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a tale of Restoration intrigue by

Molly Brown


Deptford was the home of the naval yard. Recruiting was a problem as pay and conditions in the navy were generally bad, so men were abducted and forced onto ships by press-gangs.

Robert Hay, Landsman Hay:

Fitness for service was not always taken into account by the press gangs, especially during the Dutch War of 1664-67:

England in the Reign of Charles II by David Ogg:

The food was terrible, usually poor quality salted beef or pork with peas and biscuit, washed down with stale beer or brackish water. The bread was often contaminated with insects. Clothing was in short supply and had to be paid for. Men who'd been press-ganged into the navy wore their own clothing - whatever they'd been abducted in. As a result, much of the fleet was dressed in rags. Lice and diseases were common.

song by an anonymous seaman:

Typical penalties for misdemeanors in the Stuart navy:

More serious crimes were punished with a ducking at the yard arm or hauling under the keel of the ship, both of which gave about a fifty per cent chance of survival. Capital offenders were hung from the yard arm.

On the other hand, women friends were not only allowed on board warships, they often remained as passengers, sometimes sharing a hammock with their husband or lover. When they finally disembarked, it was to musical accompaniment from the ship's band, playing such strains as "Loath to Depart", or "Maids, Where are your Hearts?"

There were also several almshouses at Deptford, run by Trinity House (a corporation founded during the reign of Henry VIII) as retreats for "old and indigent masters of ships and their widows". Those who were able to work were supplied with oakum to pick, at the rate of one shilling per hundredweight. (The East India Company cared for its old seamen at an almshouse in Poplar.)

Trinity House was also in charge of maintaining some, though not all, of the lights on the coast. Several lights had been leased out to private persons who ran them strictly for profit and cut costs by economizing on wood and coal for the fires which supplied the illumination. For example, the lighthouses on the North and South Foreland were leased in 1662 to a Sir J. Meldrum, authorizing him to collect one shilling on each ton of regular shipping passing his lights, payable at the next port of call. In November 1666, Meldrum's lights were so dangerously dim that several ships had to remain hove-to all night.

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(c) 1996 Molly Brown