On the Water

British Admiralty Press Warrant, 1794

This 1794 British Admiralty document authorized Capt. John Thomas Duckworth of HMS Orion to impress as many seamen (or rivermen) as necessary to adequately man his vessel or “any other of His Majesty’s Ships.” Each man recruited this way was to receive one shilling as “Prest Money.” The document that conveyed this extraordinary power expired a little more than a year after issue.

Around the same time as this press warrant, the British Admiralty published a pamphlet outlining in considerable detail the conditions under which seaman or landsmen could be impressed into the Royal Navy. Certain categories of men were excluded, such as fishermen, whalemen, ship masters, mates or carpenters, youths under 18 or men over 55 years of age, foreigners and others.

Before impressment, a call for volunteers was made, together with an offer of two months wages as an enticement. For the safety of the pressed ship and cargo, men impressed from British vessels had to be replaced through the end of the voyage to the point of cargo unloading, so that their ships were not dangerously shorthanded. After that point, the replacements had to be paid conduct money so they might return to their proper ship.

In the early 19th century, impressment of American seamen into the Royal Navy was commonplace, as Britain required large umbers of crewmen to man its active Navy. By the War of 1812, the rules regarding foreigners must have been revised, or at least very sharply bent, for excessive impressment of Americans was one of the main reasons that the United States entered the War of 1812.

ID Number:
overall doc 2.-: 13 1/4 in x 8 in; 33.655 cm x 20.32 cm; overall doc. 1.-: 15 in x 10 5/8 in; 38.1 cm x 26.9875 cm