The Full Wiki

Impressment: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Press gang, British caricature of 1780

Impressment (colloquially, "the Press") was the act of compelling men to serve in a navy by force and without notice. It was used by the Royal Navy, beginning in 1664 and during the 18th and early 19th centuries, in wartime, as a means of crewing warships, although legal sanction for the practice goes back to the time of Edward I of England. The Royal Navy impressed many British merchant sailors, as well as some sailors from other nations. People liable to impressment were eligible men of seafaring habits between the ages of 18 and 45 years, though, albeit rarely, non-seamen were impressed as well.

Impressment was strongly criticized by those who believed it to be contrary to the British constitution; unlike many of its continental rivals, Britain did not conscript its subjects for any other military service, aside from a brief experiment with army impressment in 1778 to 1780. Though the public opposed conscription in general, impressment was repeatedly upheld by the courts, as it was deemed vital to the strength of the navy and, by extension, to the survival of the realm.

The impressment of seamen from American ships caused serious tensions between Britain and the United States in the years leading up to the War of 1812. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, Britain ended the practice, and never resumed it.


Royal Navy recruiting and desertion

Working and living conditions for the average sailor in the Royal Navy in the 18th century were harsh by modern standards and generally much worse than conditions on British merchant ships; their pay was around half that paid by merchantmen and was lower than that paid to a farm labourer. In fact Naval wages had been set in 1653 and were not increased until April 1797 after sailors on 80 ships of the Channel Fleet based at Spithead mutinied to get an increase. Roughly half of all Navy crews were impressed and these not only received lower wages than volunteers but were often shackled while the vessel was docked and were never permitted to go ashore until released from service.[1][2]

The main problem with recruiting, though, was a simple lack of qualified seamen during wartime, when it became necessary for the Navy to quickly recruit an extra 20,000 (early 18th century) to 40,000 men (late 18th century) — privateers, the navy, and the merchant navy all competed for a small pool of ordinary and able seamen in wartime, and all three groups were usually short-handed. The recruitment figures presented to Parliament for the years 1755 - 1757 list 70,566 men of which 33,243 were volunteers (47%), 16,953 pressed men (24%) while another 20,370 were also listed as volunteers separately (29%). Although there are no records that explain why volunteers were separated into two groups, it is likely these were pressed men who became "volunteers" to get the sign-up bonus, two months' wages in advance and a higher wage as it is known large numbers did do this. Volunteering also protected the sailor from creditors as the law forbade collecting debts accrued before enlistment. Other records confirm similar percentages throughout the 18th century.[2]

Average Annual Recruitment 1736 - 1783[3]

Peace War Royal Navy Privateer Merchant Total
1736 - 1738 14,845 35,239 50,084
1739 - 1748 43,303 2,602 30,392 75,997
1753 - 1755 17,369 40,862 58,231
1756 - 1763 74,771 3,286 37,584 115,641
1773 - 1775 18,540 50,903 69,443
1775 - 1783 67,747 3,749 44,947 116,443

One of the largest impressment operations occurred in the spring of 1757 in New York City, then still under British colonial rule. Three thousand British soldiers cordoned off the city, and plucked clean the taverns and other sailors' gathering places. "All kinds of tradesmen and Negroes" were hauled in, nearly eight hundred in all.[4] Four hundred of these were "retained in the service."

All three groups also dealt with high levels of desertion. In the 18th century, desertion rates on naval ships averaged 25% with little difference between volunteers and pressed men, starting high, then falling heavily after a few months onboard a ship, and generally becoming negligible after a year — navy pay ran months or years in arrears, and desertion might mean not only abandoning companions in the ship's company, but also the loss of a large amount of money already earned. If a navy ship had taken a prize, a deserting seaman would also forfeit his share of the prize money. In a report on proposed changes to the RN written by Admiral Nelson in 1803, he noted that since 1793 more than 42,000 sailors had deserted.

The Impress Service and impressment at sea

The Impress Service was formed to force sailors to serve on naval vessels (there was no concept of joining the navy for non-officers at the time), based on the legal power of the King to call men to military service, as well as to recruit volunteers (who were paid a bounty upon joining, unlike pressed men).

