Reported On This Day 280 Years Ago (July 14 1739): Gladiators help boy to repel seizure by military press gang

The Belfast News Letter of July 3 1739 (July 14 in the modern calendar)
The Belfast News Letter of July 3 1739 (July 14 in the modern calendar)
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From July 3 1739 News Letter (July 14 in modern calendar):

LONDON, June 23.

On Thursday a press-gang decoy’d a young lad into an Alehouse in Moorfields in order to inlist him; but he escaping the trap, call’d in assistance from the gladiators of the neighbouring amphitheatre, who with their weapons and smart volleys of brick and stones, put them to flight: pitty it is that these methods must be used, whereas constant pay, as in France, &c. and good usage, would at any time bring the navy their complement of men without force or violence.

[Press gangs, which seized men for naval service, were hated. As war with Spain neared, the News Letter often reported on them.

This dramatic report on the attempt to seize the ‘young lad’ then lurches into commentary about how such seizures would not be necessary if pay was appropriate.

It is never clear who makes such commentaries in the newspapers back then, whether it is the News Letter editorial staff, or an English paper, with whom the report is perhaps shared, or the author of the original letter. The letters always have a date that is earlier than the paper publication date. That is the date the letter was sent]

On Tuesday and Wednesday night above 50 persons were taken by the constable of the tower liberty, pursuant to their orders of impress; but on examination yesterday before the justices at the court-house on Tower-hill, 19 of them only were found proper for his majesty’s service, and the rest discharg’d.

We hear that the number of seamen wanted to man his majesty’s ships are 30,000.

[War with Spain was on the verge of being declared]

A great number of fresh hands are taken in at the victualling-office, where they work night and day in getting ready stores for the new commissioned ships of war.

The rulers of the watermen’s company having taken (before the right hon. the lord mayor) the oaths directed for them regarding their impressing, viz. that they shall, neither through favour or affection spare, or through spleen or malice take any man, but with impartiality execute their orders, have now issued their warrants, and are gathering up with all diligence the men demanded of them by the government.

Fifteen officers of the first, ten of the second, and the like number of the third regiment of foot-guards, properly attended with serjeants, corporals, and drums, are ordered out for raising recruits with all expedition.

We hear that orders have been given to the guards not to be absent from their quarters, but to be ready at a minute’s warning.

On Thursday and yesterday a stock-jobbing report was spread about the Exchange, that admiral Haddock was killed by a chain-shot in an engagement with some Spanish ships, and that several were sunk on both sides, which occasioned the stocks to fall 20 per cent. –––– But this must be false, because the Spaniards have but 10 ships in all the West Indies.

What was mentioned in the papers relating to Mr. Whitefield’s death is groundless, he having advertised to preach on Black-heath tomorrow.

We are assur’d, by letters from London, that the Jane and Draper, capt. Hamilton, was safely arrived there [from Belfast] having had four of her hands impress’d at Plymouth, and that the vessel with linen cloth from Dublin was not arrived, when those letters came away.

Letters from Virginia import, that several bushels of English gold and silver coins of queen Elizabeth, king James, and king Charles the 1st. were found in a house, at Williamsburg, formerly inhabited by col. Bridgar, being first discovered by a negro. It was thought to have been concealed there in the time of the baron’s rebellion. [The reference to the ‘rebellion’ probably means the 1640s English civil war during the early decades of the American colonies. Phone 028 9089 7713 or email ben.lowry@newsletter.co.uk if you know more]

RUSSIA. Petersburg, June 6.

We had a report a few days ago that a body of 10,000 Swedes had appear’d before Wybourgh in Finland; but we have just received positive advice that they have not yet made any movements on that side, and it is even thought that the Swedish court will not undertake any thing this year: however this does not hinder us from taking all the necessary precautions to be ready against any event. [Russia was in a major war with the Ottomans but some Swedes wanted to regain territory lost in a war that ended on 1721, potentially leading to two wars and two fronts]

They advise from Dantzick of the 12th inst. That great preparations are making at Petersburg for a vigorous defence, in case of an attack from the Swedes.

It has been resolved, that on the first advices of any hostilities, count Lacy shall embark on board the gallies, with 20,000 men, and endeavour to make strong diversion in some provinces of Sweden,

That count Munich shall command in Finland, where are army of 50,000 regular troops is to be formed.

That 20,000 men shall be drawn from the Ukraine, which in six weeks time may reach the neighbourhood of Petersburg; and that these troops shall be reinforced by 10,000 men from the garrisons.

We hear, that the fortress of Wyburg in Finland, is plentifully provided with all necessaries for a vigorous defence.