Impressment continued until 1833. Defence of such an institution is impossible on any grounds. Yet it is hard to see by what other means the fleets that saved the country could have been manned.
The material provided by the press-gangs is best shown by the descriptions given in ‘naval captains' letters extending over a hundred years:
`Sorry poor creatures that don't earn half the victuals they eat.'
`Sad thievish creatures.'
`Not a rag left but what was of such a nature as had to be destroyed.
`150 on board, the greatest part of them sorry fellows.'
`Poor ragged souls and very small.'
`Miserable poor creatures, not a seaman amongst them, and the fleet in the same condition.'
`Unfit for service and a nuisance to the ship.'
`Never so ill-manned a ship since I have been at sea. The worst set I ever saw.'
`Twenty-six poor souls, but three of them seamen. Ragged and half-dead.'
`Landsmen, boys, incurables and cripples. Sad wretches great part of them are.'
`More fit for an hospital than the sea.'
`All the ragg-tagg that can be picked up.'
(The authors are indebted for the above to The Press-Gang, Afloat and Ashore by Mr J. R. Hutchinson [Eveleigh Nash, 1913].)
Rear-Admiral Campbell to Captains Searle, Ferrier, Bedford, Winthrop, and Pearson. (N.R.S. xiv, p. x.)
By George Campbell, Esq., Rear-Admiral of the Blue, &c.
WHEREAS It is intended that a general impress of seamen should take place at the different ports and places along the adjacent coast, and that preparation should be made with the utmost secrecy and caution to perform that service with promptitude and effect, you will, immediately on receipt of these orders, select from the crew of his Majesty's ship under your command a sufficient number of trusty and well disposed men to man three boats, with as many marines and petty officers as you may judge necessary to send in each, under the orders of a lieutenant, to whom you will deliver a press warrant accordingly; and you are likewise to select sixteen steady marines that may be trusted to go on shore to stop the avenues leading up to the country.
And as it is intended that the party from his Majesty's ship under your command should be employed on this service at:
Captain Searle, and Alarm lugger - Dartmouth
Captain Ferrier - Paignton
Captain Bedford - Brixham
Captain Winthrop - Torquay
Captain Pearson - Teignmouth and Salcombe;
You will endeavour to have previous communication with one of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the district, applying to him to back the warrants, taking especial care to cause as little alarm as possible.
You will direct the officers you may appoint to this service that they are not to regard the protections of any description of persons, excepting those protected pursuant to Acts of Parliament, and all others who by the printed instructions which accompanied the press warrants are forbidden to be impressed; as also such persons as belong to ships and vessels bound to Newfoundland and foreign parts which are laden and cleared outwards by the proper officers of his Majesty's Customs; the crews of transports, storeships, victuallers, or other ships and vessels in the service of the Navy, Victualling, Transport, and Ordnance Boards; ships and vessels laden by the special order and under the direction of the Lords Commissioners of his Majesty's Treasury with provisions and stores for the use of his Majesty's armies, &c.; and vessels and craft in the service of the Corporation of the Trinity House.
On the boats returning to the ships, you will make a return to me of the number and qualities of the men that may have been impressed, and report to me your proceedings on the occasion.
But a very unpleasant and serious circumstance having occurred at Portland, it is my direction that this service is performed with as much caution as possible, to prevent bloodshed and violent measures.
Given, &c., Culloden in Torbay, 25th April, 1803.
By command of the Rear-Admiral.
P.R.O., Admiralty, Captains' Letters.
His Majesty's Ship Venerable
in Torbay, 26 April, 1803.
In pursuance of your order, I went last night to Dartmouth, with the Officers and men previously directed, and made a strict search in all the Public Houses, and in every other place where the Lieutenant of the Rendezvous thought there might be a probability of success. I dispatched at the same time a party to examine all the vessels afloat. I am sorry to say the result of all these endeavours only produced two men; this is; I imagine, to be accounted for by the same duty having been several times performed at Dartmouth since the first breaking out of the Impress, which has made the seamen too wary to be suddenly caught; indeed I am informed that the greater part of them are retired some miles into the country, particularly at the back of Teignmouth, where nothing but an adequate Military force can insure their being secured for His Majesty's Service.
Inclosed I transmit you a List of the two men impressed and have the honour to remain,
Sir, Your respectful and obedient Servant, J. C. SEARLE.
A list of four Men Impressed by the Boats of His Majesty's Ship Thunderer. W. Bedford, Esq., Captain.
||Served his time as a rope-maker; has never been at sea; worked in Woolwich yard five years ; came to Brixham to see his parents.
||Works as a blacksmith at Brixham; never at sea; says he is troubled with fits and sickness.
||Works as a shipwright; has property belonging to him at Newton Abbot.
||A fisherman belonging to Brixham; says he has a protection for the Endeavour sloop now laying at Dartmouth.
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