Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports compiled by Rictor Norton

Press Gangs

28-30 April 1701   More Seamen have been Prest than there is occasion for, so that the Fleet being now fully mann’d, a great many have been Discharged and sent home again. [The English Post]

11-13 February 1702   A great many Press-Gangs are now daily abroad, and pick up every Day abundance of able Men, for the use of the Fleet, which obliges others to flock on board, that they may be Intituled to His Majesty’s Bounty Money. [The London Post]

27 February-1 March 1707   They write from Oxford, that the close of the last Week, an old, and two new-rais’d Soldiers, being got Drunk, and going from that City to Woodstock, made a Resolution to Kill the first Man they met, but he proving to be a Gentleman on Horse-back, who had a Case of Pistols, they durst not attack him. The next Man they met was a Scotch Pedlar, whom they set upon, and most Barbarously murder’d, cutting his Throat from Ear to Ear. Notice being taken of the Dead Corps, the Murderers were pursued, overtaken, and, according to ancient Custom, challenged to touch the Dead Body, which the old Soldier readily did; but one of the others was taken with a Trembling, and struck with such Terror, that he presently confess’d the horrid Fact, whereupon they were all three committed to Oxford Gaol. [The Post Boy]

26 March 1726   Last week as a labourer was going over Black-Heath to work, he met 4 fellows who press’d the poor man, but he begging heartily, and telling them his family must starve, &c. they yielded to his intreaties, provided he would give them some money, which he complying, they marched off. In a quarter of an hour he falls into another gang, with a Lieutenant, who likewise stopp’d him, upon which he bemoans his condition, saying, it was very ill fortune to be press’d twice in a day, that he had not one farthing left, having given half a guinea and three shillings to the other press gang. The Lieutenant hearing the story, went in quest of those who had extorted the money from him, and found them carrousing at an ale-house, and that they were sham press-masters; upon which he order’d the labourer his money, set him at liberty, and carried off the other chaps. [Mist's Weekly Journal]

Saturday, 22 September 1739   They press for seamen so smartly below Bridge, that no boat is suffered to pass unexamined; and yesterday, in the height of their change, some press-gangs scower’d Rag-Fair, and swept off a great number of idle fellows, very fit for the Service.
         On Tuesday night one Matthew Stubbs, a Custom-House Waterman, was press’d in St. Katherine’s to serve the King, by a Man of War’s gang; but he being already in the Government Service refused to go along with them, whereupon a quarrel ensued, and he in the fray was several times knock’d down and most terribly wounded: But a posse of people gathering about them, the Press-Masters were forced to retire, and leave their Midshipman, that was their leader, prisoner; who being carried before Justice Dennet was by him bound over to answer for his misbehaviour at Sessions. (Read’s Weekly Journal, or, British-Gazetteer)

1 July 1732   On Monday night last, about nine o’clock, Lieutenant Smith, with his press-gang, belonging to the Edinburgh Man of War, went on board some Norway ships lying in Hanover-Hole, being Danes, Swedes, &c. in order to press some of the men, several of whom were English; but they no sooner gon on board, but all the ships crews in the Teer gathered together in a body, and got their handspikes, iron crows, hatchets (with which they cut the wood in the country) and other weapons, and as fast as the press gang got up the sides of the ship they knock’d them into the Thames; but notwithstanding this resistance, the press gang still persisted, and got again into the ship, but being overpowered, the adversaries got the Lieutenant, and was going to cut his head off with one of the hatchets, and would certainly have done it, had not a stout fellow knock’d the person down as he was going to strike the blow, and at the same tiime took the Lieutenant in his arms and flung him over-board, by which means he saved his life. After the press-gang was got into their boat, some with broken arms, others with their ribs broke (who were afterwards carried to Deptford Yard to the Surgeon to be cured) the ships crews flung into the boat at them several handspikes, hatchets, and other desperate weapons, all which were brought into the publick Hall of the Admiralty, and a complaint was likewise made to their Lordships on Tuesday, but what the consequence will be must be referred to another opportunity. (The Country Journal: or, The Craftsman)

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Press Gangs", 8 June 2002, expanded 27 January 2007 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/press.htm>

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