Naval Songs & Ballads - online book

3 Centuries Of Naval History In Shanties & Sea Songs With Lyrics & Notes

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A third grievance was the severity of the dis­cipline. A pamphlet quoted by Entick (v. 59) explains why it is that neither by bounty nor compulsion men enough for the fleet can be found. ' The reason is known to every common seaman, who, whilst Gazettes are filled with encomiums of their bravery and contempt of danger, and our senators are devising the wisest means for therf provision and support, yet languish under the greatest hardships and the most abject slavery, puzzled and perplexed with unnecessary trifles, hard wrought, and ill-used by almost every petty officer of but a month's standing, who, ignorant of duty, whether performed right or wrong, flourishes his rattan over the head of the ablest seaman, and acts the tyrant over them without control.'
Even ' snotty boys of midshipmen,' some hardly ten years old, declares one ballad, 'strike many a brave fellow.' In another a sailor declines to volunteer, and gives a captain his reason :
Your damned rogues of officers use men so cruel, That a man of war is worse than hell and the devil.
(pp. 23s, 239).
Ill usage made volunteers scarce and increased the discontent of pressed men. Complaints against impressment, and references to the abuses to which it gave rise, become increasingly frequent during the latter half of the eighteenth century. The pressgang makes its first appearance in fiction in 1748 with Smollet's account of the seizure of Roderick Random on Tower Hill, and his suffer­ings in the tender. The earliest caricature repre­senting the operations of a press-gang is English Liberty Displayed, which belongs to the year 1770, when Wilkes and the London magistrates were