In Elizabethan times impressment as a form of recruitment became a statute and with the introduction of the Vagrancy Act in 1597, men of disrepute (vagrants) were drafted into service. In 1703 an act was passed limiting the impressment of men to only those under 18 years of age. A further act in 1740 raised the age to 55. Although no foreigner could be pressed, if they married a British woman, or had worked on a British merchant ship for two years they lost their protection. Some governments, including Britain, issued "Protections" against impressment which had to be carried on the person at all times but in times of crisis the Admiralty would order a "Hot Press" which meant that no one was exempt.[5]

The Royal Navy also impressed seamen from inbound British merchant ships at sea, though this was done by individual warships, rather than the Impress Service. Impressment, particularly press gangs, were consistently unpopular with the British public (as well as in the American colonies), and local officials often acted against them, to the point of imprisoning officers from the Impressment Service, or opposing them by force of arms.

The press gang would try to find men aged between 15 and 55 with seafaring or river-boat experience but this was not essential and those with no experience were called "Landsmen". From 1740 Landsmen were legally exempt from impressment but this was ignored in wartime unless the person seized was an apprentice or a "gentleman"[6]. Two Landsmen were considered by captains to be the equivalent of an Able Seamen. If a Landsmen was able to prove his status to the Admiralty he was usually released. A man in the street would first be asked to volunteer and if he refused he was often plied with alcohol or simply knocked out and taken. A commonly held belief of a trick used in taverns was to surreptitiously drop a King's shilling ("prest money") into his drink as by "finding" the shilling in his possession he was deemed to have volunteered, and that this led to some tavern owners putting glass bottoms in their tankards. However, this is urban legend; press officers were subject to fines for using trickery and a volunteer had a "cooling-off" period in which to change his mind.

Contrary to popular belief, the great majority of men pressed were taken from merchant ships at sea. This was legal as long as the Navy replaced the man they took and many Naval captains would take the best seamen, replacing them with malcontents and landsmen from their own ship. It was also common for "trusted" volunteers to act as substitutes; they would then desert as soon as the merchant ship docked, and return to their Navy ship. Outbound merchant ships, officers and apprentices were exempt from impressment. When war broke out the Navy would blanket the coast with cruisers ready to intercept every inbound merchantman, many of which would flee to Ireland to offload their best men before returning to England. In 1740 a merchantman fired on a cruiser attempting to impress its crew; similar violence to avoid being pressed was not uncommon, especially with the East India ships whose crews had been away from their families and England for a considerable time. In times of an extreme shortage of men the Navy would "embargo" the coast for a short time; merchantmen had to supply a portion of their crew in exchange for permission to sail.[2] Many merchant ships had hiding places constructed where their best crew could hide when approached by a Naval vessel.[1]

In addition to impressment, England also used the Quota System (or The Quod) from 1795 to 1815, whereby each county was required to supply a certain number of volunteers, based on its population and the number of its seaports. Unlike impressment, the Quota System often resulted in criminals serving on board ships as counties who failed to meet their quota offered prisoners the option of completing their sentence or volunteering.

Britain last used impressment in 1815 but the statutes allowing it have never been repealed. In 1835, a statute was passed that exempted sailors who had been impressed and had spent five years in the navy from being impressed a second time.

Continental Navy

The Continental Navy impressed men into its service during the American Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress authorized construction of thirteen frigates, including USS Virginia (1776) in 1775. The senior captain of the Continental Navy, James Nicholson, was appointed to command Virginia, built and launched at Baltimore, Maryland.

When Virginia was fully rigged and fitted out in 1777, Nicholson received orders to sail to Martinique, to deliver dispatches and take on a cargo of arms and ammunition for the Continental Army. Many of Nicholson's crew had deserted to sign on privateers, for higher pay at less risk. With inadequate crew to comply with orders from Congress, Nicholson impressed about thirty citizens of Baltimore for service aboard Virginia, an act expressly forbidden by Maryland law. Maryland governor Thomas Johnson demanded immediate release of the impressed men. Nicholson refused, stating impressment was common practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and some of the northern states.

Congress convinced Nicholson to release the impressed citizens of Baltimore, to avoid problems with the State of Maryland, but the practice of impressment continued where the local state legislature or governor gave consent. Nicholson avoided the need for local government consent by stopping the American merchant ships Holker and Fair American at sea in 1780, to impress men from their crews.

