"Heart of oak are our ships, heart of oak are our men..."

One volunteer is worth a dozen pressed men!

The Royal Navy's press gangs were well known for the physical force they used in recruiting men into the Royal Navy during the 17th and 18th centuries.

You could be quietly quaffing a jug of ale in a harbourside pub, a pretty girl on your arm,

or enjoying a family evening at home, when.........

The next thing you know you have a lump on your head, a shilling in your pocket, and you-re in the stinking rat-infested  rope locker of a man-o-war.....


Hierarchy onboard a ship of war was as embedded as the continents of the Earth's crust....

At the top, commissioned officers lorded over all below, with the chief monarch - the Captain.

The absolute ruler onboard his ship, a Captain had the power of life or death over his crew. Some made shipboard life hell - while others inspired their men and were loved by one and all - with the possible exception of The Master at Arms - the ship's regulating petty officer - the policeman.

The Captain dined alone, waited on by his personal steward, with the tradition of the service dictating that to join his Officers in the Wardroom, he had to be invited........

Next in the pecking order were the Lieutenants, headed by the ship's second in command - the First Lieutenant.

The Lieutenants were the backbone of a ship's command structure - and aboard a first-rate man of war, there could be as many as six of them, graded by sebiority and hungry to impress their Captain and gain promotion. They would command the ship's gun divisions in battle, oversee a watch as Officer of The Watch, lead boarding parties, with sword in hand....

Lieutenants dined in the Wardroom, with the First Lieutenant presiding over them.

Midshipmen were young officers under training, many as young as fourteen, their role to assist the Lieutenants in controlling the crew. If good enough, they could take command of the ship's boats - and if fortunate, a captured enemy prize. Winning promotion to Lieutenant, by examination and recommendation, was the aim of such young men - however, those that failed to make the grade, could still be held in lowly rank well into their 30s, 40s or even older.

Midshipmen dined in the Gunroom, with the senior man presiding over them.

The Purser was seldom a popular man - in charge of the ship's stores, victualling, wages and accounts, he was not well paid - but had many opportunities to cheat the crew by embezzlement......

To become a Purser, a man had to serve at least one year as a Captain's Clerk, helping with ship's correspondence and records.

Next in line were the Warrant Officers and Petty Officers - the latter being directly in charge of the seamen.

Next in line were the Seamen - divided into four classes in terms of seniority and experfience, the were: Able Seamen, Ordinary Seamen, Landsmen and Boys.

Each man was allocated to a department with specific functions such as gunnery, sail-making and carpentry.

Crews were allocated to the ship's guns in teams of up to fourteen per gun.

The guns in turn were mounted on the gun decks, in port and starboard batteries, each commanded by a Lieutenant and a Midshipman. 

To man and run the ship, the men were divided into watches, with the First Lieutenant allocating men to port and starboard watches, and calling 'all hands on deck' if extra manpower was required to shorten sail, or tack and wear ship.

'Clear for Action' and 'Beating to quarters' required all men to man their battle stations.