Like most of Oglethorpe’s subsequent publications, except for the parliamentary reports, The Sailors Advocate appeared anonymously. In his 1777 reprint Oglethorpe credited the pamphlet to “some of the most respectable Members in the Opposition” (p. v). They probably contributed mainly to the appendix; and doubtless they furnished ideas and suggestions for the central essay. But apparently Oglethorpe wrote that essay, edited the appendix, and later wrote the introduction. In his catalog of his own works Granville Sharp listed as No. 16 “Addition to the Preface of the Sailor’s Advocate. (A Work of General Oglethorpe.)” Sharp’s biographer, Prince Hoare, confirmed that the pamphlet was “written by his [Sharp’s] veteran friend”;1 and in the second edition of the Memoirs of Granville Sharp he added, “In a copy sent to me by a friend, is the following marginal note, in Mr. Sharp’s hand-writing: ‘No part of this work was written by G.S., except the Letter to the Editor (Old General Oglethorpe), from p. x to p. xvii of the Introduction.’”2 Sharp was certainly in a position to know. Not only did he contribute to the “eighth” edition, of 1777, but he was a close friend of the general during the last decade of his life and an executor and legatee of Mrs. Oglethorpe.
Among those who contributed to The Sailors Advocate must be listed John Drummond of Stirling, probably Captain Edward Vernon, and perhaps Giles Earle. John Drummond must have contributed appendix 3, for among the members of Parliament only he could be called a “Dutch Trader.” In the debates on naval legislation he advocated two shillings a month additional pay and other benefits for volunteers.3 Vernon may have collaborated with Oglethorpe on the central essay: the scenes where the writer appears aboard a press-smack and at the Admiralty Office come more plausibly from Captain Vernon than from Oglethorpe. An M.P. who was to serve on both of Oglethorpe’s prison committees, Vernon protested to the Admiralty his dislike for the restraint and confinement that the system of impressment placed on seamen, and in advocating reform went to lengths not always tactful or practicable. Thus during the 1728 debate on the payment of seamen, he incurred public reprimand when, in order to make copies, he removed a paper from the desk of the Speaker of the House while debate was ongoing.4 Appendix 1, by someone “bred in the Land-service,” may have been contributed by Giles Earle. He had been deprived of his military commission for opposing the administration, had served 1718–20 as Groom of the Bedchamber to the Prince of Wales (George II) while Samuel Molyneux was his secretary, and was to be one of Oglethorpe’s principal assistants on the prison committees.
In The Sailors Advocate Oglethorpe attacked the injustices that were suffered by the sailors of the Royal Navy, particularly their forcible recruitment by press-gangs.5 The navies of France, Holland, and Sweden, Oglethorpe made clear, relied upon no such practice. But in spite of the Briton’s fabled constitutional rights, the British Admiralty had, under the plea of alleged necessity, continually utilized this method of recruitment, citing legal precedents to sanction the practice.6 Impressment had been lamented and attacked for centuries; and in 1696 a method of voluntary naval registration had been instituted, but it was awkwardly devised and ill-administered, and it proved useless.7
Another major injustice that Oglethorpe attacked in The Sailors Advocate was the amount of the sailor’s pay and the method of payment. Since 1696 the rate had not increased. Moreover sailors were paid only infrequently; their pay was always several months late; and they were given not cash, but promissory tickets redeemable only at the London Pay Office or by a dockyard commissioner.8 The sailors were usually forced to cash these tickets at a considerable discount. The families especially suffered from such a practice, for voyages sometimes lasted for more than a year; and when the sailors came home, they were often “turned over” — transferred to an outgoing vessel.
A number of proposals for reform had appeared toward the close of the previous century, when the act of 1696 was being considered,9 and again in 1720, when naval legislation (eventually aborted) was pending, especially John Orlebar’s A Scheme Whereby His Majesty Would Never Want a Choice of Able Seamen. A member of Parliament who had been Oglethorpe’s contemporary at Eton and who was to serve on both of his prison committees, Orlebar advocated prompt payment of wages in cash at the end of a cruise, and concern for the sailors’ families.10 In or about 1727, other pamphlets proposed similar reforms.11
The immediate occasion of The Sailors Advocate, however, was the opening address of King George II to Parliament, on January 23, 1728. Possibly at the suggestion of his former secretary, Samuel Molyneux, who was now an M.P. and a Lord of the Admiralty, King George informed Parliament that he wished “to see the Foundation laid of so great and necessary a Work, as the Increase and Encouragement of our Seamen in general, that they may be invited, rather than compelled by Force and Violence, to enter into the Service of their Country.”12
Hitherto dated only 1728, The Sailors Advocate appeared on or about February 13. On that day the Daily Journal advertised it as published “This Day,” the first number of a new periodical. Thus The Sailors Advocate was printed only three weeks after George II recommended voluntary recruitment and apparently one day before a motion was made in Commons to bring in a bill “for encouraging Seamen, entering voluntarily into his Majesty’s Service.”13 The second and last number appeared in April, while discussion was still deadlocked—merely a reprint of the anonymous An Enquiry into the Causes of our Naval Miscarriages (1707).14
Since the three weeks that elapsed between the king’s speech and the publication of The Sailors Advocate would hardly have allowed Oglethorpe time to solicit contributions, prepare the central essay, gather the material for the appendixes, and have the pamphlet printed and advertised, he probably had some prior notice of the king’s intentions, possibly through his friend John Percival, later Lord Egmont, a relative of Samuel Molyneux. Molyneux “formed schemes for the improvement of the navy,” and may have authored “Some Considerations relating to the Seamen of the Kingdom,” written about 1726–27 and discovered among the papers of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole.15 The author there admitted pressing as “the ratio ultima to supply any sudden occasions and to fill up our ships complements when the volunteers shall not be numerous enough to do it.”16 But the thrust of this extensive report, with its numerous recommendations, was to promote enlistment by granting numerous special concessions and privileges to volunteers.
Through Percival, Molyneux himself, or Vernon, Oglethorpe apparently learned that the Admiralty and the Walpole administration intended to frame and force through Parliament a bill that would make some improvements in the recruitment of sailors, but would in effect recognize pressing as a legal means of manning the navy; and he must have anticipated that the committee of the House would be stacked in favor of the Admiralty. When the bill to encourage voluntary enlistment was ordered, on February 14, the small committee was indeed dominated by the Admiralty and the administration.
In naval history there has been some misinformation about the purpose and effect of The Sailors Advocate, even the allegation that it helped to defeat the intended improvements.17 But several ameliorations were made in the legislation of 1728 because of the determined opposition to the Admiralty-drafted bill and doubtless, in part, because of The Sailors Advocate. These reforms were introduced into the bill by the opposition on the floor of the House. For example, on March 6 the House ordered that the committee “receive a Clause for preventing Seamen from being arrested for small Debts, during such Time as they do actually belong to any of his Majesty’s Ships of War.”18 This provision became part of the new law.19 A few days later, after the House discovered that the Admiralty had been misapplying funds specifically designated for sailors’ pay and that it had consequently been forced to pay in promissory tickets, it ordered that the committee of the whole House “receive a Clause, for providing for the punctual Payment of what Moneys shall become due to the Seamen for short Allowance” and another “to provide, that all impressed Seamen, in his Majesty’s Service, shall be discharged, and paid off, after a certain Time to be limited.”20 On April 15 it ordered a clause “for preventing Seamen being left in foreign Parts,”21 a measure shortly enacted into law.22 Perhaps because these measures unduly complicated the original bill, on May 2 the consideration of pay was separated from the original bill; and a small committee was appointed to bring in a bill providing for “the constant, regular, and punctual Payment of Seamens Wages.”23 Dominated by the legal administration and the Treasury, the new committee included Robert Jacomb, of the firm of Gibson, Jacob, and Jacomb, money leaders who specialized in discounting seamen’s tickets. When on May 17 a motion was made as an instruction to the new committee “for preventing Persons from making unjust Advantages of the Necessities of Seamen in the Service of the Crown,” it was voted down.24 Reform was difficult when vested interests opposed. But in the opinion of Daniel A. Baugh, distinguished historian of the British navy, the bill that provided for proper pay was “the first statutory attempt to put the system of payment on a modern footing.”25 Oglethorpe’s first pamphlet had at least played a part.
Of the 1728 edition, a quarto in half sheets, there are uncorrected and corrected states, represented respectively by the Goldsmith copy, in the Library of the University of London, and the Kress copy, in the Baker Library of Harvard University.26 The pamphlet, as Oglethorpe stated, was hurriedly prepared and printed in order to sway public opinion and especially Parliament toward honoring the king’s plea for better conditions for the seamen and the abolition of impressment. Oglethorpe apparently read proof late and hurriedly. Most of the copies that I have been able to examine represent the uncorrected state; and even in the corrected state glaring errors occur that remained uncorrected until 1777, like “morality” for “mortality,” “Duth” for “Dutch,” and “belive” for “believe.”
In the “seventh” edition Oglethorpe added an introduction; and in the “eighth” he added a letter from his friend Granville Sharp. In strict bibliographical terminology there were evidently only three editions: those of 1728 and 1777 and the reprint, slightly abridged, in Abel Boyer’s Political State of Great Britain for 1728 (35:245–65). Perhaps Oglethorpe counted as editions also his 1728 reprint of the anonymous Enquiry and its reprint in 1744 in The Harleian Miscellany.
The text and appendix I reprint from the corrected, Kress copy. Since the 1777 text is a page-for-page reprint of the 1728 edition, at least through appendix 2, and incorporates only one substantive change, I record the change in a note, but ignore the many modernizations in punctuation and spelling. The introduction I reprint from the “seventh” edition, of 1777.
Printed for H. Whitridge, under the Royal-Exchange; and sold by J. Roberts in Warwick-Lane, and by the Book-sellers of London and Westminster, and the principal Towns in Great-Britain.
[Price Six Pence.]
THOSE who please to favour the Author with their Correspondence, are desired to direct to the SAILORS ADVOCATE at Mr. Whitridge’s the corner of Castle-Alley, under the Royal-Exchange, Cornhill.
STATESMEN from the most antient times have had a kind of itching Palm: to quiet which, and to fill their purses, they continually filch from the people under the pretence of loyalty and zeal for the Service of the Crown, using “the Tyrant’s Plea,—NECESSITY*.”27
This Thing of Pressing is a good Milch Cow to the Admiralty. Protections, Passports, Exemptions, Accompts and Charges of Press Gangs without checque, &c. &c. are perquisites, which mount higher than those of the Chancellor, Chief Justices, and Judges put altogether.
The Revolution remedied the evil, but the Admiralty thought it too sweet a morsel to be parted with, and have continually been nibbling to get at it again; but the Courts of Law, and the People of England, being always aware of them, like Cats have watched the mice, and every now and then have given a Gripe to the Admiralty Court. Some of the Admiralty have been smartly punished for exceeding their powers, but still the Mouse had a mind to the Cheese; and in the Year 1727, Sir Charles Wager,28 by the advice of Jacome and Gibson (two money Scrivenors and buyers of Sailors Tickets) strove to knaw a hole that he might once more get at the sweet morsel. But the Spirit of the Constitution was, at that time, so high in Parliament, that the Promoters of Admiralty Powers durst not publicly set their faces against the Laws and Rights of the Kingdom; and therefore, that they might steal a confession of their absurd method of kidknapping the Men and the Cash of the Kingdom under the name of PRESSING, they intended to deceive and surprize the King and Parliament by “the fair flattering”† Pretence of manning the Navy in an open and generous manner.
The King, in his speech of that year, nobly recommended to the House of Commons to consider the method of manning the Navy by Encouragement, in order to prevent all complaints of Grievances: but the Admiralty drew up a Bill, which pointed at the very contrary! It was to oppress the Subject; — and this they thought to obtain by making an express distinction in the Bill between Volunteers and pressed Men, hoping that a Court of Law by seeing the Words Pressed Men mentioned in the Act, would from thence draw an inference that such a thing as pressing was recognized by Parliament to exist in law.
With this View a Bill was moved for, drawn by the Admiralty Clerks, brought in, Read twice, and committed; when the Design appeared so bare-faced that it raised a general opposition, and the Minister “who had not seen Pharsalia”30 and had not, therefore, lost all shame, blushed at the absurdity of his Admiralty-Friends.
Besides which, the Opposition of Sir Joseph Jekyll, Serjeant Pingelly, Mr. Lutwyche, Mr. Shippen, Mr. Arthur Onslow, then Speaker (as also some Persons even now alive) the Landed Gentlemen, Sir James Lowther, the Cities of London and Bristol, and the Out Ports, gathered such strength, that in spite of the Court they threw out the mention of Pressed Men in every part of the Bill. In the Debates it was discovered that the Admiralty had misapplied the money appropriated for paying Seamen, and had left a debt upon the Head of Wages, which, by obliging them to give Tickets instead of Cash, so much distressed the Seamen, that it was manifestly one of the causes which prevented them from inlisting into the Service.
Out of this Oppression the Ticket Buyers made their great perquisite. To remedy which, the Opposition pointed out that the Charge of the Navy was divided into Heads of Payment, one of which was Wages; they therefore gave £ 500,000 to clear that Head of Wages, and thereby to prevent for ever the pretence of not paying the Wages when they became due.
Wages are the motive upon which Freemen give their service: but if men are forced to serve without their own consent, they are Slaves and not Freemen. By this proceeding it plainly appeared to be the sense of Parliament that PRESSING is not only illegal, but that the true method of raising Men was to provide and pay them Sums equal to the Value of their Service.
During the agitation of this Question many Petitions came to Parliament setting forth the Grievances of Pressing; and the annexed Tract, THE SAILORS ADVOCATE, was then printed, having been composed by some of the most respectable Members in the Opposition, of whom we are happy to say some yet survive, and still maintain the same public Spirit.
This little Tract is now republished to keep up in the people of the present age the Knowledge and Spirit of their Predecessors. Many Years after the Correction of the abovementioned Bill, Sir Charles Wager, who could not leave off nibbling, served up once more the former Absurdities, like chewed meat in a French Ragout; for in the Year 1741 he brought in another Bill, under the Title indeed of “An Act for the Encouragement and Increase of Seamen;” but the “PURVIEW,” as before, “tended in the execution contrary ex diametro,” viz. to authorize all the Absurdities of Pressing. The House, after many Debates, threw out every word that expressed any Idea of countenancing Pressing; and those Debates are wonderfully curious and of great Authority, on account of the very eminent characters at that time in the House who were engaged in the examination of this Question.
The present Editor has subjoined to this little preface the Titles and Preambles of the two Acts which were the occasion of the following Essay,31 called THE SAILORS ADVOCATE, and also references to some other Statutes relating to this subject, in order to shew that the Admiralty Court hath no power of Acting within the Realm, and much less of selling Protections, (levying money without consent of Parliament) and of seizing the Persons of Men without a legal process in a Court of Record, according to the common Law of England.
As for the Admiralty Court, it is not (in its ordinary Process) a Court of English Law, but acts upon corrupt Traditions and Tyrannical Maxims growing out of the Lees of the Roman Tyranny, being a mere Farrago of Prerogative, which is so justly exposed by the excellent Fortescue.*
This Court however hath not, as yet, been completely consigned to the deserved fate of the Court of the Lord President of Wales, and of the Court and Council of the Lord President of the North, of the Star Chamber, Council Table, &c. &c. all which, upon full examination, were taken away as insufferable grievances.
The First Publication of THE SAILORS ADVOCATE was occasioned by the Debates on the Two following Acts of Parliament:
Anno primo Georgii II. Regis, c. 14.
An Act for Encouraging Seamen to enter into His Majesty’s Service.
WHEREAS nothing will more effectually contribute to the promoting and advancing the Naval Strength of this Kingdom, than the endeavouring by DUE AND FITTING ENCOURAGEMENTS to invite Mariners and Seamen to enter willingly into the Service of their Country, as often as Occasion shall require; and whereas His Majesty, out of His Princely Concern for the Increase and Encouragement of His Seamen, hath been most graciously pleased to recommend the same from the Throne, as a Consideration of THE GREATEST IMPORTANCE; be it therefore enacted, &c. In the enacting part, however, the Admiralty Interest would have added a power of pressing, in full contradiction to the declared intentions of his Majesty in the preamble, which the Spirit of the House would not bear, but rejected the Pressing Clauses with Disdain, and left only what was innocent in the Bill, as the Act now remains. And if the same crafty Adm—lty Interest hath deceived any subsequent Parliaments, by procuring captious expressions to be inserted in any other Acts whereby the general Rights of the Kingdom may be affected by innuendo, the COMMON LAW will certainly rescue the Subject from any such snares; and JUDGES and JURIES will understand the Acts of Parliament in a Just and legal sense to redress the injured.
Anno primo Georgii II. Regis, c. ix.
An Act for granting an Aid to His Majesty of Five hundred thousand Pounds, towards discharging Wages due to Seamen, and for the constant, regular, and punctual Payment of Seamens Wages FOR THE FUTURE; &c.
MOST Gracious Sovereign; Whereas several just and necessary Measures were, upon account of the late perplexed and disturbed Situation of Affairs in Europe, entered into and concerted between Your Majesty’s late Royal Father, of Glorious Memory, and Your good Allies; and in order to preserve and restore the Peace of Europe, and to secure the Trade, Navigation, and other valuable Rights and Possessions of these Kingdoms, great Fleets were employed abroad in divers remote Parts, whereby a great Arrear or Debt has been contracted for the Service of the Navy, and particularly ON THE HEAD OF SEAMENS WAGES; and Your Majesty having now, by the Blessing of God on Your Care and Concern for the general Good, so far obtained a settlement of Affairs abroad, as that there is no present occasion for employing so great a number of Seamen in Your Majesty’s Service; and the immediate payment of the said Arrears of Wages is judged adviseable, not only as it will save and prevent a further great Expence, but also as it will render a regular, constant, and punctual payment of Seamens Wages more practicable and easy for the future; which will be an Encouragement to able and experienced Seamen, AT ALL TIMES HEREAFTER, to enter themselves voluntarily into Your Majesty’s Service, when occasions shall require the same; and Your Majesty’s most loyal and dutiful Subjects, the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament assembled, having taken Your Majesty’s most gracious Recommendation from the Throne into their most serious Consideration, have for these purposes freely and UNANIMOUSLY given and granted to Your Majesty the Sum of Five hundred thousand Pounds, to be raised in manner herein after mentioned, &c. And to the End, Intent, and Purpose, that as well all Arrears of Seamens Wages, as their growing Wages, may be CONSTANTLY, REGULARLY, and punctually paid, be it enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That not only as to such Monies as have been granted in this Session of Parliament for the Service of the Navy, but also as to such Supplies as shall be HEREAFTER GRANTED IN PARLIAMENT FOR THOSE SERVICES, such Parts or Proportions thereof as shall be ON THE HEAD OF SEAMENS WAGES, shall from time to time be issued and applied for those Services constantly, regularly, and punctually, in manner following, &c.33
It is well worth while for a true honest hearted Englishman in the House of Commons to enquire, whether this solemn enacted Appropriation of public Money has been “constantly” applied according to the enacted purposes; if not, it may have occasioned the backwardness of Seamen to enlist: and it is to be hoped that no such obstacle could have been thrown in the way with design to furnish the stale pretence of NECESSITY, in order to obtain their favourite morsel
[Granville Sharp’s letter, added in the “eighth” edition, of 1777, is here omitted.]
To be continued.
THE Welfare of THESE NATIONS undoubtedly depends upon their being powerful at Sea, for whilst they are Masters there, they are secure from Foreign invasions, and may carry the produce of their industry to all parts of the World: It is the Royal Navy and Trade of BRITAIN which makes it a powerful and envy’d State; Were either of these lost, we should be as despicable Slaves as some of our Neighbours; yet by oppressing those by whom our Liberties are preserved, and our Riches encreased, we take effectual methods to destroy both.34 Our Trade and Power are so linked, that they must stand or fall together; suppose us once inferior in Force to any Nation which rivals us, and our Trade is gone: Suppose our Trade lost, and there’s an end of our Force; for Money is the support of the Navy, and Trade the source of Riches. It is the Wealth acquired by means of our Trade, that makes us, at least, equal to our Neighbours, to whom we are inferior both as to the extent of our Dominions, and the fertility of our Soil.
The Interest of the Funds,35 which makes us superior to the rest of Europe, is paid out of the Duties arising from Trade; and if those Duties should decrease, it is needless to mention the effects which it must have upon the Funds. By Trade Lands are made more valuable; by Trade the King’s Revenues are paid; and to Trade it is owing, that this ISLAND, which with difficulty could, in the Time of RICHARD I. pay 100,000 marks,* now raises yearly above five millions of pounds Sterling. Every discouragement therefore given to Trade, prejudices the King’s Revenues, the landed Interest, the Funds, and consequently the whole Nation. Yet not only Trade, but Liberty also is in danger of being subverted, by a custom which is supported under pretence of necessity.
This custom is the pressing of Seamen, a proceeding authorized by nothing but forced Constructions of laws, or Unwarrantable violence. The Magna Charta says, that no freeman may be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his freehold or liberties, or his free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the law of the Land.37 This is confirm’d by the Petition of nght;#39 And† the Courts at Westminsterhall have, in the case of Pressing, explained this so strongly, that the killing an Officer or Sailor, in this manner striving to usurp the liberties of mankind, is by them only deemed Manslaughter. As it seems surprizing how so open an Evasion of the Laws should escape with impunity, it may not be amiss to give a short account of it.
The Kings of England formerly contracted with the Captains to furnish Bands of men for the Sea-service at a certain price: these Officers, when they could not get Men by other means, prevailed upon them by drinking, &c. as Land-Officers raise Recruits; and when this failed, they forced on board, under pretence of drunken broils, or their having received * Prest money,41 such fellows as none thought fit to claim. But though at first this happened only to the worst of men, it was afterwards carry’d so far, that it became a complaint in Parliament. Some Officers were punished, and the Admiralty issued out orders not to press any Freeholders, imagining that under that name would be comprehended all such as were able to prosecute the pressing Officers, and that the rest would be forced to submit, because they could not bear the expence of a suit. Thus is Pressing carried on with impunity: and the man who is poor has no remedy. The Admiralty, it is said, upon these occasions defrays the charge of the Suit of the Pressing officer, and, if he is cast, pays the fine for him†.
This abuse which has crept in by degrees is at last come to such an height that it calls aloud for remedy; since it is not only an injury to the Liberty of the Subject, but tends to the destruction of the Government it self: It ruins Trade for the present, and by its consequences must destroy the Royal Navy, for whose support it is pretended to be design’d. It is a maxim generally allow’d, that Free nations make the best Soldiers; when Liberty leaves them, Courage soon follows; Oppression certainly debases the mind, and what can be a greater Oppression than forcing Men as prisoners on board a Man of war without necessaries, without allowing them time to order their affairs, or to take leave of their families. How can it be expected, that a Man should fight for the Liberty of others, whilst he himself feels the pangs of Slavery, or expose his Life to defend the property of a Nation, where his dearest pledges, his Wife and Children, are pining a way with want.
Pressing and bard Usage not only abates the courage, but lessens the number of the Sailors. How easy it is for them to remove from one country to another, is self evident; nor need it be proved by the example of the DUTCH, whose Fleets are above half mann’d by Foreigners; and the wealth of Holland is founded on the ill treatment of the Flemings by the Spaniards; for, to avoid Slavery, they chose rather to live free in Unwholesome marshes, than be oppress’d in the Fruitful plains of Flanders.
That the Common sailor is not insensible of hardships, is proved by the numbers who have left their native country, and now help to mann the Russian Fleets and Spanish Privateers. The Ostend ships were navigated by British sailors,42 and all countries are benefitted by Englishmen, who have been banish’d by this unhappy practice. Besides, too many of them have turned Pirates, which has put the Government to great expences, to protect Trade against those whom we have thus made enemies to all mankind,
But there is a third and much more terrible manner in which the sailors of England are lessened by pressing; for the dreadful mortality that has of late raged in our Squadrons,43 and helped to disappoint the schemes laid for the peace of Europe, in some measure proceeded from the miseries which the men endured on board the guard-ships; where many hundreds being confined together without necessaries, occasioned such a stench as gave rise to many distempers, of which several died immediately; but in others of stronger constitutions the distemper lurked, till the heat of the climate into which they went, gave such a ferment to their blood, as brought out the distempers which they had contracted by this ill usage in England; and they soon became contagious. Besides which, the men not being permitted to go on shore to provide necessaries, can with difficulty keep themselves clean; and the want of change of cloathing is often it self the cause of infection; and this has been so manifest in the West-Indies, that two or three thousand men are said to have been lost on board that Squadron,.44 for when ships are once infected, the bringing fresh men into them is but encreasing the mortality. Tradesmen and others not used to the Sea, being prest on board Ships of war, are so far from being serviceable to the King, that they are a detriment in general to the intended expedition; but particularly because their eating salt provisions often corrupts the blood, and hurries them into such a sickness as spreads a contagion thro’ a whole Fleet. This was the case of Admiral Wager’s Squadron, fitted out in great haste two years ago for the Baltick,45 as well as that in the West Indies since.
It is not the Timber nor the Iron of the Ships of War which gives the Dominion of the Seas; but the Sailors who mann them, that are the strength of the NATION; it is their skill and courage on which the safety of the Ships themselves depend; and should they be destroyed by distempers occasioned by ill usage, want of care, &c. or be frighted into Foreign service; what then must become of the Royal Navy, is too evident. That this may be the case, is not impossible, since Sailors grow every day more and more scarce, which is manifested from the difficulty of manning the Squadrons, and from the Merchants being obliged to augment their wages. The more Sailors perish, and the more hardships they endure, the scarcer will they be, and the greater will be the difficulty of manning the Navy: and where this will end, is not fit for me to say; but Sailors cannot easily be made, nor can we keep the Dominion of the Seas without them.
When a Squadron is to be mann’d the Merchants ships are forced to lie idle in their ports, their men are taken away when ready to sail, their perishable cargoe spoil’d, whilst Foreigners supply the markets abroad; which is a damage to Trade more considerable than any but Merchants can be sensible of: Thus the Service of the Navy, is made a pretence for destroying the very means by which Navigation it self subsists.
THE ENGLISH, under a long succession of Monarchs, boast a native liberty, and are born with many privileges which no other kingdom enjoys; neither their bodies nor purses are at their Kings arbitrary disposal; no law is or ought to be past without their own consent. How comes it then, that so very useful a part of his Majesty’s subjects as the Sailors are, should be prest into the Service, denied their liberty, and turned to slaves? For Slavery is nothing but service by force. The prest person is assaulted and seized on the King’s high way, and hurried into a floating prison, without being allowed time to speak or write to his friends. The Crew forces him along, as Bailiffs do those who resist upon being arrested for debt, often insulting them, and knocking them down before they seize them: sometimes if the unhappy man has money to give, the Gang will let him go;* but if he has not, he is infallibly put on board the smack, which is a vessel fitted up like a prison, with iron grates and bolts. A poor fellow who perhaps hath six or seven children, and makes hard shifts to bring them up, by labouring in lighters, fishing-boats, or plying as a waterman, and is not willing to leave his family to go a long voyage, is the first who is thus laid hold of; while the single man, who is fittest for the Sea, can leave his place of abode, and hide himself till the press Warrants are called in, or else go into Foreign service, and often times the father of a hopeful family is hurried into a King’s ship or press-smack, and his children immediately left without subsistence to seek charity; thus many become shoe-cleaners and vagabonds, instead of being bred up Sailors. I my self saw a waterman’s wife, with five clean children about her, crying at the Admiralty office for her husband then hurried aboard the Baltick Fleet; but it being the case of so many in the Mediterranean and West India Squadrons, it was in vain for her alone to expect relief. And it is very melancholy to consider what great numbers of women and children have been brought to beggary, and left destitute, especially of late, by the mortality that has reign’d in some of our Squadrons.
This so discourages the generality of our men, that they study to breed up their children to any Trade or manner of living, rather than they should go to Sea; so that none but the worst sort of men will, by this means, be left to serve in the Royal Navy, and to them the floating Bulwarks of England must be intrusted, if we continue this method to mann our Fleet. No wonder then if our breed of Seamen grow worse and worse, since slavery will make the calling itself contemptible.
The expences of manning the Fleet by pressing amounts to a very large sum: It is commonly reckoned, at a medium, to be fifty shillings or three pounds per head; though the charge of keeping the Ships till they are manned, must certainly make it more than double that sum; to say nothing of the hindrance to the service. But what is still worse, this method of pressing sets up numbers of little Tyrants in all our Sea-ports, and even so near the Royal court, as in the city of London; where you shall see droves of these lawless fellows, armed with great sticks, force such as they think proper into the service, and knock down any who will not submit to appear before their magistrate, who is sometimes a Lieutenant, but oftner an Officer of the lowest rank, in an Alehouse at Wapping, or St. Catherine’s, a Midshipman, a Boatswain’s mate, or some such like Judge of Liberty and Property. This mighty lawgiver, according to his will and pleasure, sends the innocent prisoner aboard a press Smack, to lie in bulk, or the hold of the vessel, till he is ordered on board a Man of war, unless discharged as useless by the aforesaid Marine minister, or the Regulating captain appointed to view them in London, if the man has time to appeal there; but in all the Out-ports, the poor captive has none to appeal to but the Officer who presses him, nor any hopes of liberty, unless an order from the Admiralty sets him free, which generally comes so late that the poor man is sailed, and his family left a charge to the Parish. Perhaps the reader may be better pleased with an account of this from a sufferer, in his own words, which I happened to hear on board a Press-smack, on the Thames. A poor fellow just turned into the hold, looking up to the iron Grates over him, passionately broke out in these terms; ***“I’m in a Dungeon! what have I done, to be dragged from my wife and children in this manner? why was I shut in here! I that am born to be free; are not I and the greatest Duke in England equally free born? if I have done nothing, who has power to confine me? where is the liberty of an English-man? or why is not my Lord Mayor here as well as I?”
When a man is taken out of a homeward bound vessel, if he has any small private adventure, such as Tea, Wine, Rum, &c. it is generally sacrificed to the Gang that searches the Ship; but it is too often the practice, first to take what the poor creatures have thus brought home, as the only fruits of their labour and hardships, and then acquaint some other press-gang in the River, who come aboard, and take away the very same men, and hurry them immediately out to Sea again, attended with all these distresses of mind and body.
From this barbarous treatment of our People, arises this observation, that in all Foreign ports where our Ships of war arrive, they have so many of these discontented wretches a-board, that, rather than live under such hardships, or venture to return home, many have chosen to swim a-shoar at all hazards, though they have often failed in the attempt, and afterwards been seen dead, floating on the water. What a reproach is this to our Nation? thus to force Seamen to take all opportunities to enter into Foreign service, and to work and fight for Nations, who don’t pretend to Liberty, and whom we justly scorn for living under the oppressions of Arbitrary Government.
Pressing is not an oppression to the private Sailor only, but high injustice to the Officers themselves; for even the chief Officers, who sign the warrants for pressing, are laid under great difficulties, since it makes them liable to a prosecution, for doing what is necessarily required by their Office: On the one hand, they are bound to obey orders; and on the other, it is criminal by the Laws of the Land to confine any man, without crimes first alledged against him upon oath; though those Laws have not, in this case, been executed for many Years, yet is their force not lessened: And is it not an exceeding great hardship, for a considerable Officer to be eternally liable to a prosecution, whenever he hath enemies of power and malice sufficient to take advantage of it. ’Tis vain to imagine that custom can be any defence, since the Highest officer of the Law was, within these few years, punished for violating a Statute scarcely ever read or known,46 and which had been look’d upon as so obsolete, that three successive Chancellors had publickly sold the Masters places, which plainly shewed, that they imagined that Law to be no longer in force; yet this was not allowed as any plea in his defence; but in answer to his pleading the practice of his predecessors, and their not being punished, nor even blamed for it, the reply was: That a blot was no blot until it was hit; and that though murder had been frequently practised, yet that did not make murder lawful, and that the more frequently the crime was committed, the greater necessity was there for punishing it.47 Those Gentlemen therefore must needs be in an uneasy situation, who are liable to a parliamentary prosecution for doing their duty. But if this is the case of the chief Officers of the Admiralty, how much worse is that of the Lieutenants, though they are sometimes Gentlemen of the best families in England, yet are they forced to do the duty of Bailiffs on shoar, and Goalers on board; to sit smoaking in spunging-houses, to be obliged to Scour the streets, to herd with ruffians, and, which is worse to a compassionate man, to be the Instruments of oppression, and to tear away unhappy men from their wives and families. It may be of dangerous consequences for Officers to be accustomed to obey Orders absolutely contrary to the Laws of the Land: If in obedience to the former they should kill any unhappy wretch, what a load must that man’s blood be upon their consciences; besides which, they must stand tryal for it, and, by the Law, murder is death, and it is doubtful whether there can be a pardon where there is an appeal for blood. On the other side, if they should meet with resistance, and lose their lives, what an unfortunate end is it to be kill’d in a mob, or amongst drunkards in a midnight broil: And the man who, in his own defence, kills any of the press-gang, is acquitted by Law.
But notwithstanding all these disadvantages, which the Service, the Trade of the Nation, and Particular men labour under from the practice of pressing, one general answer serves, viz. that the Navy cannot be manned without it, and that if men will not list voluntarily, they must be pressed. Supposing this be true, and that it is not want of Sailors, but want of inclination to serve, that makes the scarcity of men; it will be highly necessary to remove the reasons of their unwillingness, to enter. If it proceeds from forcing men to stay an unlimited time in the service, and from keeping them all that time like prisoners; from their being paid their wages in such a manner, as often reduces it above two thirds in its value; from the treatment which they receive after they are come on board, they being frequently sent from one extream of climate to another, as from the Baltick to the West Indies, without any regard to the Health of the men, the time they have already served, or their merit in service; to say nothing of their treatment by some Inferior Officers, who are suffered to use them more like dogs than men. If these are the reasons from whence their unwillingness to serve arises, the causes being removed, the effects will cease: And that some of these are the causes, we hope, is already demonstrated; nor can it be expected that any men will go on board a Man of war, where they are treated with severity, whilst they can have larger pay on board a Merchant ship, from whose service they are discharged, and readily paid off, at the end of the voyage.
The Pay on board a Man of war, clear of all deductions, is but 22 s. 6 d. per month; but out of this most of them do not actually receive above one third part. For not being allowed time to provide themselves with necessaries at home, viz.48 bedding, cloaths, &c. they are forced to take them up at extravagant prices, though they might provide themselves with them at much cheaper rates; but that they cannot do, since they must not go on shoar, lest they should desert.
Whilst their pay is thus squandered at Sea; their poor wives and families on shoar must take up their food, and other necessaries, at the utmost extortion, and be likewise obliged to those who supply them at 50 l. per cent, discount, on so precarious a security as a Sailors wages on board a Man of war; for, if he dies, the purser is generally the principal creditor.49 But supposing a man out-lives the voyage, and after being several times turned over from West-India to Baltick voyages, comes home, and a ticket given him for payment; the creditors who furnished his family with subsistence during his absence, fall upon him, perhaps arrest him, and force him to sell or deliver up his ticket at 20 or 30 per cent, loss; or at least not knowing when he shall receive his money, he disposes of his ticket at six or seven shillings in the pound discount to those persons, who employ people in all the Ports for this abominable purpose. Can it then be expected that the love of glory, and the prospect of wooden legs and Greenwich Hospital, should make poor men prefer the King’s pay, which is seldom 10 s. per month clear, to 30 or 40 s. in the Merchant’s service.
The grievances of pressing, already set forth, will probably be sufficient to convince every man that they ought to be remedied; but the difficulty is, how to bring it about, and yet to be able to mann the Navy. The fault is easily found, but it requires the utmost skill to prescribe a remedy. No particular scheme or project is here laid down, but only the different methods that are used in other Countries to mann their ships, that from proceedings approved by experience, better remedies may be collected than from the crude notions of speculative men.
To begin with the VENETIANS, who were once masters of the Mediterranean, they, upon the loss of the Indian trade, when a way round the Cape of Goodhope to the East Indies was discovered by the Portugueze, found their number of Sailors diminish, and that voluntiers sufficient to mann their Navy did not list; upon which they fell into a method of forcing men aboard; and this, together with their making Noble Venetians commanders, without considering their qualifications, lost them their power at sea, and reduced their Fleets to the wretched condition which they are now in.
In FRANCE, tho’ it is an arbitrary Government, there is no pressing, but all Sailors, Watermen, &c. upon the sea-coast are enroled (by an Officer, called the Commissary of the Classes)50 from the age of 16 to 60; that they may be ready upon any occasion for the Kings service: So that when any Ships are to be fitted out, an order is put up at every parish church about 14 days before, by which the men are required to repair to the Commissary in every respective district appointed for that purpose. Out of the whole the Commissary chuses a certain number, to each of whom he gives a printed passport, in which is incerted their names and place of abode, and the Port to which they are to repair in a certain limited time; allowing Conduct-money to enable them to perform their journey, at the rate of one peny per mile. When they come to the place appointed, they make their appearance before the Commissary of the Navy, who distributes them on board their respective ships; the Clerk entring down their names. Their wages begins from the day on which they come a-board, and eight days before the Ship sails, they, and the whole Ship’s company, including the Officers, receive two month’s advance-pay, to buy them necessaries: and when a Ship returns into their own harbours, they are paid the rest that is due to them; and if the Ship is laid up, a Commissary of the Navy, of which there is one in every Port, tho’ they are paid their wages, gives them conduct-money, and a passport, in order to return home.
No sailor that is entered in these Classes can be arrested for debt, and if any desire leave to go into the Merchants service, the Commissary seldom refuses them a certificate, if they are not required on duty; but then the Master of such Merchant-ship, when he returns from his voyage, is to be accountable for every such man. It is said, that there are above thirty thousand men thus enroled in France for the King’s Ships, who may not be inlisted for Land service.
The DUTCH, in the greatest extremity, never yet had recourse to pressing; but their method for manning their Ships is, first, to beat up for voluntiers, as we do, and sometimes they offer a small bounty of about six or seven Guilders a man; but generally they give a month’s pay in advance, and no bounty; allowing the men about three Guilders, that is, about five shillings English a week, whilst they stay on shoar; for which their Landlords, or other friends are security, that they may not desert before they go on board; and in order to make the Service begin more agreeable to them, the Ship is compleatly fitted for the Sea, with all her provisions and stores on board, by the Officers, Sailors, Labourers, &c. kept for that service in the places whence the Ships are fitted out; so that the whole Crew goes on board at once on the beat of a Drum, that gives notice when the Ship is ready to receive them.
But if several Ships are to be fitted out at the same time, and this encouragement is not sufficient to raise Men soon enough, they encrease their bounty, or advance two month’s pay in hand; and if that don’t succeed, they lay an embargo upon all Merchant-Ships; and as their men are never entered into pay, or subsisted during an embargo, they are forced to go into the STATES service for a maintenance; by which means, it was scarce ever known to last above a month, or six weeks; in which time the Men of war have been always well manned; and there has not been above two embargoes since the year 1672. in which year only, the STATES being hard prest with a heavy War, they were forced to lay an embargo, and to raise the Seamens wages to fifteen Guilders per month.
The readiness of Sailors to enter into the DUTCH SERVICE, does not proceed from their pay being better than ours, since it is seldom more than eleven Guilders a month, which is not so much as twenty shillings English, out of which there is a deduction for the Surgeon: But the reason of their willingness to enter is, their treatment from their Officers, and their being sure of a discharge at their return home: For when a Ship comes into Port, to end her voyage, their Admiralty immediately either visits the Ship, or sends a deputation on board to enquire into the manner of the Sailors being treated by the Captains and Officers, particularly in respect to the victualling, which the Captain undertakes, at the rate of eight or nine pence per day a man; and if it appears that they have been oppressed, or defrauded of their provisions, the Captain is at least mulcted of his pay, and often rendered incapable of serving the STATES; after this, in three or four days they are paid off, and though there is a necessity for sending the Ship out again immediately, the men are not compelled to serve against their inclinations; but very often, upon liking their Captain, &c. the whole Ship’s company enter again. If any man hath received a wound, or is otherwise hurt in the STATES SERVICE, he is allowed a bounty in proportion to his misfortune, but no yearly pension is given. And instead of taking advantage of the necessities of the men, during the voyage, by the Purser’s or Sutler’s selling of what they may want, at exhorbitant prices, they are supplied with some Money by the Captain, or his Clerk, for necessaries when in Foreign countries; and the mens wives, or those with whom they leave a power of Attorney, receive at home one month’s pay in every three or four months, after the Ship has been six or eight months from Holland.
In SWEDEN, there are generally enroled upon the establishment upwards of 8000 Seamen, the inferior Officers, as Mates, Boatswains, Gunners, &c. being included; they are divided along the Sea-coast in several districts, where they have cottages and lands assigned them, for the support of them and their children. They are mustered by the Officers, and have very compleat and uniform cloathing given them every year, almost like the Water-men in the river of Thames: When their service is required, orders are sent to their respective parishes, to declare from the pulpit, that the King’s service requires their appearance upon such a day, at a certain place, where proper Officers attend, who, at the King’s charge, carry them to the Port where the Ships are, and there the inspector makes choice of those that are to serve, if they are not all wanted at that time, and distributes them to their respective Ships, and from that time their pay begins. They have several considerable privileges, and among others, that of not being arrested for any debt whatsoever.
When the Ships are fitted, some days before they are ready to sail, all the Company, from the Captain to the Cabin-boy, receive two month’s pay, and returning from a voyage, though continued in the service, they receive what remains due to them; and whenever they are going abroad, they are again paid two month’s pay, in order to provide themselves necessaries, though the voyage is often very short.
Every respective district meets once a month, and sometimes oftner, at which meeting the nearest Officers muster them, and send the muster-roll to the High-admiral, that he may know if their number is always compleat; and at the same time they are exercised with Fire-arms.
In time of peace an order is published, giving leave to any of the King’s Seamen to sail in the Merchants service, and they who have a mind to go, declare it to the superior Officer of each respective District, who gives them a licence: These Seamen, who shipping themselves in this manner on board Merchant Ships to gain experience, are generally first preferred in the King’s service, and more esteemed by the Merchants than others, because they are liable to be severely punished, and turned out of the King’s service upon any just complaint made against them by the Master of these Ships during their voyage, which makes them behave better than other Seamen.
Every Master who ships these Seamen, is obliged to appear with them before the chief Magistrate of the Town where they are enroled; their names, age, and places of abode, as well as a description of their Persons, are also registered, the Master being accountable for the appearance of these men at his return, or give a good account what is become of them; for which purpose he has a certificate given him of all the qualifications of the men entred by him, which he must produce at his return to port, or he cannot be cleared; and he is obliged to victual, and treat them well in the voyage.
If the King has at any time occasion for a greater number of Sailors than is enroled, they beat up for voluntiers, and each voluntier receives a month or two month’s pay for bounty-money. The Seamen in their Navy are under a very good discipline and regulation; Divine worship is strictly kept up every day a-board all the King’s Ships at Sea, and no swearing heard, or beating allowed by the Inferior officers a-board them; those are preferred and encouraged most that merit best, and not often, if ever, by favour without it; and when the Father of a Family is killed in the service, a certain Fund is alotted for the maintenance of their Wives and Children, until they can provide for themselves.
The hardships of pressing have, in some measure, been represented; as also the methods made use of in other Countries to raise men for the Sea-service without it; these Papers were intended to have been more compleat, but as the Parliament are now sitting, it was thought necessary to hurry these sheets to the Press; before there was an opportunity of getting such information as was requisite, for drawing up any thing compleat upon this subject. What is now done, is only to induce others to communicate their thoughts to the Publick, or, if they please, to send them to the Publisher of this Paper, they shall be faithfully inserted in the next, as they shall direct, the Author being ready to assist any that shall contribute toward the remedying this abuse; for if the Publick can be served, it is indifferent to him who are the Instruments.
N. B. The Appendix comes from different hands, and vouchers for all the Facts can be produced, if required.
A Letter from one who was bred in the Land-service, concerning a method for the more easy manning of the Navy.
IT is a work of the greatest difficulty to form a practicable scheme, by which pressing may be prevented, and the service not prejudiced.
The great CECIL, Queen Elizabeth’s favourite-Minister, used to say, that the remedies for abuses were to be sought out of the laws and customs of our ancestors; by that means they will be of a-piece with the constitution. Supposing we were to follow his advice on this occasion, we should look back to see how the former Kings of England manned their Navy. I find that, till Henry the 8th’s time, the King retained Captains, with whom he covenanted by indenture to furnish him with a band, consisting of a certain fixed number of men, which the Captains were to raise and recruit at their own expence; and that this was the method of the Sea, as well as the Land-service, appears by what follows:
7 H. 7. Be it therefore ordained by the authority of this present Parliament, that if any Captain be retained, or hereafter shall be to serve the King on the Sea, or beyond the Sea, in feat of War, which hath not his or their whole and perfect number of Men and Soldiers, according as he shall be retained with the King, or give not them their full wages, without shortning, as he shall receive of the King for them, except for Jackets, for them that receive Land wages, that is to say, 6 s. 8 d. for a yoeman, and 13 s. 4 d. for a gentleman, for a whole year, he shall, for such default, forfeit to the King all his goods and chattels, and their bodies to prison.
And if any Soldier, being no Captain immediately retained with the King, which hereafter shall be in wages and retained, or take any prest to serve the King upon the Seas, or upon the Land beyond the Sea, depart out of the King’s service without licence of his Captain, that such departing be taken, deemed and adjudged felony,
3 H. 8. Provided always, That no Captain be charged by this act for lack of his number retained, as is abovesaid, whose Soldiers happen to die, or otherwise depart, not in the default of the Captain; so that the said Captain, if he be at Land wages, shew the departing, or lacking of the said Soldier unto the King’s Lieutenant there, and to the Treasurer of the wars: Or, if the Captain be at the Sea wages, if he shew the departing, or lacking of the Soldier so lacking, to the Admiral of the Navy where he is retained, at the next meeting with the said Admiral.52
Those who are employed in the Navy may, perhaps, in these Clauses find the desired remedy; supposing when a Ship is put into commission, that the Admiralty should agree with the Captain to mann her at a certain price, say 3 l.a head; I name that sum, because, by calculation, every prestman stands the Government in that sum at least. It is not to be presumed, that a Captain would refuse a Ship, rather than take upon him the trouble of manning her: For his own reputation he would take care to provide good men, since both his character and safety would depend upon their behaviour: Besides, he would not be the less careful of the Sailors, when it would be for his advantage to preserve them. This method could not be called a hardship upon the Captains, since, if they pleased to be a little industrious, they might be gainers, by getting men at a cheaper rate than what the Government would allow them. We have seen instances in every Squadron, that some Officers have had their Ships overmanned in a few days. In the Land-service, the Captains raise and recruit their Companies without levy-money, and are at great expence to procure tall proper men, yet do not they complain, but pride themselves in the beauty and compleatness of their Corps, because, by that means, they shew their zeal to the service. And doubtless, the Sea-Officers have as much zeal for his Majesty, and much better abilities of shewing it, since their profits are larger.
This would take away, at once, almost all the complaints of the Common Sailors, since, by making it the Captain’s interest to preserve his men, you make him their protector. At Land, the Officer visits the sick, and is as careful of his Soldiers as if they were his children, for the loss of a man is the loss of as much money as a Recruit would cost; and perhaps the Sea-Captain’s good nature would not be decreased by its being his interest to take care of his Men.
The Seamens great complaint of their being turned over, might probably be remedied by this method, since, if the Admiralty gave notice to a Captain, to have a compleat Crew, there would be no need of turning over from any Ship newly come in. It may be objected, that it would be an expence to the Government, to pay levy-money to every Ship put into commission; but that, I beli[e]ve, can have little force, since it is not to be supposed, that the Parliament would scruple a small additional expence to preserve the Sailors, who are the Sinews of England, which so chearfully hath come into much larger expences for rebuilding, so sumptuously, the publick Offices and Admiralty in London, the yards of Deptford, &c.
Another complaint of the Sailors is, the Discount of their Tickets, and the great Usury at which their families are obliged to take up necessaries. This might be remedied, by giving the Sailor a power to leave a letter of Attorney with his wife, to receive some part of his wages, as he went on in service: By this means, their Wives would become Press-masters, for whenever they wanted money, they would be for sending their husbands to sea.
These are my first thoughts on a subject, of which I am very far from being master, and I hope you will either amend or excuse the errors I have committed, since good nature will rather look at my intentions, than at my performance, and consider that I have neither had time to finish what I designed, nor access to such papers as were necessary for that purpose. I am,
your very humble Servant.
An account of the usage of prest men a-board Guard-ships.53
THE last two summers, that we have been expecting a War, Guard-ships were kept at the Nore, to receive the prest men from London and the River of Thames, who were a-board in Yatchs and Smacks, in the manner as I shall instance: One of them was called the Royal-Transport, a Vessel of about forty tonns burthen; her hold was secured with strong iron bars, and gratings on the hatches and deck, with only a small place left open, guarded with centinels, who let down the Prest men, one at a time, through a narrow scuttle, or trap-door, so that no goal could be more wretched; and they were not suffered to stir out, or so much as to take breath, till they got to the Guard-ship; which, sometimes, were several days together crouded so close with men, that they could not lie down, nor scarce have room to sit on the bottom or side of the Vessel, which made them so hot, dirty and faint, that there were often several of them sick, and some expiring, before they got to the Nore: And what was still more discouraging, they found seldom less on board the Guard-ship, than six, seven, or eight hundred at a time in the same condition that they were in, without common conveniences, being all forced to lie between decks, confined as before, and to eat what they could get, having seldom victuals enough dressed, which occasioned distempers, that sometimes six, eight, and ten, died of a day; and some were drowned in attempting their escape, by swimming from the Guard-ship; many of whose bodies were seen floating upon the River, and one of them was drove into a Creek at Chelsey. The rest that survived were parcelled out, to be divided to each Ship that was ready to receive them, where they carried the sickness, that spread itself so as to infect our Squadrons, before they sailed on their expedition.
A Letter from a Dutch Trader.
IN the year 1725. a Sloop in which I had some concern, returned with Passengers and Goods from Holland; the men knowing that there was pressing in the River, would run into Margate-Road; so that the Master was forced there, to hire old disabled men that were past being prest, who, with the help of two Custom-house Waiters put on board, with much difficulty got into the River. When they came to the Nore, they met a man of War’s boat with a Lieutenant, who, coming on board with his Crew, would bring the Vessel to an Anchor, with all her sails out; the Master, in vain, urged the danger of it; but he commanded, as if on board a prize, bringing her under the Man of war’s stern; afterwards, the Master desiring him to walk down into the cabin, the Lieutenant being there, grew merry, began to quarrel with the Passengers, and threatned to press them; but one of them, Mr. P— being as sturdy as himself, he let him alone, and only prest two of the other Passengers, who were gentlemen, and one of them, soon after, a Commission-officer. This being done, he viewed the ship’s company, and found it to consist of old and lame men, hired at Margate, which put him in a great fury, so that a Custom-house boat coming on board at the same time, he would have prest them; but his wrath being somewhat over, he resolved to return on board, with two gentlemen-passengers whom he had pressed; but he had lost all his crew, for they had got between decks, where, having drank all the liquor they could find, they hid themselves, hoping to escape, for they also served against their wills on board the Man of war. Upon this the Lieutenant, in great indignation, called out to the ship for help, or he should be run away withal, though there was not a man that stirred to get up the Anchor; upon which another boat came on board; and whilst the other Officer, being a Midshipman, was talking with the Master of the Vessel, his crew rummaging also between decks, got drunk; but at last they got them up upon the deck, and the master desiring the officer of the Man of war to take care that none of these men carried any thing out of the vessel. They replied, He might look to it himself, for their men were all honest; upon which he desired the Custom-house waiters to have an eye to them; which he did, and one of them found a man carrying a pound of Tea, and took it from him; the master complained to the Lieutenant, and he promised to punish the man, but immediately pressed the waiter who had discovered him, and after keeping the vessel five hours in great confusion and danger, left her, carrying away two gentlemen-passengers, and this waiter, to help mann a King’s Ship, who narrowly escaped being drowned in one of the boats. This shews the abuse of pressing, and it was no great recommendation of our Country to the Foreigners, who were in the vessel, to see men used in this manner like slaves, where liberty is so much talked of.
P. S. There was linen, and many necessaries in the mens cabins, all lost, to the value of above fifty pounds; and in many vessels much more is plundered under pretence of pressing.
An Instance of the hardships of Pressing in a Letter from one of the people called Quakers.54
IN the year 1718, as well as my memory will serve, (for I have no minutes of the case by me, altho’ I was in some measure concerned in it) the Philip and Mary, burthen 300 tons, or thereabouts, Wm. Haslam Master, was coming from Norway laden with Mats, Deal and Timber, and sailing up the Swin near Harwich having a fresh gale at N.E. and a flood tyde a little above the Shoe-beacon was met by a Penace belonging to the *** Man of war that was then riding by the Buoy of the Mouse.55 The said Penace having come along side of the Philip and Mary, there being a Lieutenant in her, and about 16 men; the men from the said ship flung the Penace a cope to make her fast, and the side mann’d by Philip and Mary’s men, and an entering cope put into the hands of the said Lieutenant, and he helpt in with much respect, after whom the rest of the Crew entred, except a man or two, who staid in the Penace; soon after, the Crew got on board the said ship, she sailing at a very great rate; the Lieutenant gave command to let go the anchor, that they might not be carried past the *** Man of war; but the Mate of the Philip and Mary answered, and said, it was not proper to let go the anchor when the ship was under sail, and so fresh under way, for if the anchor took hold ‘twas enough to part the cable, or tear the ship’s bows out, however the said Coxton being forward enough to obey the Lieutenant’s command, called the rest of the Crew forward to let go the anchor; he was answered by the Mate of the ship (whom I shall have occasion to mention hereafter) Were they madmen? what did they mean to ruin the ship? and so went to hinder them, upon which the Coxton ordered the Penace’s crew to draw their cutlashes, which they did accordingly, and the men on board the Philip and Mary took up hand-spikes in their own defence, and a skuffle or fray arose, in which the Philip and Mary’s men had the better on’t. The Lieutenant struck one of the men belonging to the Philip and Mary over his head with his cane that had an ill effect; but the Lieutenant seeing that he had not force enough to impress these hand-spike-men, gave orders to the Penace’s crew to go on board the man of War for more, which accordingly they did, and as they were stepping into the Penace, the Coxton said, D—n the dogs, we’ll be revenged on them, and I doubt not would have done his endeavour to have accomplished it, had he not in the scuffle received a wound on his head, supposed by his own Cutlash, being prest by the hand-spike so that it proved fatal to him. The Lieutenant keeping as it were the possession of the Philip and Mary all the time the Penace was returning to the Man of war, which when got on board, nine of the men belonging to the Philip and Mary took their own boat, being apprehensive that if the Penace brought more forces, some of them would be in danger of losing their lives, so away they go, making for the Essex shore, the Penace following them, filled with armed men, but they got on shore before the Penace. The Man of war seeing that the Philip and Mary was got several miles above her, slipt her cable, and makes all the sail that she could to come up with her. And coming up with the said Merchant-ship, the said Captain fires a Gun with shot and all, and ran up so near that he called to them to let go their anchors, or else he threatned to fire a broadside into her and sink her. Now the Man of war and the Merchant-ship being along side one of another, the Captain of the former calls to his Lieutenant, to bring the master on board the Man of war; (what to do there, we shall hear anon,) the Lieutenant answered, that the master would not come; at which the Captain called to his Lieutenant, Skin the dog (meaning the master of the Philip and Mary) skin him alive: so that being terrified between Captain and Lieutenant, he consented to go, and had ne’er a boat to go in but his long-boat, and she upon deck; the Lieutenant commanding the said master and Mate to hoist out this heavy boat, which they did with much ado, after a great deal of labour and toil, and the master and mate rowed themselves and the Lieutenant on board the Man of war: the said master coming upon the quarter deck first, and being a peaceable quiet man, and one of the people called Quakers, the first salutation he met with from the Captain was, How dare you, you quaking dog, come before a Commission officer with your Hat on; then he ordered some of his men to pull off his Hat, who pulled his Wig off also, the Captain with his left hand, taking hold of the master’s right ear, and with his right fist clinch’d, said; I know you won’t strike, no more will I, but with his fist clinched, punched him till his eyes were almost out of his head. The Captain being quite tired with punching, after some respite, took hold of both the poor Master’s ears, and said, he would shew him Tower-hill-play; so holding him fast with his hands by his ears, flung his head in his face so often, that the poor Master was used in a most barbarous manner, being beat and abused much worse than by an avowed enemy, though he had not been active in the least on board his own ship, save when the Lieutenant, as I hinted before, gave one of his men such a blow over his head with his cane, by which blow the poor man lingered about three weeks and died.
But after he had given the blow, he was about drawing his sword, which the master seeing, prevented it by going behind him, and holding back the Lieutenant’s arms, saying, He was afraid there was like to be mischief enough without his drawing his sword. The said Captain after he had shewed the master Tower-hill-play, took him by one of his ears, pulled his head down to the gunnel, and swore he’d cut his ears off, called to the Carpenter to bring him mallet and chissel, which the Carpenter did, and the said Captain bid the Carpenter strike; to which the said Carpenter answered and said, Noble Captain, I’ve obey’d your commands in bringing the mallet and chissel, but I dare not cut a man’s ears off: so the poor master escaped with his ears. The said Captain not being satisfied with the barbarity exercised over the Master, calls for his Mate, viz. John White, and when he appeared, fell upon him with his cane, beat him over his head and arms till the ferrel flew off, and the cane shievered in pieces, till the poor man lay senseless in the scuppers. The Captain had a Monkey on board, who seeing the Captain in a passion, fell also upon the poor mate, and bit and knawed 30 or 40 holes about his head and neck; the Captain standing over laughing all the time. This did not suffice, but the Mate was put into the billbows, when he had recovered his senses, for some days; then put on board the *** Man of war, which was Guard-ship of the Buoy of the Nore, stapled down upon his breech a top of the forecastle, and the commanding Officer would not suffer so much as a tarpauling, nor any thing to be cast over him, to keep the weather off him day or night, and thus this poor man was confined for about 10 days, I was informed that they would not suffer him to rise out of this posture to ease nature, but he did it as he sat, till he was almost dead. Now I shall leave the poor Mate, and return to the Master, who coming to London after he had reported his Ship at the Custom-house, and going down to his Ship, was arrested by a *** Writ, and hurried to the Marshalsea-prison without bayl, the mate being sent for, and two of the said Master’s apprentices, who were taken by the Penace’s crew,56 were put into the said prison, and laid there 6 or 8 months, at last were bailed with much to do, and no Indictment being preferred against them, the recognizance was discharged; after which the Captain was ordered to Carolina, and upon his return was prosecuted by the Mate for an assault and battery, the Jury brought in their verdict for the Prosecutor 100l. and costs, which the Captain thought was hard, and desired a re-hearing, which was granted him, he first paying the prosecutors costs, which was about 71 l. It was heard a second time, and I well remember upon the Jury bringing in their verdict for the prosecutor 100l. damages and costs, the Judge said, “Gentlemen of the Jury, I think you have brought in a just verdict.” After which, the Master of the Ship brought his action against the said Captain, and recovered 100l. damages and costs of suit; but being so long in prison, his Ship lying by the walls all the time, it was a means of his and his Family’s ruin; as also the poor Mate’s, who has been disordered ever since, and falling into fits, by the cruelty he met with, which he could never recover.
A Letter to the Author of the Seaman’s Advocate.
I HAve read over your account of the Sailors Hardships,57 of which, tho’ you have inserted many, yet are there more than probably any one person can be acquainted with; as it is of the last consequence to GREAT BRITAIN to encourage our Navigation, if the following thoughts may be of any use in promoting so good a design, my views will be answered; and I shall readily become your Correspondent as far as capable.
The intention of this Letter is, to propose some method by which our sea-faring-men may meet with encouragements to render the Service both agreeable and beneficial, and at the same time induce them to make this way of life (so useful to the common welfare) their own choice; which they have always endeavoured to fly from, when most wanted for the defence of their Country[.]
There has been a particular care taken to have a greater number of fine Ships in this than any other Nation; but the building new, and repairing the old, is now become a vast expence to the Publick, and so far from being a service to us, that it is rather an useless load, if we are not always able to mann them out sooner than our neighbours, when they may rival us with a Fleet, which may be built or procured before we expect it; for Ships are easier got ready than seamen raised; but were it possible Sailors could be made with the same ease a Man of war is built, and were they also as mere Machines, yet even then we ought to be careful of their preservation, which is too plain we have not hitherto been.
As you have produced examples from the French, Dutch and Swedes, who mann their Fleets without the barbarous custom of pressing; no doubt but the English, if they will give themselves the trouble, may fall upon methods adapted to the genius of the nation, which may prove as advantageous and easy to us, as those in use amongst our neighbours, are to their respective States.
This seems to be a proper juncture to endeavour at so good a work, since his Majesty has been pleased to recommend it in his most gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament.
If you think fit, you may add this Letter to what you are about, it may perhaps bring to light other thoughts of more weight from such as have the same good design, of being Advocates for the Seamen, and Trade of GREAT BRITAIN.
The uncertainty of the Sailors-pay in ships of War is a very great grievance, because it destroys their credit, and starves their families in their absence; for when the Common Seamen want money in any of the ports where our ships of War resort, there are always about them numbers of Ticket-buyers, pettyfoggers, and others who live upon their ruin, by getting Wills, Tickets, and powers of Attorney, &c. from them, on very slight considerations: and too often when poor ignorant fellows are in liquor, they fall into the hands of different sharpers, who draw them in to sign more than one will or power; and these vermin are often known to make forged ones after the Sailors are dead; by which means their poor Families are left starving, and their Creditors defrauded: for, where money is received for Wages due in the Navy by a false power of attorney or will, the person to whom it is justly due, and produces the lawful one, is totally defeated, and loses his debt; which is a disadvantage peculiar to the sailor only; for if the same happens at the Bank of ENGLAND or to any other body or private man, the true power remains in full force, and must be satisfied; and when those are detected, who by forgery,58 have defrauded the Sailors, their punishment is at most the Pillory, a short imprisonment and generally a small fine, which the poor Sailor, or Creditor, tho’ he is at the charge of the prosecution, is not benefitted by: all these fines in London going to the Sheriffs, and in other places to the Crown.
To forge a power, whereby money is received from the BANK, EXCHEQUER, &c. is death, and can it be thought a less crime to defraud the poor Sailors, who dearly earn their wages! To prevent this the Seamen’s power may be registered aboard the ship of war by the Captain’s Clerk, or some officer appointed for that purpose, and a duplicate sent to the Navy or Pay-office, attested by the Captain, First Lieutenant, and Master; or where either of the last two Officers are wanting, the two next to the Captain, may sign instead of them: This would make our Seamen’s powers authentick, and in great measure prevent Forgery and Extortion, or the Sailors giving more than one power, and running too much in debt.
When such a power is produced, though the Sailor is prickt Run,59 yet his pay due, ought to be paid his Attorney; and such a punishment as shall be directed by Law for desertion be deemed sufficient. Two months pay in six may be advanced, endorsed on it every six months, till the Sailor is discharged, and the ship paid off; which ought to be where she is fitted out, or notice there given of the place where she is to be paid. This would be a great means of supporting the Sailors credit, given to their Families in their absence; for by this means the Creditor will be at as little trouble as possible in receiving his debt, which will make them give credit on better terms than they yet have done; And our ships being the best victualled of any in the world, the Seamen can never need above 3 or 4 shillings per month, to supply them with what little necessaries they may want aboard, more than the ship’s allowance.
Every six Months after the Ship has been at sea, a Ticket for all the time over and above the two months advance, may be given to every Sailor, who has not left any power behind him: And Ships should never be above two years, or rather eighteen months unpaid, during which time a strict charge should be given to all Captains, to send home regular muster-rolls every month.
Were it practicable for the Seamens powers of attorney and tickets, after they have been six months due, to be circulated by a Banker, or proper office appointed for that purpose; it would very much contribute to the encouragement of the Seamen, and the Pay-office in London might take them up, in order to pass them to account.
Good usage, and as much liberty as is consistent with the nature of the Service, and a discharge at the end of every voyage, as soon as the Ships are got home in safety, would undoubtedly in our Navy, not only save a vast expence to the Publick, but procure Seamen on all occasions, and give them a new spirit; and instead of our Ships of war being terrible to, and avoided by our sailors, no doubt but they will chuse the King’s Service preferably to the Merchant’s, as soon as they can experience this just treatment.
These Indulgences,60 together with the above method for subsisting their Families, preventing frauds in their powers of Attorney, and by that means raising them credit, without passing through the hands of Extortioners, would be more advantageous and agreeable to the Sailors, than even the raising of their wages on the foot they now are; which cannot be done without prejudice to the Merchant, (who must advance in proportion) and a considerable expence to the Government. Not but that in time of a hot War, when a great many ships are to be fitted out, it may be necessary to add four or five shillings a month to their wages, and therefore a discretionary power may be lodged in the Lords of the Admiralty.
His MAJESTY’S NAVY being now very large, will alone require more sailors to mann them, than are in the three Kingdoms at any one time; and if but two-thirds, and the Tenders and Transports that they usually have depending on them, are ordered for service; they will employ forty four thousand men. And the Merchants Service hath not been carried on with less, these many years past, than twenty six thousand always employ’d, and fourteen thousand, or there-abouts, will be at home, or constantly fitting out; which makes forty thousand; so that when but two-thirds parts of the Navy are employed, we must have eighty four thousand men in the KING’S and MERCHANTS Service: and, by all that I have learnt, we have not had above fifty thousand, for several years past, in the three Kingdoms, allowing for Fisher-men, Water-men, Bargemen, Lighter-men, &c. who must be always at home; and if they could be brought to go to Sea, there would be very few of them better than able-bodied Land-men, who, as well as Marines, may be of great use, and at any time can be detached from the Land-forces which we keep on foot; or rather might be a separate body formed for Sea-service, which has been found of great use in the Navy, and, if kept in our Ports, may be always improving, and contribute very much towards manning out any Squadron at a short warning. By this computation, unless such a body of Marines be established to encrease the Sea-men, at least thirty four thousand employed in our Navigation must be Land-men, if but two-third parts of our Navy are fitted out: Land-men sufficient may no doubt be encouraged to go voluntiers, and the Officers may procure abler Men, who would provide themselves in a better manner, and much sooner make Sea-men than those who have been prest into the Service, and kept there by force, the consequence of which you have justly shewn.
For some time past it has been allowed, that if any Ship of war sets out half mann’d with Seamen, they are tolerably fit for Service; and with good usage and encouragement, Land-men may, in a short space of time, be made very serviceable at Sea, and almost as good in an engagement as Sea-men; but these must be such as are mixed with their own consent among them; for when they are forced on board, and drove about by the inferior Officers (as is too much practis’d in some ships) it makes them learn little of Sea-affairs, as they act without spirit; Examples may be found, of King’s-ships being commanded by very good Officers, who have behaved in engagements with less reputation than usual, when they have met an enemy at first putting to sea, after they have been newly mann’d with press’d men; amongst whom they seldom, if ever, have one-half able Sailors; and even such must necessarily prove worse than voluntiers.
As I have not the advantage of knowing fully the expence of the Navy and Admiralty-Offices, and all other charges which depend on the manning our Ships of war by Pressing, ’tis impossible for me to make any Proposal which is not subject to error. For which reason I have only wrote this to encourage others who are more capable, to demonstrate whether that charge is not greater than advancing two month’s pay and subsistence (till the Ships are ready) with Conduct-money, or, on occasion, some small Bounty to encourage VOLUNTIERS, as our Neighbours have practis’d to mann their ships? Or whether a certain Sum established by Parliament for enroling a body of Men, under proper Regulations to be always near at hand, whenever the Publick-service requires them, will not be more effectual than the methods we have some time followed? I submit to better Judges.
If my leisure allows me opportunity of being farther informed, I shall give you my Thoughts very freely. In the interim I am,
Sir, Yours, &c.61
† The like Deceit procured the wicked Act of 11 Hen. VII. c. 3. so justly condemned by the great Sir Edward Coke, whose description of it, is equally applicable to the Admiralty Bill above mentioned,—It—”had a fair flattering preamble, pretending to avoid divers mischiefs,” &c. — But “the Purview of that Act tended in the execution contrary ex diametro.”—4 Inst. p. 40.29
* For to raise 100,000 marks only, in the time of Richard I. was impos’d upon every Knight’s fee twenty shillings, the fourth part of all Laymen’s revenues, and the fourth part of all the revenues of the Clergy, with a tenth of their Goods. Daniel’s Hist. p. 121.36
* Prest is an old French Word, signifying ready, and this Money was given as earnest.
† See Appendix.
* See the App.