Book Review-‘The Myth of the Press Gang: Volunteers, impressment and the naval manpower problem in the late eighteenth century, by J. R. Dancy

By Erica Charters, published October 2020


Impressment in the eighteenth-century Royal Navy has long been controversial. Forcing British subjects to serve as sailors during wartime seemed paradoxical for a nation that prided itself on individual liberty and considered its navy as a bulwark against the tyranny of Continental absolutism. Historians have cited contemporary debates – found in literary, legal, and political sources – as evidence of conflict between British society and the war-making state authority of the Royal Navy. Nicholas Rogers, a social historian of eighteenth-century Britain (not to be confused with the naval historian N. A. M. Rodger), framed opposition to naval impressment within a broader history of labour, pitting sailors and their communities against authoritarian elites (The Press Gang: Naval impressment and its opponents in Georgian Britain, 2007). Yet as Rogers points out, historians have little sense of the actual number of men impressed. Most rely on estimates, suggesting that likely half of the Royal Navy’s manpower were men pressed for service against their will…

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Filed under: Other (Eighteenth C) | Press Gangs
Subjects include: Manpower & Life at Sea

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