February 1809: They left HMS Diomede and the Navy wanted them back—including their tattoos.

During the French Wars desertion was endemic1 in the British Navy. A sailor was most likely to desert in the first few months of his service, as pay was often years in arrears and any prize money owing was forfeited upon desertion. Desertion was a capital offence, though sentences were sometimes commuted to flogging, as experienced sailors were in such short supply. Many sailors on board Navy vessels were originally merchant seamen, who has been 'pressed'2 in to service. So many were employed willingly or unwillingly in the Navy that foreign seamen were taken on in their place by the merchant fleet and rates of pay rose very high—all the more reason to desert and rejoin a merchant ship.

In February of 1809 the Gazette published, without comment, two 30-year old orders of the Royal Court concerning desertion from the Navy. Then, two weeks later a new Act came into force specifically to deal with deserters from HMS Diomede, whose Captain had had enough, losing 21 men in the Channel Islands in the past year alone. Appended to the Act is a list of the deserters and a detailed description of each of the men.

Gazette de L'Isle de Guernesey, 25 February, 1809

(From the French)


4 February 1809, before Eléazar Le Marchant, Esq., Lieutenant Bailiff, in the presence of Pierre de Jersey, Pierre de Havilland, John Tupper, Carteret Priaulx, Daniel de Lisle Brock, Jean La Serre, Josias Le Marchant, Henry Frédéric Brock, Pierre Le Pelley & Jean de Lisle, écuyers, Jurats.

Upon representation made to the COURT by the King’s Procureur, that he has been told by John Sykes, Esq., Captain of the warship HMS Diomede, that for some months past, several Sailors from the crew of the said Vessel, have DESERTED the aforementioned Vessel, either in this island or in Jersey (Mr Sykes has provided their names and descriptions in a supplement appended here), and particularly since there is reason to believe that several of these sailors may be in this island, the COURT, having listened to the opinion of the Law Officers, has ordered the King’s Provost, the Constables, and other Public Officers of this island, to make every possible effort to capture and bring them to Justice. And to prevent them from escaping or leaving the island, it is expressly forbidden to all Masters of Ships, Barques, or Boats, and others, to transport them, or to offer them lodging, hide them, or conceal them, upon pain for those Contravening this Act of punishment befitting the urgency of the situation. It is ordered that this present Act be publicly proclaimed in the Market Place and posted up in the usual places, so that no-one may claim ignorance.

King’s Deputy Greffier

(Appendix to which the above ACT of the ROYAL COURT refers).

[Now original English]

A List of MEN who have DESERTED from His Majesty’s Ship DIOMEDE, between the 16th March 1808, and 1st February 1809.

TimeWhenNamesQualityPlace WhereAgeStaturesCom-plexionOther Remarks
1808Nov. 14Edward Eaton.OrdyGsy.225-1FairLight Hair and Eyes, M. on the right arm.
-May 8Thomas JonesOrdyGsy.285-7DarkDark long Hair tyed, has a Ship marked on his Belly in India Ink, has lost the two fingers next his Thumb on the left Hand.
-Nov. 14William DaweLMGsy.205-2FreshDark brown Hair, grey Eyes, much pock marked.
-Nov. 12Charles MarkABGsy.245-8FreshBlack curly Hair, Hazle Eyes.
-June 15William ShaneABGsy.245-7½DarkBlack hair and Eyes, large Wiskers, pock marked.
-Nov. 8George FarrelLMGsy.195-4SallowDark Hair and Eyes
-May 10Joseph HunterOrdyGsy.215-5¾LightLight Hair Grey Eyes, pock marked, has a Mermaid marked on the right arm.
-June 13John WinshipOrdyGsy.225-6½


Short light Hair, hazle Eyes, Scar on the left fore finger.
-August 13William DateABGsy.215-9¾FairLight brown Hair, grey eyes, scar on the right Wrist.
-May 29Thomas DavisABGsy.245-5¼DarkDark brown Hair, Eyes and Eyebrows, has a man and a woman marked on the left arm.
-Dec. 26Samuel SwiftOrdyGsy.245-5½FairLight brown Hair, grey Eyes, has a Mermaid and S.F. marked on the right arm.
-Nov. 8George GarlandOrdyGsy.205-2FairDark brown Hair, blue Eyes, has a mole on the right shoulder and on the Throat.
-Nov. 10John RichardsonABGsy.265-2¼DarkDark brown Hair and Eyes, light Eye lashes, pock marked, a Scar on breast.
-June 24Richard BallOrdyJsy.225-4DarkBrown Hair, blue Eyes, a mole on the right cheek, another on the left breast.
-Nov. 11John AttwellLMGsy.185-6½FairLight brown Hair, blue Eyes, brown Eyebrows, a mole on his left Eye.
-June 24William AnthonyLMJsy.205-3¼DarkBrown Hair, light eyes, dark Eyebrows, 2 moles on the right arm, several on the left, and on his breast.
--John ByattOrdyJsy.195-6¼FairBrown Hair, dark Eyes and Eyebrows, 5 moles on the breast, 3 moles on the right arm, and two on the left.
-Nov. 8William MillsABGsy.235-6¾DarkDark brown Hair, blue Eyes, brown eyebrows, pock marked, and has W.W. on the right arm.
-June 24Walter MillerLMJsy.205-7¼DarkBrown Hair, blue eyes, has (W.W.J.M.) marked on the right arm, small mole on the right breast.
-Sept. 4William Moffatt-Gsy.255-5BrownBlack Hair and Eyebrows, dark Eyes, has 2 moles on the right side of the face, and one on the left.
-Dec. 26George ShepherdABGsy.225-4¼FairLight brown short Hair, marked on the left arm with S,N,O,W,S,K,U,M,S, on the right arm, W. PAYN.

