Hull – Ferens Art Gallery (The Press Gang by Alexander Johnston)

Impressment, or press ganging, was a substantial problem for merchant sailors around the coast of the country during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. There they would be, enjoying a little drink or eight at a pub or tavern, then before they know it they’re a member of the British Navy. I must admit, I’d be bloody angry if I got waylaid going home and was sent to serve in the Royal Navy. Unless they got me a little desk job which didn’t involve climbing up the rigging.

There was an interesting fact I read in one of the books at the library, which was that the leaders of the press gangs were treated very well by merchant ship owners, effectively a bribe to ensure that they didn’t take any of the crew from their vessel. Money talked a lot in this regard, anyone press ganged with wealth or influence was likely to magically be freed from their new naval ties.

This painting is by Alexander Johnston (1815 until 1891), a Scottish artist who specialised in painting historic events. The artwork was painted in 1858 and was purchased in 1913 by Dyson Lister, who was named as a gallery agent. The Ferens Art Gallery didn’t open until 1927, but he purchased other paintings at the same auction, which are also now in the gallery. The painting was sold in a three-day sale of paintings owned by George McCulloch, who was a wealthy mine owner who had died in 1907. He had an enormous collection of artworks and his policy was to only buy paintings that were painted during his own lifetime. Lister paid 130 guineas for the painting, the equivalent of around £10,000 in today’s money.