Reported 280 Years Ago (August 25 1739): Thames ferry men fear being seized for war service

The front page of the Belfast News Letter of August 14 1739 (which is August 25 in the modern calendar)
The front page of the Belfast News Letter of August 14 1739 (which is August 25 in the modern calendar)
Share this article

From August 14 1739 News Letter (which is August 25 in the modern calendar):

This is the last in a nine-month surviving batch of papers that began in late 1738. Most papers from 1737 to early 1750s are lost. In coming days we are reproducing the paper, printed as Britain was close to war with Spain, with explanatory footnotes where appropriate:

LONDON, August 4.

Notwithstanding the present prevailing rumour of peace, it is certain the military preparations are every where carried on with the utmost vigour; and but on Tuesday night last there were near 20 gallies came through bridge, some of which rowed up as far as Wandsworth and Fulham, and put the watermen into such a consternation, that they would by no means return with their fares to town, who were thereby either obliged to walk it, or constrained to take country lodgings for that night.

[The report does not state the nature of the watermen’s fears, but it seems clear from earlier reports that they were afraid of being seized for military service as war with Spain approached, given that such impressment, as it was called, was happening on a large scale]

We hear that all the officers belonging to the regiments in France, have received orders to repair to their respective posts immediately, on pain of being cashier’d.

The William and Mary, and Chatherine yatchs [sic], are ordered to the Nore, to be ready as occasion shall require. [The Nore is at the mouth of the Thames Estuary]

We hear that the government has contracted with several eminent ship builders for building number of vessels fit for transports and victuallers, which are to mount from ten to forty guns each.

The seamen on board the colliers taking the advantage of the great demand for sailors in the king’s service, have obliged the masters to raise their wages from under 40s. to upwards of 4l. for the trip. [40 shillings is equivalent to about £500 today, £4 about £1,000]

We hear, that a warrant under his majesty’s sign manual is ordered to pass the great seal of Ireland, for granting a pardon to the right hon. the lord Santry of that kingdom. [Friends of Santry, who was found guilty of a drunken murder, which was a rare fate for an aristocrat, were seeking a pardon for him]

Last night the marquis de Montandre, one of the field marshals of the army, master-general of the ordnance in Ireland, and governor of Guernsey, lay so dangerously ill, at his house in Brook-street, that there was no hopes of his recovery.

[Born a Catholic in France, Montandre converted to Protestant, and fought for William of Orange in Ireland]

We hear, that the famous renegado count Bonneval was in the grand vizir’s army when the last battle happened with count Wallis.

The earl of Crawford was three days before appointed aid de camp to the old prince Waldeck, and acted as such in the said battle.

The insurance on ships bound to or from the southward, is double what it was in the middle of July.

We are informed that his most Christian majesty has again offered his mediation, for composing the differences between Spain and our court.

We hear that the hon. Horatio Walpole had three conferences last week with the deputies of the States General. [Walpole was brother of the first prime minister and represented Britain at the Hague at this critical time as war with Spain loomed. Confusingly, the prime minister also had a son called Horatio, who was travelling round Europe at this time on a ‘grand tour’]

And beginning of this week the hon. Robert Trevor, Esq; secretary of the embassy to the States General, arrived here from Holland.

By war of a private letter from Amsterdam.

Though the present system of the republick is apparently to avoid all occasion for taking part either directly or indirectly in any war whatever yet there seems to be one just upon the point of breaking our in its neighbourhood about the succession of the dutchies of Juliers and Bergue, in which it will with difficulty avoid having some share.

M. Spina, resident of the States General at Franckfort, in his letter added, that notwithstanding the publick thanksgiving that had been made throughout the territories of the elector palatine for the re-establishment of the health of that prince, yet his electoral highness continued to have almost incessant fainting fits, which are apprehended to be but indifferent prognosticks, and to foretel a speedy dissolution.

He adds, that immediately after the decease of this prince, thirty two battalions of French troops which are in Alsace, ready to move upon the first order, will march directly into the dutchies of Juliers and Bergue, and will be strengthened by a good body of Bavarian troops, and that the elector of Bavaria will take upon him the administration of the do electors of the palace of Sultzback, until he shall come of age. [Meanwhile, the Dutch states were trying to stay out of a coming Britain-Spain war]