Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: Quota men
PostPosted: Sat Jun 20, 2009 9:09 am 
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William Pitt introduced the Quota Acts in 1795. These obliged each county to supply a number of men to make up the deficiencies of manpower in the Navy. Quotas were often made up of petty criminals, though I am not sure whether men were forced to accept this lot, or whether they were given a choice of serving their sentence on land or going to sea. Despite Dr Johnson’s comments about a ship being a prison with the added danger of drowning, the sea might have seemed a slightly preferable option to a spell in the squalid, violent and disease-ridden prisons of the time.

The practice of sending petty offenders to sea was well established before the passing of the Acts, though perhaps the authorities were not bound to send a fixed number until they were passed? I have just read a curious little book, ‘The diary of a Georgian Shopkeeper’ by Thomas Turner which gives an interesting insight into contemporary practices. Turner was also a ‘Churchwarden and Vestry Overseer’ and in the latter capacity was responsible for all matters of parish administration and the prevention of Sunday drinking in alehouses. Turner’s diary entry for Sunday 2nd April 1758 reads: ‘In the even, Master Hooke and myself went and searched John Jones’s and Prawles’ [the local alehouses] in order to see if there were any disorderly fellows, that we might have them to the setting [meeting of the parish administrators] tomorrow, in order to send them to sea. We found none that we thought proper to send.’

Turner himself was something of a drunkard – the diaries are full of ‘morning after remorse’ – and was not above Sunday drinking: ‘Sunday 28th 1756. ‘I went down to Jones, where we drank one bowl of punch and two mugs of bumboo [spiced cold brandy] and I came home in liquor. Oh! With what horrors does it fill my heart, to think I should be guilty of doing so, and on a Sunday too!’

Local men would have been aware of Turner’s own weakness, so being sent to sea by him must have added to their sense of grievance.

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