Rum, Sodomy and the Lash?

The common sailor was a crucial engine of British prosperity and expansion up until the Industrial Revolution. From exploring the South Seas with Cook to establishing the East India Company as a global corporation; from the sea battles that made Britain a superpower to the crisis of the 1797 mutinies; these "sons of the waves" affected the nation's prosperity with their calloused hand. Yet, while British maritime history in the age of sail is full of the deeds of officers like Nelson, little attention has been paid to plain, "illiterate" seamen. Stephen Taylor, writer of maritime history and travel, challenges the perception of these sailors as a brutally punished, press ganged, anonymous group and reassesses a rich set of historical sources to illuminate their experiences. Dan and Stephen discuss ordinary seamen, far from the hapless sufferers of the press gangs, who were proud and spirited, learned in their own fashion. They demonstrated robust opinions and the courage to challenge overweening authority, and stood out from their less adventurous compatriots.


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