Press ganged crew on muster rolls

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McNam1
Able Seaman
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Joined: Sat Mar 17, 2018 2:30 pm

Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by McNam1 » Sat Mar 17, 2018 4:21 pm

Hi, can anyone confirm whether crew members who were originally press-ganged from another ship were included on muster rolls?
I'm researching an ancestor who was a civilian passenger on a (possibly French) ship captured by a man-o-war commanded by Sir Edward Pellew c.1790s. The man stayed aboard as a crew member for three years and apparently became Pellew's signalman. Other details are vague. Is someone in his position likely to be listed on muster rolls or in pay books, even though he didn't join the crew via the Royal Navy? Many thanks.

Navclio
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Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by Navclio » Mon Mar 19, 2018 2:21 am

My understanding is that everybody had to be in the muster book—you weren't legally a crew member, and you could not be paid, if you weren't. Whether you were a volunteer or pressed made no difference. Men on the books often deserted because the merchant marine paid higher wages; a man not on the books could not be paid; when he absconded, he could not be charged with desertion, either, because he was not legally a member of the crew or a seaman in the British navy. It would have been exceeding foolish to (1) falsely imprison a man on board a King's ship and to (2) entrust such a man with as important a duty as signaling.

Note that there is a huge and very inaccurate mythology, based on anti-press political propaganda, about the "press." Legally, only qualified British seamen could be pressed. The mythology is that the Navy kidnapped any warm body. There are political cartoons illustrating men with several different occupations, identifiable from their clothing or implements of their trades in their hands, being marched by a press gang (sailors armed with clubs) down to a boat to be rowed out to a British warship. These are not documentary films or contemporary photographs of the actual activities of a press gang. If your ancestor was an experienced British seaman, he was undoubtedly pressed; but he's hardly likely to have been travelling in a French ship, unless the incident occurred just before the French declaration of war on February 1, 1793 (or he had embarked before February 1). If not, he almost surely volunteered. He might or might not have received a "bounty," the contemporary term for a one-time enlistment bonus (this is the "taking the King's shilling," although the bounty could be a lot more than 1s). Do you know your ancestor's nationality? If he was French, he might have volunteered to avoid being interned (imprisoned) as an enemy alien.

Reading and reporting incoming signals, and supervising the hoisting of outgoing signals, was usually the responsibility of a midshipman—an apprentice officer—on a British warship. However, the actual work of bending signal flags to halyards and pulling on them to hoist the flags up the mast would be done by a reliable seaman. If you ancestor was not an experienced seaman when he joined the crew of Pellew's ship (whatever the circumstances), he would have become one in three years of service; his assignment as a signalman might have come near the end of that service.

Edward Pellew was captain of His Britannic Majesty's Ship Nymphe from January to December 1793, then of HBMS Arethusa. In December 1794 he took command of HBMS Indefatigable, which he commanded until March 1799. Those are the ships whose muster books you will have to search to find your ancestor, unless you have a more definite date than "1790s."

McNam1
Able Seaman
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Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by McNam1 » Mon Mar 19, 2018 3:54 pm

Thank you so much for that very useful information. I am due to travel to the National Archives in Kew in a week to consult the Muster rolls for HBMS Indefatigable, which is why I was checking whether they were likely to include all crew members. I'm not sure that my ancestor was on the Indefatigable but it's likely that he was too young to have been on the earlier ships.

My ancestor, Eugene, was Irish and his story is related by his grandson on a page in the family bible. His time on board Pellew's ship is given almost as an incidental detail but is fascinating to me. He and his brother had been sent to St Omer's to study for the Catholic priesthood and "on their vacation return to Ireland, the ship that bore them was boarded by a portion of the crew of a Man-of-War" and the two "with other eligible young men were taken by the 'Press-Gang' ". Eugene's brother got "ship fever" and was deposited at Cobh in Co. Cork, while Eugene "spent three years aboard the ship commanded by Sir E Pellew (Lord Exmouth), who appointed him to be his signalman, he kindly discharged him, and he returned to Cork".

That's the extent of the information. Sadly, no dates are given. However, due to the French Revolution and the war, St Omer's College moved from Liège to Stonyhurst College in 1795 (the English faculty and students having been imprisoned for some time beforehand). I'm guessing that an English ship wouldn't have been boarded by Pellew's crew (I could be wrong here?) and on that basis am guessing that the ship that Eugene and his brother were taken from was coming from France while St Omer's was still there. This would mean it was very early 1795 or before. Eugene was born c.1782 so would only have been 13 or 14, which seems young but perhaps it wasn't so young in those days and he could have become signalman at 17? He had a fairly good level of education, if that would have had any bearing on the responsibilities he might have been given.

