The Prawnmen And The Press Gangs
A couple of hundred years ago, and a decade or two on top of that, the Poole Prawnmen found themselves in a perplexity. And there was a very good reason for that: it was all because of the King wanting to be at war with the French at that time. That was one of their traditions y'see – it had been going on for centuries that the English and the French took it in turns to declare war on each other. Which was all well and good if that's what they wanted to do, let them get on with it is what the Prawnmen said. Trouble was, they decided to involve ordinary folk in it by sending out the press gangs – who would then go charging about in the seaports and grab any likely looking men to crew the man o'war ships.
Now then, as much as the ordinary folk respected the King's traditions, they had their own to think about – such as the smuggling that needed to be done. That was something which was very important to those who lived by the sea: and more so to the Poole Prawnmen on account of it was them that invented the smuggling in the first place. So it was one of our traditions which had to go on without any interference from the war, otherwise the whole country would've suffered from paying high taxes. Which was why the Prawnmen realised that they was being more patriotic by avoiding the press gangs and keeping the goods coming in from across the channel.
There are some tales still told of the things that went on to outwit the press. Like Sammy Trott, a dedicated smuggler who took it into his head to dress himself up as a woman – which worked pretty well as long as he kept his gob shut. They do say that he had the sort of face which would pass as a woman's but a gruff voice that'd betray him as a man. As it turned out it was having to keep quiet that was his undoing, it happened like this: Sammy was walking around town in his skirts and bonnet when, turning a corner, he came face to face with a press gang being led by Lieutenant Quinn. Most of the gang ignored Sammy, but not their officer: he took one look and declared that this was the lass he wished to marry. So he proposed on the spot and Sammy could only nod his head by way of agreement – he knew that if he shook his head to say 'no' then the lovesick sailor would push him to give a reason for his refusal, which'd mean he'd have to speak out and the game would be up. Besides, Sammy wasn't too worried at first – he reckoned that the Lieutenant would have to wait until the war was done and then come back to claim his bride – by which time the womans' garb could've been abandoned.
Unfortunately Lieutenant Quinn was too impetuous for all that waiting stuff, he wanted them wed without delay. So he grabbed Sammy's hand and hauled him off to his ship whereupon the captain performed the marriage straight away – with the bride only able to nod her 'I dos' for fear of getting found out. That set Sammy well and truly onto a lee shore – all that he could think of doing was to try and slip ashore in secret before the ship sailed. And, of course, before his new husband wanted to bed him on their wedding night. But the chance to escape never presented itself so, a few hours later, there's Sammy Trott in the Lieutenant's cabin having to get undressed – and expecting a storm to break once his trick was discovered.
That didn't happen though: they do say that Lieutenant Quinn was quite happy about it all – he said he'd much rather be married to a man anyway: reckoned that the problem otherwise is having babbies and that don't work out well on a man o'war. So Sammy got stuck with pretending to be a woman for another two years, 'til his head got taken off by a cannonball when the ship was in a battle. Then he didn't have to pretend any more, but it also meant that he wouldn't be able to go home and carry on with the smuggling.