Three Pounds Reward will be given to any Person or Persons for the apprehension of each of the above Deserters. (Signed) JOHN SYKES, Captain.

In the Gazette of 10th February 1810 a prosecution is brought under the 1779 order, and Benjamin Butcher of the brig Martha is fined £600 for having employed in Guernsey two sailors from HMS Albacore³. The report ends with the following words from the Greffier:

We are publishing the above judgments to inform the public of the consequences of employing or supporting, hiding, or concealing sailors belonging to the crews of HM Navy vessels, and in the hope that they will serve as an example to others.

Then in the Gazette of 24th February 1810, the Court ordered an arrest warrant to be issued for

Richard Finch, of London, a sailor, about 5'6" in height, pale, blond-haired, wearing a short coat, & blue sailor's breeches, a red jacket and striped cotton shirt; as also Yard Zangen, of Stettin in Prussia, about 5'8" tall; swarthy, dark hair, very dirty, and also wearing a short coat, blue breeches, and a striped cotton shirt, who have deserted HM ship the Vulture, having stolen a boat belonging to Louis Remon, of St Aubin in Jersey, and who are believed to be in this island ...

and the customary reward of £3 is offered for information leading to arrest.

Gazette de L'Isle de Guernesey, 11 February, 1809


7 August 1779, before the Bailiff &c., &c. Upon a request from James de Havilland, Esq., who is charged with the care of the crews of His Majesty’s vessels in this island, that several sailors are leaving HM ships in which they arrive on this island and signing up to crew corsairs or privateers, causing a great deal of harm to the service of His aforementioned Majesty.

The Court, having listened to the opinion of the Law Officers, in order to remedy this, have forbidden and forbid all the owners and captains of privateering vessels or any other vessel whatsoever to employ or take on board, any sailor or sailors who may belong to any of His Majesty’s vessels that put into harbour in this island,.., whether they themselves or others on their behalf engaged them, upon penalty of a £300 tournois fine for each sailor employed or found on board any of the said vessels, the fine payable half by the owner and half by the captain of such a vessel, ignorance being no excuse. The said fine will be paid one quarter to the King, one quarter to the Harbour funds and one half to the Informer. This present Order is without prejudice to any other Order which may forbid the sustaining, hiding or concealment of the aforesaid sailors, and will be proclaimed in public in the Market Place, and posted up in the usual places so that no-one can claim ignorance.

H. Eméric de St Dalmas
Deputy Greffier of the Royal Court


At the Michaelmas Chief Pleas, held on 5 October 1778, before William Le Marchant, Bailiff, écuyer, present &c. &c.Upon a request from the Law Officers, that Philip Boteler, Esq., commander of the squadron which has been sent by His Majesty in his royal goodness for the defence and protection of this and the neighbouring islands, and of their trade, has complained that following their arrival in the island, sailors from the crew of the said squadron have committed the grave crime of desertion, which does harm to the said Service. Having listened to the opinion of the Law Officers, and taking into account the importance of the matter, the Court forbids anyone to take in, hide, or conceal any sailor or sailors belonging to the aforementioned squadron, or who should or might belong to any of His Majesty’s vessels whether it be one of those presently here or any that might come here in the future; subject to a fine of £100 tournois for each sailor, the fine being payable one quarter to the King, one quarter to the Harbour Funds, and one half to the Informer. And at the same time all Tavern owners are instructed to inform the Constables of their parish if they know of or suspect anyone of having deserted from one of the said ships on pain of losing their licence and to have been supposed to have concealed them; and all Constables are enjoined as soon as they have been notified to sieze any and every such sailor and to place a guard upon them and to inform M. the Bailiff.

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1 See Hall, Christopher, British strategy in the Napoleonic war, 1803-15, Manchester University Press, 1992.

2 It is worth noting that because of the use of the Guernsey militia as a defensive force in the islands, Guernseymen could not be impressed into service and any that were had to be released, following a charter granted to the islands by Elizabeth I, itself based on the most ancient rights of the islanders enshrined in previous charters. For more on this and the constitutional problems impressment in the islands (even of non-locals) caused, see Sir H. W. de Sausmarez, 'Naval Impress in Guernsey,' Transactions of the Societe Guernesiaise, XI (1931) (2), pp. 254 ff.

3 BY ORDER OF THE ROYAL COURT; 7th February 1810, before Eleazar Le Marchant, Esq., Lieut.-Baillif, and in the presence of Pierre de Jersey, Pierre de Havilland, Carteret Priaulx, Daniel de Lisle Brock, Jean La Serre, Henry Frederic Brock, & Pierre Le Pelley, Esq.s, Jurats.

Mr Benjamin Butcher, master of the brig Martha ... is fined £300 tournois, as per the Order of 7 August 1779, for having towards the end of December 1809, or at the beginning of January 1810, himself employed in this island, or others having employed for him, or having had on board, Richard Green, a sailor belonging to the crew of the HM The Albacore, who was found aboard the said brig, in contravention of the aforementioned Order ... DITTO the said Butcher is also found guilty of the same crime vis-à-vis Daniel Mills, another sailor from the same vessel of HM navy ... Geo. LEFEBVRE, King's Greffier. [From the French]