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The Press-Gang in New York, Howard Pyle, 1882

OI, YOUS LOT! You'z part of my krew now! Any problems with dat, ya can talk to da complaints department. Dat's my gun, by da way!
Kaptin Bludflagg, Dawn of War: Retribution

In fiction, if a brazen organization has a position they need filled, rather than putting out a want ad or interviewing potential candidates, they'll simply grab the first person they see and force them to help.

Though this is usually played for comedy, it was used seriously by Real Life navies; however the British practice of impressment existed only in wartime, it was in theory actually limited to seamennote  either in British ports, by the Impressment Service "press-gangs" or from homebound British merchant vessels, by individual Royal Navy ships (as in, crewmen from merchant ships were conscripted into the Navy) and some categories of them were completely exempted, such as officers of the merchantmen. However in practice on occasion even landsmen were pressed. Sometimes in time of crisis the Admiralty resorted to "hot presses", disregarding any exemptions.


To a limited extent, the impressment was also used by the Continental Navy of the nascent United States.

The practice of "shanghaiing" by non-military vessels in need of able-bodied men closely resembles the concept of impressment, though it is completely illegal.

See also Got Volunteered, which does not (necessarily) involve the use of force, and Conscription, in which compulsory service is obtained via formal legal channels rather than ad-hoc abduction.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • The protagonist in Gushing over Magical Girls gets forced to fight for the force of evil under pain of having her various transformation and fight videos released to social media.
  • Pretty much everyone in the SOS Brigade in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya can attest that Haruhi bodily forced—er, "persuaded" them to join her club. Well, actually the truth is that all of them except for Kyon (who really is Ordinary High-School Student, or so he says) basically danced in front of Haruhi so she would rope them into joining, because their respective superiors ordered them to spy on her.
  • In the first Sailor Moon season, this is how Yumemi Yumeno finds her models for her paintings. She grabs Usagi and Mamoru (almost literally) and begs them to be her models.
  • Takatoshi Tsuda, the main character of Seitokai Yakuindomo, is shanghaied onto the student council on the first day of school.

  • In a Wash Tubbs comic, Wash and Easy are shanghaied into working on an old-timey whaling ship. They eventually lead a mutiny against the first mate and his supporters. Interestingly, while most of the other crew members were shanghaied to fill positions on the ship, Wash and Easy were targeted specifically because the first mate knew they had a lot of money on them to steal.
  • In Rio at Bay, Rio is nearly shanghaied while he is visiting San Francisco. Rio turns the tables on his attacker, however, and the leader of the press gang wakes up to find himself on a ship bound for Sydney.

  • Played for Laughs in Second Hand Lions, where the two uncles were drinking with some sailors, passed out, and woke up on a ship out to sea.
  • John Wayne's character in The Long Voyage Home was protected by his friends from being shanghaied, and it actually got done to him at the very end. His friends then invade the ship and rescue him, but one of them gets knocked unconscious in the scuffle and winds up getting shanghaied in Wayne's place.
  • In The Live Ghost, Laurel and Hardy try to earn a few bucks from a sea captain who needs a crew by clubbing bar patrons unconscious and tossing them in the ship's hold...naturally they end up clubbed and tossed in with the rest.
  • An early Charlie Chaplin film, Shanghaied, has Charlie promising to do this for an unscrupulous captain. He winds up getting shanghaied himself.
  • In Carry On Jack, Albert Poop-Decker and Walter Sweetly are press-ganged on to the frigate Venus.
  • The main antagonist of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Davy Jones spends his time by raiding ships of all kinds naval, pirate and merchant and offering wayward sailors a chance to postpone their judgement day by being recruited (aka magically bound) to the Flying Dutchman for 100 years. A fear that he himself causes by threatening to bring about their judgement day.
  • Gay Purr-ee: When Meowrice sees Jaune Tom and Robespierre in Paris, he starts calculating in his head what would be the most profitable thing he could get from them. After getting them drunk, he sells them to a ship bound for Alaska. While on the boat, Jaune Tom and Robespierre meet another sailor who may not be there of his own volition.