The individual states didn't deny the concept of impressment for their own navies, but were reluctant to grant the right to the Continental Congress. The concept of a drafting men into armed service remained contentious, even after adoption of the federal constitution.[7]

Conflict with the United States

In 1795, the Jay Treaty went into effect, addressing many issues left unresolved after the American Revolution, and averting a renewed conflict. However, the treaty's neglect to address British impressment of sailors from American ships and ports became a major cause of complaint among those who disapproved of it. While non-British subjects weren't impressed, Britain didn't recognize naturalised American citizenship, and treated anyone born a British subject as still "British" — as a result, the Royal Navy impressed over 9,000 sailors who claimed to be American citizens.

During the wars with France (1793 to 1815), the Royal Navy aggressively reclaimed British deserters on board ships of other nations, both by halting and searching merchant ships, and, in many cases, by searching American port cities. Although illegal, Thomas Jefferson ignored this to remain on good terms with Britain as he was negotiating to obtain "the Floridas". This changed in 1805 when the British began seizing American merchantmen trading with the West Indies and condemning the ships and their cargoes as a prize and enforcing impressment on their crews. Under the Rule of 1756, in times of war direct trade between a European state and its colony was forbidden to neutrals when such trade had not existed in time of peace. The Americans had found a way around this by "landing" cargoes from Europe in the United States and issuing certificates that duty had been paid. The ship would then sail, with the cargo never having been offloaded or duty actually paid, as now bona fide commerce between neutral America and the West Indies. The British became aware of the practice during the court case involving the seizure of the Essex. The court ruled that the cargo of the Essex had never been intended for American markets so the voyage had not been broken and could thus be considered continuous. The end result was the blockade of New York Harbor by two British frigates, the Cambrian and the Leander, which provoked public demonstrations.

For the next year scores of American ships were condemned in admiralty courts and American seamen were impressed with increasing frequency until, in the early summer of 1807, when three deserters from the British frigate HMS Melampus lying in Chesapeake Bay enlisted on the American frigate USS Chesapeake. After searching the Chesapeake, the deserters, David Martin, John Strachan, and William Ware were found to be native Americans who had been wrongly impressed. Unfortunately the search had also found that a crew member listed, Jenkin Ratford, was a British deserter however, he could not be found. Admiral Berkeley in anger issued an order to all commanders in the North Atlantic Squadron to search the Chesapeake if encountered on the high seas. Eight miles southeast of Cape Henry a boat from the British frigate HMS Leopard intercepted her but Commodore Barron declined to permit his crew to be mustered. The Leopard began approaching and the commander shouted a warning to which Barron replied "I don't hear what you say". The Leopard then fired two shots across the bow and almost immediately poured a broadside into the American ship and, without the Chesapeake returning fire, poured another two broadsides into her. Three crew were killed and eighteen wounded. The British boarding party not only arrested the British deserter but also the three native Americans. The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair provoked an outcry for war from all parts of the country and Jefferson later wrote: "The affair of the Chesapeake put war into my hand, I had only to open it and let havoc loose". He ordered the state governors to ready their militias but the Embargo Act of 1807 he eventually passed only ordered all British armed vessels out of American waters and forbade all contact with them if they remained.

While not directly mentioned as a reason for the declaration of war in the War of 1812, the impressment and ship seizures caused serious diplomatic tension, and helped to turn American public opinion against Britain.

End of impressment

British impressment ended, in practice, after 1814, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars — the Royal Navy fought no major naval actions again until World War I, a century later, when conscription was used for all the military services.

British naval impressment laws

The first Act of Parliament legalizing this practice was passed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1563 and was known as "an act touching politick considerations for the maintenance of the navy". It was renewed many times until 1631. In the Vagabonds Act 1597, several lists of persons were subject to impressment for service in the fleet.

The Recruiting Act 1703 was an act passed "for the increase of seamen and better encouragement of navigation, and the protection of the Coal Trade". This act gave parish authorities the power to apprentice boys to the sea, and reaffirmed rogues and vagabonds were subject to be pressed into the navy. In 1740, impressment was limited to men between eighteen and forty-five, and it also exempted foreigners.

The last law was passed in 1835, in which the power to impress was reaffirmed. This limited the length of service of a pressed man to five years, and added the provision that a man could not be pressed twice. Although Britain abandoned the practice of impressment in 1815, impressment remained legal until the early 1900s, and the various laws authorizing impressment have never been repealed.

In 1708, parliament passed an Act forbidding impressment in American waters, without clearly stating whether the law applied only to the navy, or to civil authorities as well, and whether it applied only to the current war or to all future wars.[8] Two attorneys-general of Great Britain, one in 1716, and another in 1740, issued opinions that the 1708 Act was no longer in effect,[9] but many American colonists disagreed.

