Antisemitism in the 18th Century Royal Navy

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    Michael S

      Given that a number of Jewish sailors are known to have served in the Royal Navy in the late 18th Century, does anybody know of any recorded reports of antisemitism in the service during this period?

      Nicholas Blake

        I have seen many examples of casual anti-Semitism of the Merchant of Venice type, generally associated with the idea that jews are merchants and sellers of trifles to sailors who are able to take advantage of their gullibility.

        For example:

        The familiar passage in Jack Nastyface, pp87-93
        ‘On the arrival of any man of war in port, these girls flock down to the shore, where boats are always ready; and here may be witnessed a scene, somewhat similar to the trafficking for slaves in the West Indies. As they approached a boat, old Charon, with painter in hand, before they step or board, surveys them from stem to stern, with the eyes of a bargaining jew; and carefully culls out the best looking, and the most dashingly dressed…’

        which is also found in private correspondence:
        ‘Whilst off the Downs, midshipman John Martindale Powell wrote to his mother of the ‘two hundred Jews’ who came on board in order to try and sell the crew a miscellany of geegaws. Powell recalled that ‘many of the men were fools enough to buy’. Whilst one seaman paid 8 guineas for a watch which immediately broke, another ‘gave thirty shillings for a Hat that was not worth 12’. This thoughtless spending, Powell concluded, was why seamen were ‘always so poor as they usually are’. In contrast, he related to his mother his own careful choice of a cake and some soap of a ‘strong yellow’ for sixpence.’ n773
        773 CL AGC/P/17 Letter from John Martindale Powell to his mother 12th June 1805.
        Elin Frances Jones, Masculinity, Materiality and Space Onboard the Royal Naval Ship, 1756 – 1815, PhD thesis 2018, pp. 349-50

        and in a court-martial, of Thomas McDowell, carpenter’s crew, for a breach of the nineteenth article of war, held on board the Ganges, Port Royal Harbour, Jamaica, 5 March 1803, ADM 1/5363:
        Q: ‘Relate to the court all you heard [the Prisoner, McDowell] say on the 2nd instant?’
        A: ‘I was present when the prisoner was going to be confined in the cole-hole, the master at arms went down first with the irons, the prisoner then jumpt down, the Master at Arms asked him if he meant to break his neck, he said he would as live [sic] die one death as another; Tom did not care he would rather die than live; sometime after he said he should see them in hell, and he would skewer them like larks, he would put them to a little torment, he should be boatswain’s mate or something else over them and he would put them to a little torment; he then stopped a little, and said two years after peace (laughing) if I had my will I would shoot every (f 10) bugger of you; he again stopt a little longer, and then said if I had you in the bush, officers! and stopt a little, then went on, “There is not a gentleman in the ship but Mr Overton the master, as to Jacky Dorset, he has no more honor than a Jew, and as to the captain he has no more honor than a Portsmouth whore, Tom’s the very fellow for them, God damn me, McDowell will catch them on the ground hop, and he will pay them, I’ll pay him he is a boatswain’s son! this is a place only fit for a boatswain’s son, not for a tradesman as I am; if I had you on a plain where there were no articles of war I would settle you (or words to that effect) he then said something indistinctly which I did not hear; Captain Walker, I heard him say, he muttered again, and said a bugger, muttered again for a few minutes and then said I would shoot you like a dog; I then went away to where I was going before.’

        I have not seen any anti-Semitism against sailors or members of ship’s companies in general, which could mean that it did not happen, or could mean that it was so endemic that no one thought it worth recording; but my opinion is that ship’s companies were so heterogeneous that singling out particular characteristics was not practical, and in a situation where everyone had to work together to survive, even dangerous. There are many examples of people being singled out for social crimes but not race or religion.

        Paul Martinovich

          I am researching the Schomberg family of naval officers, who while undoubtedly Christians were from a Jewish background. The first of the naval Schombergs, Alexander, received the nickname “Wolfe’s jew” for his close association with the general during the Louisbourg and Quebec campaigns, and I would imagine this was intended disparagingly. I have not yet been able to trace the origin of this epithet. So far I have come across no other examples of anti-semitism in respect to this family; on the contrary, they seem to have been surprisingly successful at becoming members of the naval establishment.

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