  • The Horatio Hornblower novels mentions press gangs that were sent out to grab people in ports and force them to become sailors in the Royal Navy, and Hornblower is not a great fan of the impressment system. Ship of the Line has Hornblower using some underhanded tactics to pressgang trained sailors from a fleet of merchant ships he was escorting in order to fill out his own under-manned ship's roster - in this instance the shady part was pressing from an outward-bond East Indiamen - legally protected against impressment - which is lampshaded. Hornblower knows the merchant captains will report him to the Admiralty as soon as they return to England, and is hoping to secure enough success in the meantime to avoid getting skinned for it.
  • In Empire from the Ashes, Dahak does this to get a new captain.
  • In The Scar, many of the inhabitants of the floating nation Armada were press ganged.
  • In Jingo, Nobby Nobbs mentions his mother's uncle, a sailor who was press-ganged by a bunch of farmers who tied him to a plough.
  • This is, essentially, how new recruits are added to The Empire's military in Bill the Galactic Hero. The titular protagonist is himself pressed into service by a recruiter tricking him into wearing a parade uniform, which is fitted with a mind-control device. By the time Bill realizes what happened, his signature is already on the contract. At the end of the first novel, he does the same thing with his own brother, despite their mother begging him not to. Needless to say, it's a Crapsack World. All to fight in a Hopeless War with a race of Lizard Folk called Chingers, who were peaceful until humans attacked them.
  • How Kydd got his rough start in the Royal Navy. This should be noted as quite different to the careers of Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey, whereas they both started out as midshipmen on the quarterdeck at relatively young ages when compared to Kydd's twenty before the mast at the start of the series.
    • Aubrey's crew press-gang at least one man, a bailiff ("tip staff") who is (quite legally) attempting to arrest Aubrey for debt. Aubrey has taken measures for his own protection, however; his boatswain and barge crew are called, a general melee ensues and the unfortunate tip-staff finds himself aboard ship, sailing on the tide, where his authority is not valid. Aubrey declares him "impressed" and orders him to be signed onto the ships books. Whether this is actually legal is questionable, but Aubrey clearly expects to get away with it and since the incident is never referred to again, presumably does so. There are other references to "pressed men" and an episode in which Aubrey's crew conceal Maturin's servant Padeen when escaping from Australia, using skills learnt hiding seamen from "the Press"
  • In Land Sharks, Sage Adair follows the trail of two missing union organizers into Portland's Shanghai Tunnels. (See Real Life).
  • Martín Fierro: At the first book, The Judge came into a bar where Martin Fierro and other gauchos were having fun, he arrested them all, and conscripted them. In the Second Book, Picardia (Mischief) reveals that years later, The Commander came to his town, arrested all the men, judged all of them guilty of various crimes and then condemned all to Conscription. This was the case in Real Life too.
  • Sixth Column:
    • Thomas is a local farmworker who, when he stumbled across the military base, was drafted as a private due to the need to preserve secrecy.
    • Calhoun was "jerked out of a university" due to having research skills the army needed.
  • Billy Budd was a merchant seaman who got drafted into the Royal Navy, and ultimately ended up dead because a sailor on his new ship decided he didn't like him.
  • In The Irregular at Magic High School, magic sports are such Serious Business that some club members physically grab promising candidates and carry them away. It's the Disciplinary Committee's job to stop such coercion, but they can't always catch up in time, and it's hard to keep watch on all the clubs doing it. Candidates can theoretically always say no (to the club, not the grabbing), but it's hard when you're a freshman and in someone else's clubroom.
  • Wulfrik: Derisively mentioned as a practice among southern (that is, Imperial and Breatonnian) captains, by the name of "bash and stash"). One Norscan have nothing but contempt for it, being loath to serve along anyone who wasn't willing to risk his life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Although Press Gang derives its Pun-Based Title from the practice, this only extends to Spike and Frazz. The original concept was for all the protagonists to have been from rival gangs.
  • In Copper, the Union army employs civilian recruiters to help fill its ranks. The more unscrupulous of these approach young men in taverns, drugging their drinks, and holding the men prisoner until they can be delivered to the army as 'volunteers'.
  • Hawkeye Pierce is absolutely furious in M*A*S*H to be told the number of in-service points note  needed to ensure discharge from the Army has suddenly been increased from thirty-five to forty-two. This condemns Hawkeye to at least another year in Korea, on the grounds surgeon-doctors are hard to come by and are a difficult specialisation for the Army to fill. Hence what amounts to an arbitrary extention of his active service. He compares this to being press-ganged. Note that Hawkeye was drafted into the Army in the first place. Normally draftees are enlisted men, but he instead is a captain (O-3), the lowest rank allowed for a medical doctor.
  • In Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow"), General Pugh uses naval impressment to try and threaten the townspeople of Romney Marsh into giving up the Scarecrow. The local squire's eldest son is also a conscripted sailor who escapes in the final episode (which is ahistorical not only because the press didn't work that way, but because the firstborn son of landed gentry would never be subjected to that—even if it happened by mistake, it would certainly be rectified before four years passed.)
  • In the Here Come the Brides episode "The Crimpers," Jeremy is kidnapped by men who plan to sell him into service as a sailor. Joshua sees him being lifted into a wagon and tries to rescue him, only to be kidnapped as well.
  • During the opening credits of the pilot movie of Barbary Coast, a bartender feeds a sailor a drink and then drops him through a Trap Door into the arms of a press gang waiting below. This is later revealed to be a common practice at Shanghai Kelly's saloon.
  • Black Sails: Billy Bones was press-ganged into the Royal Navy while distributing pamphlets written by his parents who were anti-impressment activists. He spent three years forced to serve until the Walrus crew freed him and gave him the chance to kill the man responsible for his impressment. After doing this Billy resigned himself to never seeing his parents again as he believes they'd reject him for being a killer. Truth in Television, as in Real Life several pirates had been through this or other forms of slavery or indentured servitude at some point in their lives.