As a result of the doubt over the legality of impressment in American waters, parliament passed a new Act in 1746, stating that impressment was forbidden in the West Indies, but not in America, leading to a riot in Boston the following year, and continued with the colonies, particularly with heavily maritime New England.[10]

British army impressment laws

Starting in 1645, the New Model Army raised by Oliver Cromwell to overthrow Charles I during the English Civil War was largely manned by impressment.[1] After the restoration of the monarchy, impressment into the army was discontinued.

During the American Revolutionary War, after the losses at the Battle of Saratoga and the apprehended hostilities with France, the existing voluntary enlistment measures were judged to be insufficient. Between 1775 and 1781, the regular army increased from 48,000 to 110,000. Two acts were passed, the Recruiting Act 1778 and the Recruiting Act 1779 for the impression of individuals into the British Army.[11] The chief advantages of these acts was in the number of volunteers brought in under the apprehension of impressment. To avoid impressment, some recruits incapacitated themselves by cutting off the thumb and forefinger of the right hand.[12] The Recruiting Act of 1779 was repealed on May 26, 1780, and army impressment was permanently discontinued.

During the experiment, the British government allowed army impressment under severely restricted circumstances — both acts emphasized volunteering over impressment, and offered strong incentives to volunteers. The impressment portion of the 1778 act applied only to Scotland and the area around London, excluding Wales and the rest of England, to avoid interfering with harvesting. The 1779 act applied to all of Great Britain, but was initially suspended everywhere except the area around London, and actually applied to all of Great Britain for only six months, until the 1779 act was repealed in May 1780, and army impressment ceased in Britain.[13]

Unlike naval impressment, army impressment applied only to "able-bodied idle, and disorderly Persons, who could not, upon Examination, prove themselves to exercise and industriously follow some lawful Trade or Employment, or to have some Substance sufficient for their Support and Maintenance", as well as smugglers, according to the 1778 law, but excluding from that any men who were voters, or harvest workers. The 1779 law extended impressment also to "incorrigible rogues" who had abandoned their families, and left them as expenses on the parish.[2] Impressed apprentices were released under appeal from their masters, and impressed foreigners were released when requested by their countries' embassies.[14]

See also




  1. ^ a b Hickox, Rex (2007). All You Wanted to Know about 18th Century Royal Navy. ISBN 1411630572.   Pages 16 - 19
  2. ^ a b c Hill, J.R. (2002). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198605277.   Pages 135 - 137
  3. ^ Fischer, Lewis R.; Nordvik, Helge W. Shipping and Trade, 1750-1950: Essays in International Maritime Economic History 1990 page 25
  4. ^ Nash, pg. 151
  5. ^ Information Sheet #78 Impressment Royal Navy Museum
  6. ^ BBC History Magazine, Vol.9 no.8, August 2008
  7. ^ Fowler, William M., Jr. "The Non-Volunteer Navy" United States Naval Institute Proceedings August 1974 pp.75-78
  8. ^ Roger (2004), p.316.
  9. ^ Smith, p. 291
  10. ^ Rogers (2004), p.316
  11. ^ Curtis, pg 57-60
  12. ^ Curtis, pg. 64
  13. ^
  14. ^


  • Cray, Robert E., “Remembering the USS Chesapeake: The Politics of Maritime. Death and Impressment,” Journal of the Early Republic (Fall 2005) vol 25
  • Curtis, Edward, The Organization of the British Army in the American Revolution. 1972, ISBN 0854099069
  • Nash, Gary, The Urban Crucible, The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution, 1986, ISBN 0674930584
  • Rodger, N. A. M. The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy. W.W. Norton and Company, 1986.
  • Rodger, N.A.M. The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649–1815. W.W. Norton and Company, 2004.
  • Anthony Steel, "Impressment in the Monroe-Pinkney Negotiation, 1806-1807," The American Historical Review, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Jan., 1952), pp. 352–369 online in JSTOR
  • Roland G. Usher, Jr. "Royal Navy Impressment During the American Revolution," The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Mar., 1951), pp. 673–688 online in JSTOR
  • Smith, Page, A new age now begins, 1976, ISBN 0070590974
  • Miller, Nathan. Sea of Glory, 1974, ISBN 067950392

External links

  • The Impress Service, basic article on "press gangs" in British ports, charged with impressing sailors into the Navy.
  • Pressed Men: example of impressment of HMS Pandora crew in 1790.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

IMPRESSMENT, the name given in English to the exercise of the authority of the state to "press" 1 or compel the service of the subject for the defence of the realm. Every sovereign state must claim and at times exercise this power. The "drafting" of men for service in the American Civil War was a form of impressment. All the monarchical, or republican, governments of Europe have employed the press at one time or another. All forms of conscription, including the English ballot for the militia, are but regulations of this sovereign right. In England impressment may be looked upon as an erratic, and often oppressive, way of enforcing the common obligation to serve in "the host" or in the posse comitatus (power of the county). In Scotland, where the feudal organization was very complete in the Lowlands, and the tribal organization no less complete in the Highlands, and where the state was weak, impressment was originally little known. After the union of the two parliaments in 1707, no distinction was made between the two divisions of Great Britain. In England the kings of the Plantagenet dynasty caused Welshmen to be pressed by the Lords Marchers, and Irish kerns to be pressed by the Lords Deputy, for their wars in France. Complaints were made by parliament of the oppressive use of this power as early as the reign of Edward III., but it continued to be exercised. Readers of Shakespeare will remember Sir John Falstaff's commission to press soldiers, and the manner, justified no doubt by many and familiar examples of the way in which the duty was performed. A small sum 1 It is now accepted generally that "to press" is a corruption of "prest," as "impress" is of "imprest," but the word was quite early connected with "press," to squeeze, crush, hence to compel or force. The "prest" was a sum of money advanced (0. Fr. prester, modern preter, to lend, Lat. praestare, to stand before, provide, become surety for, &c.) to a person to enable him to perform some undertaking, hence used of earnest money given to soldiers on enlistment, or as the "coat and conduct" money alluded to in this article. The methods of compulsion used to get men for military service naturally connected the word with "to press" (Lat. pressare, frequentative of premere)to force, and all reference to the money advanced was lost (see Skeat, Etym. Diet., 1898, and the quotation from H. Wedgwood, Dict. of Eng. Etym.). called imprest-money, or coat and conduct money, was given to the men when pressed to enable them to reach the appointed rendezvous. Soldiers were secured in this way by Queen Elizabeth, by King Charles I., and by the parliament itself in the Civil War. The famous New Model Army of Cromwell was largely raised by impressment. Parliament ordered the county committees to select recruits of "years meet for their employment and well clothed." After the Revolution of 1688 parliament occasionally made use of this resource. In 1779 a general press of all rogues and vagabonds in London to be drafted into the regiments was ordered. It is said that all who were not too lame to run away or too destitute to bribe the parish constable were swept into the net. As they were encouraged to desert by the undisguised connivance of the officers and men who were disgusted with their company, no further attempt to use the press for the army was made.

A distinction between the liability of sailors and of other men dates from the 16th century. From an act of Philip and Mary (1556) it appears that the watermen of the Thames claimed exemption from the press as a privileged body. They were declared liable, and the liability was clearly meant to extend to service as a soldier on shore. In the fifth year of Queen Elizabeth (1563) an act was passed to define the liability of the sailors. It is known as "an Act touching politick considerations for the maintenance of the Navy." By its term all fishermen and mariners were protected from being compelled "to serve as any soldiers upon the Land or upon the Sea, otherwise than as a mariner, except it shall be to serve under any Captain of some ship or vessel, for landing to do some special exploit which mariners have been used to do." The operation of the act was limited to ten years, but it was renewed repeatedly, and was at last indefinitely prolonged in the sixteenth year of the reign of Charles I. (1631). By the Vagrancy Act of the close of Queen Elizabeth's reign (1597), disorderly serving-men and other disreputable characters, of whom a formidable list is given, were declared to be liable to be impressed for service in the fleet. The "Takers," as they were called in early times, the Press Gang of later days, were ordered to present their commission to two justices of the peace, who were bound to pick out "such sufficient number of able men, as in the said commission shall be contained, to serve Her Majesty as aforesaid." The justices of the peace in the coast districts, who were of ten themselves concerned in the shipping trade, were not always zealous in enforcing the press. The pressed sailors often deserted with the "imprest money" given them. Loud complaints were made by the naval officers of the bad quality of the men sent up to serve in the king's ships. On the other hand, the Press Gangs were accused of extorting money, and of making illegal arrests. In the reign of Queen Anne (1703) an act was passed "for the increase of Seamen and the better encouragement of navigation, and the protection of the Coal Trade." The act which gave parish authorities power to apprentice boys to the sea exempted the apprentices from the press for three years, and until the age of eighteen. It especially reaffirmed the part of the Vagrancy Act of Elizabeth's reign which left rogues and vagabonds subject to be pressed for the sea service. By the act for the "increase of Mariners and Seamen to navigate Merchant Ships and other trading ships or vessels," passed in the reign of George II. (1740), all men over fifty-five were exempted from the press together with lads under eighteen, foreigners serving in British ships (always numerous in war time), and landsmen who had gone to sea during their first two years. The act for "the better supplying of the cities of London and Westminster with fish" gave exemption to all masters of fishing-boats, to four apprentices and one mariner to each boat, and all landsmen for two years, except in case of actual invasion. By the act for the encouragement of insurance passed in 1774, the fire insurance companies in London were entitled to secure exemption for thirty watermen each in their employment. Masters and mates of merchant vessels, and a proportion of men per ship in the colliers trading from the north to London, were also exempt.

