentially formed a rope by the aid of
which, if you were a sailor or possessed of a sailor's agility and
daring, it was feasible to make your escape over the ramparts of the
castle, though they towered "most as high as the Monument." [Footnote:
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1490--Capt. Brown, 28 April and 26 May

In the absence of the gang on road or other extraneous duty the
precautions taken for the safety of pressed men were often very
inadequate, and this circumstance gave rise to many an impromptu
rescue. Sometimes the local constable was commandeered as a temporary
guard, and a story is told of how, the gang having once locked three
pressed men into the cage at Isleworth and stationed the borough
watchman over them, one Thomas Purser raised a mob, demolished the
door of the cage, and set its delighted occupants free amid frenzied
shouts of: "Pay away within, my lads! and we'll pay away without. Damn
the constable! He has no warrant." [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_
7. 298--Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. 99.]

In strict accordance with the regulations governing, or supposed to
govern, the keeping of rendezvous, the duration of the pressed man's
confinement ought never to have exceeded four-and-twenty hours from
the time of his capture; but as a matter of fact it often extended far
beyond that limit. Everything depended on the gang. If men were
brought in quickly, they were as quickly got rid of; but when they
dribbled in in one's and two's, with perhaps intervals of days when
nothing at all was doing, weeks sometimes elapsed before a batch of
suitable size could be made ready and started on its journey to the

All this time the pressed man had to be fed, or, as they said in the
service, subsisted or victualled, and for this purpose a sum varying
from sixpence to ninepence a day, according to the cost of provisions,
was allowed him. On this generous basis he was nourished for a hundred
years or more, till one day early in the nineteenth century some
half-score of gaunt, hungry wretches, cooped up for eight weary weeks
in an East-coast press-room during the rigours of a severe winter,
made the startling discovery that the time-honoured allowance was
insufficient to keep soul and body together. They accordingly
addressed a petition to the Admiralty, setting forth the cause and
nature of their sufferings, and asking for a "rise." A dozen years
earlier the petition would have been tossed aside as insolent and
unworthy of consideration; but the sharp lesson of the Nore mutiny
happened to be still fresh in their Lordships' memories, so with
unprecedented generosity and haste they at once augmented the
allowance, and that too for the whole kingdom, to fifteen-pence a day.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1546--Petition of the Pressed
Men at King's Lynn, 27 Jan. 1809, and endorsement.]

It was a red-letter day for the pressed man. A single stroke of the
official pen had raised him from starvation to opulence, and
thenceforward, when food was cheap and the purchasing power of the
penny high, he regaled himself daily, as at Limerick in 1814, on such
abundant fare as a pound of beef, seven and a half pounds of potatoes,
a pint of milk, a quart of porter, a boiling of greens and a mess of
oatmeal; or, if he happened to be a Catholic, on fish and butter twice
a week instead of beef. The quantity of potatoes is worthy of remark.
It was peculiar to Ireland, where the lower classes never used bread.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1455--Capt. Argles, 1 March

Though faring thus sumptuously at his country's expense, the pressed
man did not always pass the days of his detention in unprofitable
idleness. There were certain eventualities to be thought of and
provided against. Sooner or later he must go before the "gent with the
swabs" and be "regulated," that is to say, stripped to the waist, or
further if that exacting officer deemed it advisable, and be
critically examined for physical ailments and bodily defects. In this
examination the local "saw-bones" would doubtless lend a hand, and to
outwit the combined skill of both captain and surgeon was a point of
honour with the pressed man if by any possibility it could be done.
With this laudable end in view he devoted much of his enforced leisure
to the rehearsal of such symptoms and the fabrication of such defects
as were best calculated to make him a free man.

For the sailor to deny his vocation was worse than useless. The
ganger's shrewd code--"All as says they be land-lubbers when I says
they baint, be liars, and all liars be seamen"--effectually shut that
door in his face. There were other openings, it is true, whereby a
knowing chap might wriggle free, but officers and medicoes were
extremely "fly." He had not practised his many deceptions upon them
through long years for nothing. They well knew that on principle he
"endeavoured by every stratagem in his power to impose"--that he was,
in short, a cunning cheat whose most serious ailments were to be
regarded with the least sympathy and the utmost suspicion. Yet in
spite of this disquieting fact the old hand, whom long practice had
made an adept at deception, and who, when he was so inclined, could
simulate "complaints of a nature to baffle the skill of any
professional man," [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1540--Capt.
Barker, 5 Nov. 1807.] rarely if ever faced the ordeal of regulating
without "trying it on." Often, indeed, he anticipated it. There was
nothing like keeping his hand in.

