Artist appeals for help on press gangs

Johannah Latchem and her sculpture of the admiralty silver oar.
Johannah Latchem and her sculpture of the admiralty silver oar.

An artist and researcher is appealing for help on her latest work.

Johannah Latchem, of Newcastle University, is exploring the history of the press gang through her artwork, and is looking for families descended from men pressed into service to come forward with stories about their ancestors.

The centuries-old practice of impressment or taking men into naval service by forced recruitment, was at its height in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Johannah is enthusiastic about involving local residents, saying: “We are looking to hear descendants’ voices, which can make a real impact by speaking directly about their family histories.”

Anyone who can help should contact Johannah via or call (0191) 208 6047, between 9am and 4pm.

The press gangs, ordered by the Admiralty, would search the local pubs for seamen to sustain the navy in times of war.

Experienced and inexperienced seamen and sometimes, but less frequently, non-seamen were seized against their will. They were taken to the rendezvous where they were confined and then ordered to join the Royal Navy while awaiting their fate.

The captured men and even their families often challenged their captors, resulting in violent clashes. The practice caused controversy; men were taken without notice and in service for years some never to return leaving behind wives and children.