Subject to such limitations as these, all seafaring men, and watermen on rivers, were liable to be pressed between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five, and might be pressed repeatedly for so long as their liability lasted. The rogue and vagabond element were at the mercy of the justices of the peace. The frightful epidemics of fever which desolated the navy till late in the 18th century were largely due to the infection brought by the prisoners drafted from the ill-kept jails of the time. As service in the fleet was most unpopular with the sailors, the press could often only be enforced by making a parade of strength and employing troops. The men had many friends who were always willing to conceal them, and they themselves became expert in avoiding capture. There was, however, one way of procuring them which gave them no chance of evasion. The merchant ships were stopped at sea and the sailors taken out. This was done to a great extent, more especially in the case of homeward-bound vessels. On one occasion, in 1802, an East Indiaman on her way home was deprived of so many of her crew by a man of war in the Bay of Biscay that she was unable to resist a small French privateer, and was carried off as a prize with a valuable cargo. The press and the jails failed to supply the number of men required. In 1795 it was found necessary to impose on the counties the obligation to provide "a quota" of men, at their own expense. The local authorities provided the recruits by offering high bounties, often to debtors confined in the prisons. These desperate men were a very bad element in the navy. In 1797 they combined with the United Irishmen, of whom large numbers had been drafted into the fleet as vagabonds, to give a very dangerous political character to the mutinies at the Nore and on the south of Ireland. After the conclusion of the great Napoleonic wars in 1815 the power of the press was not again exercised. In 1835 an act was passed during Sir James Graham's tenure of office as first lord of the admiralty, by,_which men who had once been pressed and had served for a period of five years were to be exempt from impressment in future. Sir James, however, emphatically reaffirmed the right of the crown to enforce the service of the subject, and therefore to impress the seamen. The introduction of engagements for a term of five years in 1853, and then of long service, has produced so large a body of voluntary recruits, and service in the navy is so popular, that the question has no longer any interest save an historical one. If compulsory service in the fleet should again become necessary it will not be in the form of the old system of impressment, which left the sailor subject to compulsory service from the age of eighteen to fifty-five, and flooded the navy with the scum of the jails and the workhouse.

Authorities. - Grose's Military Antiquities, for the general subject of impressment, vol. ii. p. 73 et seq. S. R. Gardiner gives many details in his history of James I. and Charles I., and in The Civil War. The acts relating to the navy are quoted in A Collection of the Statutes relating to the Admiralty, &c., published in 1810. Some curious information is in the papers relating to the Brest Blockade edited by John Leyland for the Navy Record Society. Sir James Graham's speech is in Hansard for 1835. (D. H.)

<< Impressionism

Impromptu >>

Simple English

Impressment (the Press) was the act of forcing men to serve in the navy. People who were "pressed" to join the navy were usually young men. They would be attacked by naval officers and forced onto the war ships where they were made to work. Their families (if they had families) would probably never know where they had been taken.

Impressment was also called the Press or press ganged. The people who took the young men were the the press gang. It was a very normal practice in the Royal Navy during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Many people protested, saying that it should be stopped, but the Royal Navy said it was a good way to get sailors who were needed to defend their country.

Other websites

  • The Impress Service, basic article on "press gangs" in British ports, charged with impressing sailors into the Navy.


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address