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 Mixed fortunes 
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Post Mixed fortunes


The Times, March 5th, 1805:

" .... D Campbell, a seaman of the Tribune, was tried by Court Martial, on Wednesday last, for desertion, and sentenced to receive 150 lashes. As the crime for which he stood charged with, upon the books of the ship, precluded him from benefit of prize money, on Friday, the ship's company, on receiving a share arising from their late success, gave him each a dollar, and the midshipmen five dollars each.. ...."




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Mon Oct 05, 2009 1:45 pm
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Post Mixed fortunes
This post really catches my attention for several reasons, primarily because I had been under the impression that deserters were always hanged. Now let's take a look about 150 years earlier, to 1687. Do you have any information about how desertion might have been handled then? Did they do courts martial then, or what? Would the deserter have been executed, or were other penalties, such as this, used? I need this information for a story I'm trying to write, and the library in my small town is positively pitiful!


Mon Nov 16, 2009 11:00 am
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Post Re: Mixed fortunes
JMC wrote:
This post really catches my attention for several reasons, primarily because I had been under the impression that deserters were always hanged. Now let's take a look about 150 years earlier, to 1687. Do you have any information about how desertion might have been handled then? Did they do courts martial then, or what? Would the deserter have been executed, or were other penalties, such as this, used? I need this information for a story I'm trying to write, and the library in my small town is positively pitiful!

Michael Lewis, in his book "A Social History of the Navy 1793-1815", certainly does not cover the year 1687 but does offer some insight into a reason for not hanging deserters that might still apply to an earlier period. On page 134, Lewis says "... sometimes even to a 'flogging round the fleet.' In practice, however, unless actually taken in arms against us, he [the deserter] was seldom executed, or even maimed beyond recovery; and with good reason. Deserter or not, he was still a 'hand' and, as such, a commodity more valuable alive than dead."

If there is a book like Lewis' available for the period prior to 1793, I too would be interested.

BTW, the D Campbell in Mary's original post is not, I hope, one of my ancestors. :D

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Mon Nov 16, 2009 12:52 pm
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Hello JMC,

Welcome to the SN Forum!

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Mon Nov 16, 2009 1:36 pm
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Post Mixed fortunes
Susan: Thanks for the welcome.

Don: Okay, you've got me: What's "flogging 'round the fleet"? Can't say I've heard that one before.


Mon Nov 16, 2009 4:33 pm
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'flogging round the fleet'

The guilty party/victim would be placed in an open boat (longboat etc) and taken alongside each vessel in the fleet/dock and receive punishment (50 or so lashes) at each whilst the crew watched from the decks.

In theory the boat also contained a doctor who would stop the punishment if the victim looked likely to die

Cy


Mon Nov 16, 2009 7:26 pm
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Post Mixed Fortunes
Thanks for the info. I do know that, in theory, the British Army followed the same practice of having a doctor present at floggings, though his advice wasn't always followed. I imagine the same was true in the RN.

---Jake


Mon Nov 16, 2009 9:24 pm
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Post Re: Mixed fortunes; desertion and hanging
JMC!

A problem facing anyone who writes naval history (or fiction, I suppose) in the 17th and 18th centuries is that the enormous gap between what the regulations quite specifically said and what really happened. I am afraid that you will need to do a great deal of research to get this right.

No subject if more mysterious that desertion. In terms of the death penalty, your are right. Article XV of the navy penal code as expressed on the 1749 codification of the Articles of War (which remaining substantially in force for the rest of the age of sail), said quite specifically:

“Every person in or belonging to the fleet, who shall desert or entice others to do so, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as the circumstances of the offence shall deserve, and a court martial shall judge fit..”

But here are a few facts about the reality. Nicholas Rodger in ‘The Wooden World’ estimates that between 1755 to 1762, the total number of men in the navy was about 185,000 of which at least 30,000 were lost due to desertion. However, only 254 men were actually court martialled for that offence, of which 53 were sentenced to death (but only a dozen actually hanged) and 176 sentenced to be flogged. O’Byrn’s ‘Crime and Punishment in the Royal Navy’ (dealing with the details of the Leeward Island station 1784-1812) shows the same. He found that of some 59,500 men on the station during that time, 3,913 deserted. But only 120 men were actually court martialled for desertion, of which 5 were sentenced to death and 92 to between 100 and 500 lashes.

