A salty dog: avoiding the press gang

In the end, although Napoleon’s ambitions were terminated on the field of Waterloo, the struggle at sea decided the issue and determined the course of the century that was to follow. As with Carthage and Rome, it was a struggle between a leviathan and behemoth, a sea empire confronting a land empire, a nation of merchants and traders fighting against a nation of hardy peasant farmers. Napoleon, war lord lawgiver and statesman, had as great a dislike of the sea as any ancient Roman. Lord Nelson, on the other hand, only faltered when he stepped ashore.

Nicholas Pocock. The Victory, of Trafalgar fame is at right, and the Vanguard, flagship in the battle of the Nile, is second from left.

Good though, the English naval architects were, the French were often their superiors, and as for the methods of manning their vessels, the French were certainly more intelligent. The French gave special pay to their fishermen to induce them to train and learn in the equivalent of a navy reserve. The English, on the other hand, still depended largely upon “pressed men”, -forcibly conscripted sailors.

"Dido in Despair- James Gillray Emma, Lady Hamilton mourns the departure of Lord Nelson on the (fatal) Trafalgar campaign." read more: http://acrosstheuniverse.forumotion.com/t2076-emperors-kings-generals-politicians-tits-bums

Present in the Meditterranean during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars was the most famous warship in history, H.M.S. Victory. The ship was built chiefly of English oak and elm. Her hull was more than two feet thick; her sternpost was made of one huge oak tree, and much of the wood used in her construction came from trees that were at least a hundred years old. Her keel- more than 150 feet long- was made of teak, one of the hardest and most worm resistant woods in the world, and this again was protected by a false keel of elm. Her fastenings consisted of oak pins, known as trennels, and copper bolts six feet long and two inches in diameter.

"Plum pudding is a traditional dish and a traditional symbol of Britain. Here is a cartoon by James Gillray from 1805 called the Plum-pudding in Danger -- showing the English possessing the sea while the French carve off Europe." read more: http://onelondonone.blogspot.com/2010/11/victorias-family-christmas.html

Both in her materials and in the weight of her construction, she was something that no Mediterranean shipbuilder of the past could ever have conceived of. Her complement was upward of 850 men, and she had sufficient water and provisions to stay at sea for four months, while she carried enough powder and shot to last her three years. The most remarkable features of these giant sailing ships was the enormous weight of metal they carried, for by now it was well understood that the broadside determined battles, and indeed, the fate of empires.

"This print shows Nelson celebrating his victory at the Nile with his men on board his flagship, the ‘Vanguard’. Nelson himself was wounded in the head at the Nile and a bandage is visible just below his hat. Nelson's interest in and care for his men made him a much-loved leader and while it is very unlikely that a scene like this ever occurred it reflects a popular sentiment. The print includes the words of a song written in celebration. Date Unknown Source National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London Author Thomas Rowlandson. image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nelson_nile_vanguard_cartoon.jpg

A large number of the seamen aboard the Victory and her sister ships in the Royal Navy had been forcibly pressed into service. The Vagrancy Act laid down that “all disreputable persons” – those found in a tavern, bawdy house, or even walking down the streets of a fishing port- could be liable for impressment. So were fishermen, merchant seamen, canal men and inland water men if they were unlucky enough to be caught by the press gang. Since so large a percentage of the crew was forcibly conscripted, discipline aboard had to be of the iron bound variety. The citizens of England who manned her majesty’s ships during the Napoleonic wars were ill-clad, ill-used, and to a large extent, unwilling seamen.

"The destruction of the mighty French flagship L’Orient at the battle of the Nile quickly became the defining image of war at sea in the age of Nelson. Many artists painted the scene, perhaps the most dramatic moment in an age of high drama. The 120 gun three decker, the largest ship afloat at the time, had been built as the Dauphin Royale, renamed Sans Culotte by the Jacobins, and once again to reflect Bonaparte’s ambition to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great. Under Admiral Francios Brueys she led the French invasions of Malta and Egypt, only to be caught at anchor, at the heart of a powerful French fleet, in Aboukir Bay by Nelson and his ‘band of brothers’ late on the afternoon of 1 August 1798. During the battle L’Orient’s guns shattered and dismasted the Bellerophon, but then her luck ran out. Arriving after dark Alexander Ball and Ben Hallowell manoeuvred their ships onto the French flagships’ bow and

ter, where few guns would bear. When the oil-based paint caught fire L’Orient was doomed. The detonation turned night into day, and deafened everyone: the fighting stopped for several minutes. After the battle Hallowell used part of L’Orient’s main mast to make a coffin, which he presented it to Nelson, as a reminder of his mortality. Nelson would be buried in it eight years later. " read more: http://www.conwaypublishing.com/?p=1717


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