Press Gangs in Hull
On the 19th of July, 1794, the ship ” Sarah and Elizabeth,” of Hull, homeward bound from Davis’ Straits, was attacked off St. Abb’s Head, by the frigate of war, ” Aurora,” with the intention of impressing the crew. The latter took refuge beneath the hatches, which they fastened down; but the sailors of the Aurora forced open the hatches, and the marines fired down amongst them, killing Edward Bogg, the carpenter’s mate (who was buried in the churchyard of Drypool), and wounding three. Most of the crew of the Sarah and Elizabeth were seized and carried off to the Nore, and fifteen men from the Aurora took the Greenlandman to Hull. A coroner’s jury having declared that Edward Bogg was wilfully murdered by Captain Essington and part of the crew of the Aurora, Mr. Pease, of Hull, banker, proceeded to London to get the case investigated; but Captain Essington was removed by the Admiralty into a 74 gun ship, and sent out to the East Indies, whence he did not return for several years.
In the year 1798, the whaling ship “Blenheim,” returning from the Greenland seas to Hull, was attacked at Whitebooth roads by the “Nonsuch” and “Redoubt” men-of-war, stationed there as guard-ships. Two or three boats’ crews, well armed, were sent from these ships for the purpose of impressing the seamen of the Blenheim; who, armed with large Greenland knives and spears, resolutely opposed their getting on board. The “Nautilus ” sloop-of-war being in the Hull at the same time, her Captain sent a boat’s crew to assist the Nonsuch and the Redoubt men. The guard-ships fired numerous shots at the Blenheim, to bring her to, but without success. The crew of the whaler, determined not to be impressed, secured their master and the pilot in the cabin, to prevent their interference, and then brought the ship to the entrance of the harbour, where she unfortunately took the ground. The boats from the three war ships then surrounded her, and the boat’s crew of the Nonsuch attempted to board her; several shots were exchanged between the Blenheim and this boat, and, sad to relate, some of those on board the boat were desperately wounded. The attacking parties despairing of success rowed to the 6hore, and conveyed their wounded to the hospital, where two of the latter died of their wounds; and the crew of the Blenheim (none of whom were wounded) quickly got on shore also. The South-end, the different ship yards in Humber-street and the Garrison-side, were crowded with spectators during this struggle. The two men who died in the hospital (John Burnick and John Sykes) were interred in Drypool churchyard. Another man belonging to the Nonsuch, named Bell, had three of his fingers cut off, in attempting to board the Blenheim. He remained in Hull afterwards, and was nick-named “Three-fingered Jack.” The Captain of the Blenheim was taken to York Castle, and at the following assizes was tried for the murder of the man-of-war’s men; but he was acquitted; and on his return to Hull he was received by the populace with great rejoicings, and regularly chaired through the town. The Blenheim belonged to Benjamin Blaydes, Esq., and others. She, together with some other whalers, were afterwards burnt at Davis’ Straits by French frigates, which escaped the vigilance of the English cruisers. The Frenchmen destroyed the English vessels because they could not succeed in capturing and taking them to France.
On the 20th of July in the same year, a riot took place at Hull, when Lieutenant Loten and a press-gang which he commanded, were attacked and assaulted by the populace. The militia were called out to put down the rioters.
About the year 1803 the public-house in Church-lane, called the “Ship Glory,” which had been a rendezvous for the impressment of sailors, was partially destroyed by a mob.
In 1811 the press-gangs contained amongst their number three or four natives of Hull, one of whom was a noted character called Jem White, son of a well known person called Jackey White. This man was much disliked by the populace through having frequently given information respecting the whereabouts of seamen with whom he had been acquainted before he joined the press-gang. On one occasion his lodgings in West Street was attacked by a crowd, principally women, vowing his destruction. White, cutlass in hand, at the top of the stairs defended himself, until a strong body of soldiers from the Main-guard, in Waterworks Street, arrived and dispersed the assailants.
At that period the press-gangs used frequently go to the Bull Inn, on the Beverley road, stop the coaches, and seize any sailors that might happen to be passengers. On one occasion, it is related, they stopped a coach and dragged from it a sailor, who struggled violently with his kidnappers. A number of women who were haymaking in a neighboring field came to the rescue, and with their hay-forks put the gang to flight. These brave Amazonians then placed the sailor in a carrier’s waggon, shouldered their hay-forks, and escorted him through Newland Bar.
One evening in July, 1815, a sailor passing over North Bridge was seized by a press-gang, and whilst they were dragging him along, he slipped his arms out of his jacket, and leaving it in their hands, ran away, down Bridge-street, hotly pursued by the gang. The lockpit of the Old Dock basin being then undergoing repairs, a number of workmen (” navvies “) joined the mob and liberated the sailor. A regular chase, or running fight, was kept up through Lowgate. The gang applied in vain for assistance at the Mansion House, and dispersed to their several homes; but the mob, now exasperated, proceeded in a riotous manner through the Marketplace and Humber Street to the press-gang’s rendezvous. Here the Riot Act was read, but it was of no avail, for the mob (many of whom were sailors) completely wrecked the house. Some of them entered the neighboring block yard of Mr. John Atkins, and brought from thence a spar about thirty feet long, which they used as a battering ram, and with which they destroyed tho front of the building. They tossed the ale casks and spirit kegs into the street, and broke and threw the furniture into the river. This affair cost the town about £1,200. The wrecked rendezvous stood on the site of the building now numbered 41, in Humber Street. The rendezvous was afterwards held at the “Labour in Vain ” public house, in the same locality.
As the ship-wrights were leaving their work at one of the shipyards, on an evening about the same period, one of them was seized by ” the gang,” who were lurking about to press the men. A regular fight took place, and at length the assailed man jumped into the Humber Dock, hoping to effect his escape by swimming. Immediately two of the human blood-hounds took the water after him, and the strife that followed was terrific. The ship-wright seized one of the gangs-men by the throat, and held him with an iron grip; the other gangs-man beating his antagonist over the head with one hand, and furiously striking the water with the other; and during this time a fierce contest was going on between the gang and the ship-wrights on the dock-side. The battle in the water was terrible, each struggling with hate and death. At length some sailors from a neighboring vessel put off in a boat, and rescued the intended victim from the gangs-men, in a very exhausted state.
It appears to have been customary for shipbuilders to procure *’ Protections” or rather exemptions from impressment for their workmen in those troubled times. Mr. Thomas Walton, surgeon, of Hull, possesses one of those documents. It was granted by the Liord High Chancellor to Mr. Walton’s great-uncle, and is addressed to “All Commanders and Officers of His Majesty’s Ships, Pressmasters, and all others whom it doth or may concern;” and it commences thus :” You are hereby required and directed not to impress into His Majesty’s Service thirty shipwrights and six apprentices employed by Mr. Nicholas Walton, ship builder, of Hull, provided they are not seamen.” The document contains a description of the men and boys.