Fits were his great stand-by, [Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1.
1534--Capt. Barker, 11 Jan. 1805, and many instances.] and the time he
chose for these convulsive turns was generally night, when he could
count upon a full house and nothing to detract from the impressiveness
of the show. Suddenly, at night, then, a weird, horribly inarticulate
cry is heard issuing from the press-room, and at once all is uproar
and confusion. Unable to make himself heard, much less to restore
order, and fearing that murder is being done amongst the pressed men,
the sentry hastily summons the officer, who rushes down, half-dressed,
and hails the press-room.

"Hullo! within there. What's wrong?"

Swift silence. Then, "Man in a fit, sir," replies a quavering voice.

"Out with him!" cries the officer.

Immediately, the door being hurriedly unbarred, the "case" is handed
out by his terrified companions, who are only too glad to be rid of
him. To all appearances he is in a true epileptic state. In the light
of the lantern, held conveniently near by one of the gangsmen, who
have by this time turned out in various stages of undress, his
features are seen to be strongly convulsed. His breathing is laboured
and noisy, his head rolls incessantly from side to side. Foam tinged
with blood oozes from between his gnashing teeth, flecking his lips
and beard, and when his limbs are raised they fall back as rigid as
iron. [Footnote: Almost the only symptom of _le grand mal_ which
the sailor could not successfully counterfeit was the abnormal
dilation of the pupils so characteristic of that complaint, and this
difficulty he overcame by rolling his eyes up till the pupils were

After surveying him critically for a moment the officer, if he too is
an old hand, quietly removes the candle from the lantern and with a
deft turn of his wrist tips the boiling-hot contents of the tallow cup
surrounding the flaming wick out upon the bare arm or exposed chest of
the "case." When the fit was genuine, as of course it sometimes was,
the test had no particular reviving effect; but if the man were
shamming, as he probably was in spite of the great consistency of his
symptoms, the chances were that, with all his nerve and foreknowledge
of what was in store for him, the sudden biting of the fiery liquid
into his naked flesh would bring him to his feet dancing with pain and
cursing and banning to the utmost extent of his elastic vocabulary.

When this happened, "Put him back," said the officer. "He'll do, alow
or aloft."

Going aloft at sea was the true epileptic's chief dread. And with good
reason, for sooner or later it meant a fall, and death.

In the meantime other enterprising members of the press-room community
made ready for the scrutiny of the official eye in various ways,
practising many devices for procuring a temporary disability and a
permanent discharge. Some, horrible thought! "rubbed themselves with
Cow Itch and Whipped themselves with Nettles to appear in Scabbs";
others "burnt themselves with oil of vitriol" to induce symptoms with
difficulty distinguishable from those of scurvy, that disease of such
dread omen to the fleet; whilst others emulated the passing of the
poor consumptive of the canting epitaph, whose "legs it was that
carried her off." Bad legs, indeed, ran a close race with fits in the
pressed man's sprint for liberty. They were so easily induced, and so
cheaply. The industrious application of the smallest copper coin
procurable, the humble farthing or the halfpenny, speedily converted
the most insignificant abrasion of the skin into a festering sore.
[Footnote: _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1439--Capt. Ambrose, 20 June
1741; _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1544--Capt. Bowyer, 18 Dec. 1808;
_Admiralty Records_ 1. 1451--A. Clarke, Examining Surgeon at
Dublin, 18 May 1807; _Admiralty Records_ 1. 1517--Letters of
Capt. Brenton, March and April 1797, and many instances.]

Here and there a man of iron nerve, acting on the common belief that
if you had lost a finger the Navy would have none of you, adopted a
more heroic method of shaking off the clutch of the gang. Such a man
was Samuel Caradine, some time inhabitant of Kendal. Committed to the
House of Correction there as a preliminary to his being turned over to
the fleet for crimes that he had done, he expressed a desire to bid
farewell to his wife. She was sent for, and came, apparently not
unprepared; for after she had greeted her man through the iron door of
his cell, "he put his hand underneath, and she, with a mallet and
chisel concealed for the purpose, struck off a finger and thumb to
render him unfit for His Majesty's service." [Footnote: _Times_,
3 Nov. 1795.]

A stout-hearted fellow named Browne, who hailed from Chester, would
have made Caradine a fitting mate. "Being impressed into the sea
service, he very violently determined, in order to extricate himself
therefrom, to mutilate the thumb and a finger of his left hand; which
he accomplished by repeatedly maiming them with an old hatchet that he
had obtained for that purpose. He was immediately discharged."
[Footnote: _Liverpool Advertiser_, 6 June 1777.] Such men as
these were a substantial loss to the service. Fighting a gun shoulder
to shoulder, what fearful execution would they not have wrought upon
the "hereditary enemy"!

Book of the day: