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"British Navy Impressment" Topic


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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP04 Oct 2018 12:29 p.m. PST

"Since the French Revolution, conscription or the Draft has been how countries have found additional manpower for their armed forces in modern times.

Prior to this Britain practiced a cruel but effective way of combating the manpower shortage in their navy: impressment.

Impressment, or "press gang" as it was more commonly known, was recruitment by force. It was a practice that directly affected the U.S. and was even one of the causes of the War of 1812…."
Main page

link


Amicalement
Armand

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP05 Oct 2018 3:24 p.m. PST

Not too much different from slave raids

Stoppage05 Oct 2018 4:03 p.m. PST

Loiterers put to good use

Making useful out of useless

Although – one volunteer is worth two pressed men!

--

Apparently my internet is about to be cut off. My helpful call advisor from Manila assures me that it was a nuisance call.

Narked. Majorly.

---

Press all the scammerz

Lion in the Stars05 Oct 2018 11:03 p.m. PST

Yeah, well, them's shooting words when you impress another nation's citizens. (See also: War of 1812)

Mr Astrolabe06 Oct 2018 2:14 a.m. PST

Bear in mind that impressment was limited to sailors or those who worked at sea/with ships, and crucially that Britain (unlike several continental powers AND I think the US) did not have conscription, so whilst they may have been pressed, in other countries they would have been recruited against their will anyway. I can see little difference between conscription & pressing.
At least in Britain the method ensured those "recruited" were at least partly qualified & thus able to withstand the rigours of the job.

42flanker06 Oct 2018 2:37 a.m. PST

Impressment was not the primary source of recruitment, as it is sometimes depicted. The Royal Navy was manned principally by professional seamen with strong esprit de corps. Neither officer or ratings wished to serve alongside unwilling or inept colleagues in a demanding, dangerous job.

I'd be interested to know, as it's the only bit of data in the article, where the figure of 15,000 comes from.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP06 Oct 2018 5:58 a.m. PST

Mr Astrolabe is generally correct. Though landsman were pressed, the focus of impressment was skilled seaman of which there was never enough and took months and years to train.

Most of our sailing game rules don't reflect this fact.

Brechtel19806 Oct 2018 6:23 a.m. PST

'Without a press I have no idea how our Fleet can be manned.'-Horatio Nelson.

Between 1793-1812 approximately 10,000 American seamen were impressed into the Royal Navy.

According to Donald Hickey, in his study on the War of 1812, Don't Give Up The Ship! Myths of the War of 1812, '…the Royal Navy probably got 50 percent of its seaman in this period from impressment, and with desertions running about 500 a month during the Napoleonic Wars, there was rarely a lull in the practice.'-see pages 18-21.

Cursd Captain06 Oct 2018 10:57 a.m. PST

I see a difference between a predictable, announced conscription, usually of young men, and a skilled worker being kidnapped from his job site when his family thinks he's coming back.

It is like slavery in that in both cases, the jump in travel distance created by the AOS allows a kidnapper to carry someone so far from home that he has nowhere to escape to.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP06 Oct 2018 11:49 a.m. PST

Conscription is not slavery… you know your country are going to need you sometime between some age…

Kidnapped suddenly and lost of all you have (family, etc) is far away comparable.

Even fighting for other country against your will…


Imho.

Amicalement
Armand

Brechtel19806 Oct 2018 1:08 p.m. PST

Agree that conscription is not slavery, it is far from it.

Blutarski06 Oct 2018 8:13 p.m. PST

Between 1793 and 1815 about 15,000 American seamen were taken into RN service by impressment. It is reasonable to speculate that numbers of other nationalities were swept up as well. It is agreed that impressment had legal standing and precedent in Great Britain. But let's be honest: the press gangs were very far from careful about observing the rights of foreign nationals.

As wags back in those days were fond of saying – "Britannia rules the waves and waives the rules."

B

Lion in the Stars06 Oct 2018 9:19 p.m. PST

Conscription is involuntary servitude, as is impressment.


Don't forget, the final argument about ending the draft in the US was "I'd rather command an army of mercenaries than an army of slaves!"


Honestly, if a nation cannot get it's citizens to defend it without a draft, that nation deserves to fall.

Brechtel19807 Oct 2018 4:41 a.m. PST

Don't forget, the final argument about ending the draft in the US was "I'd rather command an army of mercenaries than an army of slaves!"

I was in the service at the time, and not as a draftee, and I don't recall this 'final argument.'

What is your source?

Equating draftees or conscripts with slavery, or 'involuntary servitude' is an inaccurate and illogical analogy. And if the 'army of mercenaries' is a crack against the all-volunteer force, that is nothing more than a grave insult to those of us who did volunteer to serve.

Perhaps a review on your part of conscription historically might be in order?

Brechtel19807 Oct 2018 4:43 a.m. PST

Between 1793 and 1815 about 15,000 American seamen were taken into RN service by impressment.

That is probably an over-estimation, as Donald Hickey, as previously stated, estimated the number as about 10,000.

What is your source?

Cursd Captain07 Oct 2018 9:05 a.m. PST

Just to be clear, when I wrote "it is like slavery" above, I meant impressment, not conscription.

I recognize moral critiques of the rights our governments demand of us, such as conscription, corvee, taxes, etc, but -- especially to the extant the the government answers to an electorate -- all of these are a very different kind of violation from unexpectedly having your life changed by a stranger with a gun. And possibly, as Armand points out, being made to fight your own people.

StarCruiser07 Oct 2018 11:18 a.m. PST

There is an online document on the subject of mercenary vs. slave armies:

PDF link

Milton Friedman is generally credited with that…

Nine pound round07 Oct 2018 1:59 p.m. PST

How does that line from "Heart of Oak" go?

"To honour we call you, not press you like slaves, for who are so free as the sons of the waves?"

Perspective might be a bit different from Drury Lane….but an awkward lyric, to say the least. The view was certainly different from Baltimore.

Blutarski07 Oct 2018 3:39 p.m. PST

Hi Brechtel198 -
I took a quick and lazy route by searching out the website of PBS History Detectives, but their numbers are arguably not inconsistent with those cited by you. Apparently the figure of 15,000 pressed American seamen relates to the period from 1793 to 1815, while, from a paper I read some time ago argued that the number of 10,000 relates to the period 1803 to 1812 (which would have corresponded to the time of the RN's massive expansion in the numbers of frigates and lesser cruising and escort classes).

At the end of the day, however, it is also fair to say that the true number has been a matter of some controversy among historians.

FWIW,

B

Lion in the Stars07 Oct 2018 8:52 p.m. PST

@Brechtel: My apologies, I misremembered the quote.

"In the course of his [General Westmoreland's] testimony, he made the statement that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. I [Milton Friedman] stopped him and said, ‘General, would you rather command an army of slaves?' He drew himself up and said, ‘I don't like to hear our patriotic draftees referred to as slaves.' I replied, ‘I don't like to hear our patriotic volunteers referred to as mercenaries.' But I went on to say, ‘If they are mercenaries, then I, sir, am a mercenary professor, and you, sir, are a mercenary general; we are served by mercenary physicians, we use a mercenary lawyer, and we get our meat from a mercenary butcher.' That was the last that we heard from the general about mercenaries."
– Milton and Rose Friedman, Two Lucky People, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, p. 380.

And I would definitely equate impressment to slave-taking.

Brechtel19808 Oct 2018 4:16 a.m. PST

Impressment and conscription, at least the American draft, are not the same thing-not even close.

42flanker08 Oct 2018 8:33 a.m. PST

500 desertions a month for the 1793-1815 period is an interesting figure. Given that the Royal Navy spent most of its time at sea, not least blockading the French in Brest and Toulon, what opportunities were these men finding to desert? Indeed, I seem to remember reading that one of the advantages of keeping the navy at sea for such extended periods was that it discouraged those who might be inclined to jump ship.

Brechtel19808 Oct 2018 9:41 a.m. PST

Perhaps you could do a little research on the subject as Hickey has done?

It might help you understand the subject better?

For example, Nelson wrote that there had been more than 42,000 desertions between 1793 and 1803.

Perhaps the following will be useful:

-https://www.amazon.com/Press-Gang-Impressment-opponents-Georgian/dp/1847144683/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1539017696&sr=1-2&keywords=impressment+in+the+royal+navy

-https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Press-Gang-Volunteers-Impressment/dp/1783270039/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1539017763&sr=1-8&keywords=impressment+in+the+royal+navy

I've just ordered them myself for further research.

By the way, did you take a look at the reference that I posted?

Mr Astrolabe08 Oct 2018 1:05 p.m. PST

I'm sure that level of desertion would be possible in a fleet of 100,000 men and over 600 ships (works out about one sailor per month for every two ships I think). Nothing outrageous there, even though the headline figure sounds big.
Also on the point of American sailors being pressed, bear in mind a great number of these would have been born in Britain, and regarded by the Royal Navy as British citizens.

Brechtel19808 Oct 2018 5:28 p.m. PST

But not by the US government…

Brechtel19809 Oct 2018 4:32 a.m. PST

…and regarded by the Royal Navy as British citizens.


During that period, weren't they British subjects, not citizens?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP09 Oct 2018 11:13 a.m. PST

Good point!.

Amicalement
Armand

Mr Astrolabe09 Oct 2018 11:27 a.m. PST

Yes, probably subjects. Certainly subject to being taken off the boat should the Royal Navy decide they're British :-)

Stoppage09 Oct 2018 2:17 p.m. PST

I just looked up British Subject on wikipedia. Wish I hadn't – very complicated.

williamb09 Oct 2018 2:28 p.m. PST

conscription is for a limited term of service depending on nation, branch of service, and hostilities. Impressment has no time limit.

williamb09 Oct 2018 2:29 p.m. PST

conscription is for a limited term of service depending on nation, branch of service, and hostilities. Impressment is for life.

14Bore10 Oct 2018 2:28 p.m. PST

Mostly from reading O'Brien that I got a sense of conscription, he uses the law any former British seaman can be pressed off of any foreign vessel.

42flanker11 Oct 2018 9:57 a.m. PST

I'm sure that level of desertion would be possible in a fleet of 100,000 men and over 600 ships (works out about one sailor per month for every two ships I think). Nothing outrageous there, even though the headline figure sounds big.

My maths is notoriously bad but the figure of 42,000 desertions in the period 1793-1803 attributed to Nelson, assuming that is accurate, I think comes to 4,200 a year, which I think is 350 a month.

Nonetheless, when you narrow the desertion rate to the amount of time Royal Navy ships spent in port and actually moored at the quayside, these figures would take on greater significance.

Mr Astrolabe11 Oct 2018 10:54 a.m. PST

I've not looked at how long/how many ships were moored at any one time, but reading something else (Mosterts "Line upon a Wind") he refers to a specific impressed set of seamen who deserted whilst the ships they manned (they were part of a fleet) – were in port (Cape Town) for several months. Also there could well be continuous boat traffic between ships off the coast but not necessarily at the quayside which would enable any sailor to smuggle himself out, or swim if able. Plus the above tale mentions sailors swimming to other nearby ships. thus for the creative (and I imagine you'd get plenty of thinking time whilst at sea) there were probably a lot of opportunities.

42flanker11 Oct 2018 2:40 p.m. PST

Not many C18th sailors could swim, by all accounts, and for the very reasons you suggest, passage over the side, into mostly open boats, would be strictly policed; one of the reasons Marines served on HM ships.

Mr Astrolabe12 Oct 2018 11:46 a.m. PST

Ref swimming – true, but some could.
Ref passage onto open boat – bear in mind the guy isn't going to have "deserter" written on his head – he's just another sailor going ashore.
The fact they deserted in some numbers means it was possible, and given the size of the navy at the time and the desire for many people to leave it I don't find the figures particularly surprising, the navy clearly coped with the problem, ironically with impressment.

42flanker12 Oct 2018 3:35 p.m. PST

'Just another sailor going ashore'- the point is that sailors didnt go over the side without assigned duties on specific boats. They were not in large groups and would tend to be reliable men under the command of others.

Clearly, the odd man might slip away, and the odd man might swim ashore. I am still curious how that pattern of desrtion could be maintained. Perhaps, across the oceans of the world, 350 men a month isn't that great a figure.

Mr Astrolabe13 Oct 2018 6:44 a.m. PST

Several paintings/drawings at the time depict ships surrounded by "bum boats" – locals plying their wares (& sometimes their wives) to sailors on board ships. I imagine during such chaotic scenes it would be possible for people to move illicitly. As you say, in a navy of 100,000 – 350 a month (about 5% a year?) doesn't seem implausible.
On an aside – was just looking at a manifest of the HMS Victory's crew at Trafalgar – there were 22 Americans on board, only one of whom had been pressed. Furthermore the signaller who ran up the famous "every man" signal before the battle was a pressed man.

42flanker13 Oct 2018 10:07 a.m. PST

"Several paintings/drawings at the time depict ships surrounded by "bum boats" – locals plying their wares (& sometimes their wives) to sailors on board ships. I imagine during such chaotic scenes it would be possible for people to move illicitly."

Indeed, but you would not be the only one to imagine that, naval officers being intelligent fellows,and for that reason contact was monitored by those on watch. With desertion was a problem, the naval authorities did not merely shrug.

42flanker13 Oct 2018 10:14 a.m. PST

I found this documentary illuminating

YouTube link

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