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Re: 1812 Deserter punishments

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  • James Yaworsky
    ... [snip] ... Good question. The whole subject of deserters and what they could expect if caught led me to consult Brian Laverly s Nelson s Navy , which is
    Message 1 of 40 , Feb 1, 2012
      --- In WarOf1812@yahoogroups.com, peter monahan <petemonahan@...> wrote:
      [snip]
      >
      > Is there actually evidence for keel-hauling as a Royal Navy punishment? Either in the regs or as 'customary usage' ? I thought that was an invention of pirates and or Hollywood.

      Good question.

      The whole subject of deserters and what they could expect if caught led me to consult Brian Laverly's "Nelson's Navy", which is one of the best and authoritative books written on this time period, by a widely acknowledged expert.

      The scale of desertion: in 1803-05, over 12,000 crewmen of the Royal Navy deserted. Admiral Nelson believed that 42,000 sailors had deserted between 1793 and 1802. So this was a massive problem. (page 143).

      The method of desertion: The problem for a deserter was to get to shore or to another "safe" ship somehow. Ships on blockade duty were, by this analysis, rarely plagued by desertion problems - until they returned to a port to resupply. If a warship entered a port that had merchant ships in it about to leave, then sailors would try to get to one of the merchant ships. Most merchant ships were short of crews in this period. Next best bet: get to shore and hide out until one's ship left port. After that, presumably much would be possible. Apparently, ships' boats were often stolen by deserting crew members, many of whom could not swim. (pages 143-44).

      Preventing desertion: No shore liberty. Make the ship's boats inaccessible. Have guard boat(s) with officer(s) in them patrol around the ship 24/7 while in port. Put marine guards on lookout for anyone trying to steal a ship's boat or jump ship. (page 144).

      Punishment for desertion: the vast majority of men who deserted got away with it. They got to foreign ships (U.S. ones being a favourite) or, back on to a British merchant ship, under an assumed name. (page 144).

      Here's where it gets really interesting.

      "If a man was caught in the act of desertion, or soon afterwards, he was likely to be brought back to his own ship, and probably punished by the captain with twelve or more lashes. If he was caught long afterwards, or his captain felt like making an example of him, he would go before a court-martial." (page 144).

      In 1805, there were 37 convictions of deserters by court martial. Only one of the convicted was an "officer" (a ship's carpenter) and he was punished by... being dismissed from the service!

      Only ONE seaman was hung, because "he had escaped several times". An incorrigible repeat offender, it seems.

      "For the rest, the standard punishment was flogging around the fleet, usually with 300 lashes. One, who was suspected of SERVING THE ENEMY [my emphasis], was given 700, as was another man who had served aboard a privateer. Such sentences were indeed harsh, but as a deterrent they failed. Probably six or seven thousand had deserted in that year, and the chances of severe punishment were quite small." (page 144).

      "Quite small" - well, there's an understatement! Of the relatively few who were actually caught, most received 12 "or more" lashes. Presumably, the "or more" is considerably less than 300, because out of the 37 convicted by formal court martial, 34 received 300 lashes which seems to be the "standard" punishment. This is certainly not out of line compared to what "common wisdom" says many redcoats got for relatively trivial offences when compared to deserting, though perhaps that is a myth that needs debunking as well.

      Hanging was extremely rare, to the point where it seems it could be stated to be statistically insignificant, and there's no mention of keel-hauling.

      Seems my memory wasn't so bad after all. Most deserters who were caught were certainly punished, but the vast majority were then put back to service.

      Jim Yaworsky
    • Peter Catley
      When I asked my father about why he signed up in 1939 his answer was very simple, because you did a whole generation in the UK did because it was the right
      Message 40 of 40 , Feb 4, 2012
        When I asked my father about why he signed up in 1939 his answer was very simple, "because you did" a whole generation in the UK did because it was the right thing to do. Whether they still thought that in May 1945 (at least those who had survived) is perhaps a rather different question :)

        The Pensioner

        On 3 Feb 2012, at 22:28, Ron wrote:

        > When I asked my Grandad why he signed up for WW 1 and my Dad for WW II the answer was the same--for the adventure! Not KIng and country, not to oppose the godless Hun but simply for the adventure. Neiher wanted a job or signed up through economic necessity.
        >
        > -----Original Message-----
        > From: peter monahan <petemonahan@...>
        > To: warof1812 <warof1812@yahoogroups.com>
        > Sent: Fri, Feb 3, 2012 1:41 pm
        > Subject: RE: 1812 Re: Punishments
        >
        > Moderator says: [?]
        >
        > --------------------------
        > The Message:
        >
        > Squire wrotwe: "Was a good option if you were starving."
        >
        > Spot on, Squire! Certainly, not everyone who joined the Allied forces in 1939-40-41 did it solely because of a deep seated hatered for National Socialism. Three squares a day and a new brown or blue suit must have sounded pretty good to many of the men who hadn't worked [or eaten properly] in the Depression years. I also noted a few years ago one young lad who'd lost his job at Marks & Spencer and joined the British Army and died in Iraq. His pastor at homne referred tio him as 'an economic conscript', which I thought a very telling turn of phrase. Certainly a large number, of the grunts at least, who serve in the Canadian Foprces come from the less affluent parts of this great land.
        >
        > Peter Monahan
        >
        > [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        >
        >



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