This guide is an introduction to the Museum's manuscript resources for researching impressment and press gangs.

The museum's manuscript resources for researching impressment and press gangs are listed below under the eight manuscript sections used by the museum and give reference number, brief description and date. Fuller details can be found in the relevant section list, available in the Library.

The guide is intended to show the type of manuscripts held, rather than act as a comprehensive list. Researchers might, for instance, also consult individual lieutenants' logs (manuscript reference ADM/L/ series) for details of particular events. Logs can be traced by date and vessel name.

Impressment was the compulsory recruitment of men to the Navy by parties of seamen commanded by officers, known as a 'press gang'. It was legally based on the royal right to call all men for military service and later confirmed by many legal opinions. Impressment lasted until the end of the Napoleonic Wars because the administrative resources of the state could find no better way of providing men for the ships. After 1815, though not abolished, it was not used. Only seamen should have been pressed but in practice, as needs increased through the 18th century, all types of men were drawn in.

Section 1

  • ADM/L/N/187 Includes log of a tender sent along East Coast to collect seamen for the Norwich, 1757.
  • ADM/A/2183 Admiralty Order to pay lieutenant value of sword lost in an affray in which an impressed man escaped, 12 February 1729/30.
  • ADM/A/2525 Instructions to various officers (named and stations given) regarding impressment, 27 July 1761.
  • ADM/A/2532 Proclamation regarding recruitment, with list of regulating captains, 3 February 1762.
  • ADM/A/2837 Instructions issued by the Admiralty for setting up a Press Gang in and around London, 1791.
  • ADM/B/196 Letter re. impressment service at Hull and in the river Humber area. 6 March 1778. Letter concerning impressment of men from timber merchant ships, 6 July 1778.
  • ADM/B/197 Several letters about the effects of pressing employees supplying ballast and timber to the Navy, 1778.
  • ADM/B/199 Concerns trial of master of HMS Viper at Quebec for killing a man while attempting to impress him, 18 August 1779.
  • ADM/BP/1 Account of the Impressment Service, 10 April 1780.
  • ADM/BP/7 Account of the men who died after they were impressed and before they were put on board.

Section 4

  • CHT/3/1 & CHT/4/6 Correspondence on the subject of direct officer recruitment from public schools.
  • CLE/4/1 Printed instructions for lieutenants approached to procure seamen, 1760.
  • DUC/1/1 Three impressment warrants addressed to Captain J D Duckworth in the Orion, Bombay Castle and Leviathan with instructions, 1790–97.
  • ELL/9 Miscellaneous papers mainly relating to the impressment of seamen and the case of Sir Thomas Pye, 1757.
  • ELL/263 Recruiting for the Brazilian Navy in Orkney and Shetland, 1836.
  • HAR/5 Mr Sargeant Foster's argument concerning the pressing of seamen, 1743.
  • MKH/184-05 East Indies Station, papers relating to manning, 1812–14.
  • MKH/209 Lists of men impressed from HEIC ships 1813 and 1814.
  • MLN/2 All hands of HEICS General Elliot pressed on arrival in Downs, 1790. 
  • MLN/17-18 Cases of wrongful impressment amongst Sea Fencibles in Forth area, 1804–11.
  • MLN/151/1-3 Papers relating to manning the navy, 1852; 1858–59; 1868–69; 1871–73.
  • MLN/153/3 Tables of statistics relating to numbers of officers, men and boys, 1855–77.
  • ROD/4-6 & ROD/9-11 Papers of Robert Roddam containing references to the day-to-day problems of manning and impressment, 1778–83 and 1789–90.
  • THO/4 Order for Impressment, c.1790.
  • UPN/11 Exemption from impressment for the crew of HEICS Glatton, with list of crew and list of 20 men pressed by the Owen Glendower, 1814.

Section 5

  • CLU/7 Proposition for increase of ships and mariners, 16th–18th centuries.
  • CLU/7-8 Correspondence of Sir Clowdsley Shovell, including a proclamation re. recruiting and impressment, c.1680–90.
  • PNS/2 Proposals for executing a General Register Office for the better manning of H.M. Fleet. c.1690.
  • RUSI/NM/172 Lieutenant John Hoskyns Brown: Observations in support of a proposal for abolishing the impressment of seamen and providing men for the fleet in future wars by a system of registering, ballott and voluntary enlistment, 1832.
  • RUSI/NM/249 Advertisement for volunteers for the navy, from port of Stockton, 1795.

Section 6

  • JOD/86 Journal of Lt. James Fitzjames with some details of his service in raising men in Portsmouth area, 1834.

Section 7

  • ADL/JF/1 Discharge and exemption from impressment (American). Three certificates, 1864.
  • ADL/C/5 Payslips for the ordinary seamen on ships at Chatham, including Mercury, Nonsuch, Merhonour, The Bear, Guardland, 1607–08.
  • ADL/J/1 Warrant from the Navy Board to James Cutbirch, master, exempting him from impressment, 30 June 1673.
  • ADL/J/2 Orders for impressing seamen, 1696.
  • ADL/J/3 Instructions to the constable for impressing of mariners issued under the authority of the Duke of Buckingham, c.1626.
  • ADL/J/4 Expedient for increasing of seamen, c.1690.
  • ADL/J/5 Proposal for manning the fleet, c.1690.
  • ADL/J/6 Draft letter with enclosed minutes of Marine Society meeting, proposing to place adverts in papers requesting businessmen to offer bounties to men who would enlist in the fleet, 1794.
  • ADL/J/7 Two documents relating to the mobilisation of RNR, 1914.
  • ADL/J/8 Necessity of increasing our English seamen and a proposal towards it, c.1690.
  • ADL/J/9 Form giving exemption from impressment to Reyner Torsen, a Norwegian subject, 1807.
  • ADL/J/10 Certificate of protection from impressment for the son of James Allman in virtue of his father's service in the Agamemnon, 1802.
  • ADL/J/11 Certificate for Robert Graham, apprentice bound to serve at sea by indenture, granting exemption from impressment for three years, 1756.
  • ADL/J/12 Admiralty Press warrant, given to Commander of Aeolus, 1808.
  • ADL/J/17 Protection against impressment for John Elfick, extra bargeman at Gravesend, April 1780.
  • ADL/J/18 Protection against impressment issued to John Chew, labourer at Deptford Dockyard,1805.
  • ADL/K/2 Protection from impressment for James Tappin, a waterman to the Duke of Cambridge, 1812; 1812.
  • AGC/14/1 Letter from James Southern to Arthur Tod Hill, referring to pressing men for the fleet, 1693.
  • HSR/Z/21 Impressment warrant granted to Capt. James Cranston of HMS Defence, June 1778.
  • BGY/T/1 Letters of Benjamin Thompson, a pressed gunner, 1804–15.
  • HSR/Z/26 List of men impressed on board the Newark at Scarborough, 24 July 1695.

Section 8

  • XADL/2 Certificate showing that Robert Walker, seaman, was a US citizen, to prevent his impressment, 1805.

Uncatalogued items

  • MS93/037 Series of letters written by John Parr to his family from HMS Hero. Also indentures and photograph. 1803–08.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching the navy:

For general research help see:

Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.