Mother Redcap's and the Pressgangs

Liverpool Mercury, June 23rd, 1854

Twenty two years ago, soon after I came to Liverpool, I went strolling with an acquaintance, who, like myself, loved the quiet of the country more than the bustle of the town, into Cheshire, in the vicinity of Egremont, Liscard and New Brighton. After some hours rambling we stopped at a little public house on the shore, where we obtained an excellent repast. While we were regaling ourselves a respectable, looking old man came into the room, expressed a hope that he was not intruding upon us, and seated himself by the window. We soon got into conversation with him, and he entertained us greatly by the recital of some of his "recollections" He had been a sailor, one of those "who went down to the sea in ships, and saw the vast wonders of the mighty deep." Some of the anecdotes relating to the neighbourhood on the subject of smuggling and the doings of the press-gang in Liverpool, in the olden time, were extremely interesting.

One circumstance he mentioned, that he was then 72, that his father, who had been like himself a seaman, was a native of this part of the county of Chester. He himself had served at one time on board a man of war, had been a mate in a merchant vessel, and had, late in life commanded a ship trading to South America. He told us that the house in which we then were in former times was known as "Mother Red Caps", it having been kept by an old woman who received that title from the circumstance of her wearing a sort of red coif, or cap. In her day the house stood by itself, no other being near it for some distance. It seemed almost out of the world, though in it, but nevertheless "Mother Redcap" drove a thriving trade. Her house was the resort of smugglers, fishermen, and others of the like employment, but the house was especially noted as a place of refuge for runaway sailors and those who were hiding to avoid the pressgang, which in the time of the first American war was very actively employed in the neighbourhood. "Mother Redcap" was at all times the sailor's friend, and, like an old hen with a brood of chickens, spread the wings of her protection over them and defied the hawk to the death. The sailors frequently trusted her with large sums, on their return from profitable voyages, to keep for them until wanted. It was always well known that "Mother Recap" had accumulated a considerable amount of wealth herself, but no one knew what she did with it, where she placed it, nor where she deposited the money lodged with her clients. What did she with it ? None could tell, she alone knew of the whereabouts, and she died suddenly and, "made no sign " her secret died with her.

Our old acquaintance related to us, amongst many others a singular circumstance which occurred in the river in July, 1759, of which his father was a spectator. At that period the merchants of Liverpool were interested in the whale fishery, and several vessels used to be fitted out from the port, leaving generally for a two years voyage. In this month on the 27th, a Greenland ship, called the GOLDEN LION, arrived in the river, and was scarcely anchored before she was boarded by two cutters from the sloop of war VENGENCE, lying off Birkenhead. This was the year the battle of Quebec was fought, seamen getting scarce, the press gangs were very actively employed in all the seaports of the country, and especially in this vicinity, and they invariably made a sweep from the newly arrived vessels, as in the attempt in this instance. On coming on board, the officer in command of the cutters ordered the crew of the GOLDEN LION to be mustered on deck, when he told them that unless they volunteered he would press them all. They, however swore that sooner than be pressed they would die where they stood. Some further show of resistance being manifested, the officer drew his sword, and declared he would cut the first man down who offered to oppose him, and ordered his men forward. The crew of the "GOLDEN LION" however, were not to be so easily taken, for they fell upon the cutter's crews, and, after some hard fighting, drove them into their boats, detaining however, the officer as prisoner. The VENGENCE, continued firing, when some of the shots fell into the town, doing considerable damage to houses, and greatly alarming the inhabitants. The pressgang, having been reinforced, rallied and landed also, and encountered the crew of the GOLDEN LION in the streets near the custom-house, when a desperate fight commenced, in which blood was shed, and a woman, who, like poor Eliza on Minden's plain, was "spectatress of the fight" was very severely injured. Several of the GOLDEN LION'S crew were, however, captured, as was also the captain, and they were afterwards tried. This affair created a great sensation throughout the country, and Liverpool was in a state of excitement for some days after the event had taken place. A Correspondent


The Public Advertiser [London], July 31st 1759

Liverpool, July 27th :-

Of the two Whales taken by the GOLDEN LION, Captain THOMPSON of this port [besides 18 seals] one is of 40ft with 8ft bone, the other of 45ft, with 12ft bone. Among the ships lost are the LOYAL CLUB, Captain PHILLIPS and the SNOW, Captain ?, both belonging to the same owners in Topsham, the former had caught two whales and had struck a third but was obliged to cut their lines, an island of ice coming down upon them with the current, which afterwards jammed and crushed their ship to pieces against the island of ice they were fastened to. One mate, an Harpooner and six of the crew came home passengers with Captain THOMPSON, the rest were left on board a Dutch ship.

The GOLDEN LION in stretching in with the buoys, laid in the mouth of the river, fell in with two cutter tender, one of whom kept company with her, till within a gunshot of the VENGENCE Man of War, and then hoisted a signal for four boats, which boarded the GOLDEN LION. The commanding Lieutenant, calling to the men declared that he would impress all the crew, except the officers unless they would enter volunteers. Upon which, being 60 in number, they told him, that as they belonged to the Greenland Fishery, they would not be impressed, vowing revenge, with long knives etc, in their hands, against the man that attempted it. The boats crew being terrified, jumped into their boats, and the Lieutenants got on the ships quarter deck, calling out to the VENGENCE and her tenders to fire at the GOLDEN LION, being then within pistolshot. Part of the crew forced Captain THOMPSON and his officers into the cabin, standing sentry over them, and keeping the Lieutenants on deck to run the same chance of being shot themselves, whilst the remainder filled her sails, crowding away from the VENGENCE, who slipt her cables, and fire her bowchace into the GOLDEN LION as quick as possible, several of the nine-pound shot struck different parts of the town, and very luckily did no other damage than destroying a boat in a builder's yard, tho' many hundred spectators were very near it, other shots carried away the rigging, sails and mizenstay of the GOLDEN LION, however, the crew brought the ship safe into the docks clear of the Man of War's people. Yesterday according to Act of Parliament they, gave bond and renewed their pro?actions at the Custom-house.

Immediately after they had done, a large party of the press-gang forced themselves into the Custom-house, fired several pistols, and committed other outrages, impressing Captain THOMPSON and five of his crew, the rest escaped by various methods, some jumping thro' the windows many yards from the ground, whilst others got on the house tops, and over the walls. In guarding the impressed men down to the water side, some women exclaiming against the press-gangs, one of them was shot through the legs with a brace of balls.


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