Your enormously interesting and helpful information has me thinking that I should perhaps look at muster rolls from the earlier ships, too, but the probable age of the young men makes anything pre-1793 unlikely.

I found a useful entry in A Chronological Epitome of the Most Remarkable Events That Have Occurred during the French Revolution, from 1789 to 1796:
"March 1795: 2. The British and Irish youths at St. Omer's were released and landed at Dover, by Order of the Convention."

This suggests that there wouldn't have been any further students sailing from St Omer's after March 1795. Since Eugene would have been only 11 or 12 in 1793/94 I thought of searching the muster rolls for the HBMS Indefatigable as a starting point. I can only pre-order 12 items at TNA and have just one day (travelling from Ireland), so must choose carefully! If you think it's possible that boys of 11 or 12 could have been taken on board and remained as crew, I might look at earlier rolls from the Nymphe or Arethusa.

Incidentally, the phrase "kindly discharged" interests me - it may just be a general turn of phrase with no naval connotations, but I wondered if it might be a known phrase, perhaps used to indicate that it was not a dishonourable discharge?

My entire knowledge of naval matters so far comes from a biography of Pellew. It's a fascinating read, but I remain a hopeless landlubber. So, thank you again for sharing your expertise in the area, it's very much appreciated.

Navclio
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Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by Navclio » Mon Mar 19, 2018 9:25 pm

I spent time writing a long reply and it was wiped out by the Web site when I tried to post it. Sorry. Good luck.

Cy
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Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by Cy » Mon Mar 19, 2018 9:43 pm

If you spend a long time on a reply you are risking the server session timing out and losing your log in. Always best to write it in a text editor and then paste it in. The server does not recognise the activity editing in a text area (like this one) as it's actualy being edited on your computer and not sent to the server until you click submit, so it thinks you are inactive.

Server timeouts are usually 20 minutes which is plenty for most purposes.
OK, it was me, probably!

McNam1
Able Seaman
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Joined: Sat Mar 17, 2018 2:30 pm

Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by McNam1 » Tue Mar 20, 2018 12:30 am

Navclio wrote:
Mon Mar 19, 2018 9:25 pm
I spent time writing a long reply and it was wiped out by the Web site when I tried to post it. Sorry. Good luck.
I'm very sorry (and disappointed) to hear that your reply was lost, but really appreciate the trouble you obviously took. Thank you.

TimOak
Able Seaman
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Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by TimOak » Sat Mar 24, 2018 8:35 am

British and neutral vessels were often boarded by press gangs to impress experienced seamen or detain deserters. this is especially true of vessels returning to the UK, when it was considered that they could safely get into port with half the crew [i.e. one watch] when both watches would have been required for an outgoing vessel.

TimOak
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Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by TimOak » Sat Mar 24, 2018 8:38 am

Further to my last post: In exceptional circumstances merchant vessels could be offered a pennant to fly exempting them from having their crew pressed.

McNam1
Able Seaman
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Joined: Sat Mar 17, 2018 2:30 pm

Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by McNam1 » Sat Mar 24, 2018 1:48 pm

That’s very useful information, many thanks. It suggests that my search parameters should be widened, since if a British ship could be boarded the men could have been older and coming from the college in Stonyhurst after all.

If it was an English ship, your point about both watches being required on an outward journey is especially interesting. The ship they were pressed onto (if that’s a phrase) dropped the sick man in Cork rather than an English port, implying that it was on an outward journey rather than an inward one when boarded.

Well, you’ve got me rethinking everything! The other thing, of course is that they could well have given false names when taken aboard, so the likelihood of finding a familiar name on the muster rolls decreases still further. However, I’m very excited about seeing muster rolls in person next week, whether they advance my research or not.

Thanks again, really appreciate it.

TimOak
Able Seaman
Posts: 4
Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2018 8:05 am

Re: Press ganged crew on muster rolls

Post by TimOak » Sat Mar 24, 2018 5:12 pm

With regards to your last post, I can't see any reason for them giving false names although the person recording them may not have been able to spell there names correctly. False names are more common in those that are running from the the law, debtors, women [attempting to be with their lovers] and deserters. Pus your relatives were literate so could have spelt their names.

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