Originally landsmen who were induced to join the British Navy to avoid debts or disgrace, or were given the option by city magistrates to serve in the navy under the Quota Acts of 1795 in place of jail sentence for misdemeanours. The Quota Acts were passed in the British Parliament, under the stress of the Revolutionary War against France (1793–1801), to provide seamen for the Royal Navy. Later, in the Napoleonic War (1803–15), the phrase was unofficially applied to any landsman who joined the navy in order to qualify for a bounty. They were held in great derision and contempt by professional seamen from whom they were easily distinguished by the clothes they wore on joining a ship.
Subjects: Maritime History.