  • In the Stan Freberg recording "The Old Payola Roll Blues," Clyde Ankle is on his way to high school when he is grabbed off the street by a record company which sees in his "pretty face and a pompadour" the makings of a teenage Idol Singer. Despite that (actually, because) he can't sing, they get him to record the would-be hit single "High School, Oo-Oo" by threatening him with a pointed stick.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The pirate-themed Pathfinder adventure path "Skull & Shackles" begins with your characters being shanghaied. The main focus of the campaign is freeing yourselves and getting strong enough to get back at the asshole who did it.
  • Pirate mercenary armies in Warmachine have a unit that can forcibly recruit defeated soldiers on the spot in the middle of the battle.
  • Although rarely part of the actual gameplay, press-ganging is common practice in several navies in Warhammer 40,000. The Imperium of Man and their Even Eviler Counterpart, the Forces of Chaos, both field gigantic warships crewed by tens of thousands of ratings each. These poor sods live in terrible conditions, are forced to do back-breaking labor day in, day out, and usually serve as the first, barely armed line of defense against hostile boarding parties, as well as expendable cannon fodder if their own ship does the boarding. Their life expectancy is laughably short, none of the higher-ups give a damn about it, and replacements are simply abducted off the streets with full government sanction the next time the ship makes port. Yeah, living in the 40K galaxy really sucks.
  • The Pirate warband in Mordheim can force captives to become swabbies for them. They'll fight for the warband but have a decent chance of making a run for it if they're unaccompanied for too long. The Undead can also make captives fight for them... by turning them into zombies.

    Video Games 
  • Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis: This is how most of your party joins the workshop, The Hero included, courtesy of Flay. If a student sparks his interest, he will drag them in, sometimes bodily, and chase off any competitors. The one student he's too late to recruit, he later wins in a bet.
  • Press Gang mercenaries are a Random Encounter in the late game region of San Francisco in Fallout 2. In practice they just act as Raiders and just try to kill you and not impress you.

    Web Comics 
  • Bug claimed he isn't afraid of getting shanghaied.
  • The plot of Spacetrawler begins with the alien Nogg abducting six humans to serve in the Eeb liberation movement. However, he specifically chooses six individuals who would be most likely to help, and he does allow them to opt out after explaining the situation to them.
  • In Questionable Content this is how Penny comes to work at Coffee of Doom. Dora and Faye are looking for a new employee and decide to start training her when she comes in to order a coffee. This is lampshaded in comic by Marten.
  • "What a slick operation. I'm impressed!"

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In "Mutiny on the Bunny", Bugs Bunny is forced into service by sea captain Yosemite Sam (who in this cartoon goes by the appropriate moniker of Shanghai Sam).
    • Porky Pig in the 1936 cartoon "Shanghaied Shipmates".
  • A Captain Ahab type takes Tom in the Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry short "Dickey Moe".
  • Mickey Mouse in the aptly-named "Shanghaied". The cartoon begins with Mickey and Minnie already on the ship, but it's not hard to tell how they got there.
  • Chilly Willy in the also aptly-named short "Operation Shanghai." It's implied that Smedley the Dog may have been forced into servitude himself before being ordered by Captain Blahhh to go do the same to Chilly.

