British Society and the French Wars 1793–1815 by Clive Emsley

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By Clive Emsley

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Three weeks after the opening of hostilities the London Chronicle reported: 'In all the counties fronting the French coast, the Gentlemen are now mounting themselves on horseback, and are determined to act as a patrole [sic], to establish a chain of communication, and to defend their property against all attack'. On 25 February Dundas informed the Commander-in-Chief: Since the Declaration of War ... a great number of Letters have been received from different Persons residing chiefly upon the coast opposite to France, wherein they have signified their Readiness of embodying themselves in order to t:esist any incursions which may be attempted to be made by the Enemy and have requested that Government will order them to be supplied with Arms and Accoutrements for their use during the continuance of hostility.

Following the precedent of the American war Parliament authorised a weekly allowance of one day's labour at the local rate for the wife, and each lawful child under ten years of age, of a militiaman, if they did not follow the regiment. This allowance came out of the rates, and the resentment which it provoked among ratepayers was noted from the 40 BRITISH SOCIETY AND THE FRENCH WARS outset. 42 The departure of married men for the regular army or the navy could also put additional burdens on the poor rate; when the principal breadwinner was gone and once any bounty money left them (and a substantial part of the bounty was often required for necessaries in the army) had been spent, many families had no other recourse but the parish.

In October 1793 a frigate Captain ignored Smith Child's advice and landed a press-gang in Liverpool. During the ensuing fracas one of the frigate's midshipmen killed the master of a merchant ship. The coroner brought in a verdict of wilful murder and the midshipman was committed to gaol in Manchester, but this did not appease the popUlation of Liverpool, which turned on Smith Child and his men. Between 400 and 500 carpenters and seamen destroyed two recruiting houses; they were active for about seven hours and the local authorities made no move against them.

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