Although many deserters clearly got away (and regular amnesties were declared to get them back) many more than the numbers who were actually court martialled must have been caught. Why the discrepancy? A number of reasons offer themselves:

1.The imprecise definition of ‘desertion’. Eg did overstaying leave because of drunkenness or a sick child, or missing the coach count? In time it became informally defined only as ‘a deliberate attempt to permanently leave HM Service’ not ‘normal’ or accidental AWOL.
2.The willingness of officers to be elastic in their interpretation of desertion and be lenient. O’Byrn and Rodgers both say that even the most flimsy excuse for absence was accepted.
3. The desire of a captain to avoid the drastic punishment that would follow a court martial and his preference to deal with the offence himself
4. The reluctance of courts martial themselves to impose the full force of the law.

All this means that the impression given of the real consequences of desertion – being based on court martial findings and punishments – is actually quite misleading.

Like others on this site, I am no expert in the 17th century, but imagine that the same difference between the law and reality was true in 1687.

In terms of framework, I understand that the 1749 Regulations quoted above (and the system of courts martial which backed them) were an update (without many differences) of the 1661 legislation which established the 35 Articles of War (themselves based themselves on Commonweath precedents). It was the Restoration Navy which actually established the framework of naval bureaucracy and rules which were to last centuries. Thus the system on force in 1687 could not have been much different from that quoted above.

Brian Vale


Tue Nov 17, 2009 9:38 am
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The Article relevant to desertion from the 1661 Articles (in force in 1688) was:

“XVII All Sea Captains, Officers, or Mariners, that shall desert the Services or their Imployment in the ships, or shall run away, or intice any others so to do, shall be punished with death.”

The Navy of the late seventeenth century was a ruder service than that of the late eighteenth century but possibly even more pragmatic in its treatment of such crimes as desertion.


Tue Nov 17, 2009 11:27 am
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Actually, it's a piece of sci-fi I'm trying to write, dealing with time-travel, and I really do want to get this just right. Sadly, too many writers in this particular branch of the genre tend to take too many liberties with history, or are of a revisionist bent. An extreme case in point would be the 1982 TV series Voyagers!; I've seen some work by fan writers on the Internet that showed more accurate historical situations than the ones on the actual series.

At any rate, I want to thank everyone here for your help. Keep the book titles coming; my small-town library has an extremely limited selection, but does have inter-library loan capability. :D I've found a number of interesting titles I'm going to be trying to get my hands on in the next few weeks.

Speaking of inter-library loans, Brian, what's O'Byrn's first name?

---Jake


Tue Nov 17, 2009 12:15 pm
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Jake!

Its John D Byrn Jnr 'Crime and punishment in the Royal Navy: Discipline on the Leewards Islands Station 1784-1812', Scolar Press, 1989.

Sorry I don't have suggestions for the earlier period but I'll ask around.

Brian


Tue Nov 17, 2009 12:58 pm
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Thanks a lot. Since things changed rather slowly back then, and the regs were still largely based on the 1661 Articles of War, this will be a huge help.

---Jake


Tue Nov 17, 2009 1:30 pm
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Post mixed fortunes: naval justice
Jake!

All you probably need to know about naval justice in the late 1600s can be found in the approproate section of an excellent, highly illustrated and recently published book called "Pepys Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare 1649-1689" (Seaforth 2009) by a real expert on the subject, Dr J David Davies. He shows that the system was more humane and less rigidly enforced than a hundred years later.

Sorry I did not put you onto this book before. Father Christmas has only just delivered it!

Brian


Sun Dec 27, 2009 10:54 am
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Someone has already told me about this book, along with another entitled "Cromwell's Navy," both of which I'm trying to lay my hands on now---the same person who put me on to this site, by the way. I don't know what his screen name is here; I encountered him elsewhere and haven't seen the name I know him by in this forum. Would you believe that no public library in this entire nation has a copy of either book? I had my local library do a nationwide search of the Interlibrary Loan system and came up with zilch!

Thanks for thinking of me, anyway. ;D

---Jake


Sun Dec 27, 2009 3:50 pm
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I am no expert in this field, but I would have thought that J.D. Davies's "Gentlemen and Tarpaulins: the officers and men of the Restoration Navy" (Clarendon Press; Oxford: 1991) was certainly one of the definitive books for that period. It is scholarly, with an abundance of notes and bibliographic references, and I imagine that it might be required reading in any academic course on naval history. It is, in fact, the published version of his Ph.D. thesis, and is not light reading. I look forward to seeing his latest book on Pepys' Navy.

Martin


Sun Dec 27, 2009 10:48 pm
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