    Real Life 
  • In reality, no one hated the press more than the Admiralty, who, despite their dislike of it, knew that it was the only option to adequately man the Navy in wartime, as there were never enough volunteers.
  • One of the casus belli of the War of 1812 was the British impressment of sailors from American ships. Muddying up the waters was the fact that many of the sailors who were impressed were actually British sailors who jumped ship. The concept of citizenship was still quite fuzzy at that point, and every sailor serving long enough on a British ship in the past was considered eligible for the press.
  • In some American cities, if not enough people show up for jury duty the judge will send out bailiffs to grab people walking by the courthouse to act as jurors. This tradition started all the way back in ancient Greece—where (in Athens at least), the bailiffs were enslaved Scythian archers and they used rope dipped in wet red paint to mark the citizens who had failed to show up when told.
  • Since impressment was never legal for non-Navy vessels, boarding masters for non-military ships in the 19th century would sometimes resort to underhanded tactics to get men aboard ships, such as drugging drinks at a waterfront bar and then signing them on as crew without their knowledge or consent. Boarding masters who were known for this were called crimps, and the practice in general soon became known as "shanghaiing" (on the idea that when you came to, you'd be on your way to Shanghai or somewhere just as distant).

    There was also an alternative crimping technique where crimps would go onto ships that had just docked and convinced the sailors to jump ship (forfeiting their wages they had earned on their last voyage) in order to get on a ship that paid better, supposedly. While they waited, they could stay in boarding houses, buy food and alcohol from taverns, get a new set of clothes, and visit brothels, all on credit extended by the crimps. When they did get on board (usually too drunk to read the fine print of their new contracts) they discovered that all of their future wages had been paid to settle their debts, and they essentially had to work for free. Also, all of those boarding houses, taverns, clothes stores, and brothels? Owned by the crimps, who made out like bandits through this arrangement. Amusingly enough, on occasion suckers got sold right back to the ships they jumped off of, as captains who lost sailors to crimps had to get crewed up again somehow. Portland, Oregon was apparently the most infamous port for this to happen in during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and ships who docked there pretty much had to deal with crimps in order to actually be able to leave the port again with a full crew.
  • Inverted by many unscrupulous sailing masters who would endeavour to have their crews pressed on returning to port to avoid paying wages.
  • Drafting of civilians during war time is a very old tradition, but the quality of the recruits is very variable, and post traumatic stress disorder or "shell shock" is very common if the fighting soldiers are forced into service.
  • Played straight in countries which employ conscription. Several countries are known to use considerable force to bring unwilling conscript recruits to barracks. In peacetime, attempting to avoid service without a good excuse may easily lead to imprisonment, but during wartime, doing this could well lead to execution.
    • During World War II, Nazi Germany practiced forced conscription on young men it deemed "of German blood" in some of the areas it conquered (which were also forcibly Germanized) due to the increasing need of Cannon Fodder and lack of volunteers in said areas, without any regard for international laws that considered this a war crime. It included Alsace and Moselle (France), Arelerland (Belgium) and Luxembourg. On top of that, many young men from said areas who were born in 1926 and 1927 were conscripted in the Waffen SS,note  which decreased their chances of survival as prisoners of war.
  • Stop Loss is a case of Got Volunteered because someone forgot to Read the Fine Print of their enlistment contracts, which detail a period of time after being discharged (typically several years) where someone can be recalled to active duty if needed. It's usually not needed, but when you have two major wars going on... Note that it not only affects people who already volunteered to be in the military, but who had already served out their time on active duty.
  • Allegedly the origin of the glass bottoms in tankards, as recruiters would supposedly slip a coin into the mug, and then claim that the drinker had taken "the King's shilling", whereas a glass bottom would enable the coin to be seen. Probably a legend.
  • Averted in the United States by the 1915 Seaman's Act. Prior to then, crimps and sailing masters actually had the law on their side. Besides electing local politicians to support their illegal activity, many crimped sailors simply couldn't jump ship at the nearest dry land; it was a federal crime to leave a ship before its journey's end after signing on. (Many crimps forged their victims' signatures on official paperwork.) The new law changed many hiring and job practices for sailors, including the abolishment of crimping.