|A pamphlet titled The Liberty of the Subject
accessed from http://porttowns.port.ac.uk/press-gang-1/
The painting was by James Gillray and is dated 1779
The practice of Impressment is old, being mentioned in the Magna Carta. It was more common in times of war as competing interests vied for crew. During the Napoleonic wars it became widespread when the navy was stretched and simply didn’t have enough men to operate their ships. Apparently the practice had initially started in London but over time and as the needs for crew grew, so did its scope. Waterford was only one of many areas favored by them given the quantity of trade, and particularly, it seems the Newfoundland cod fishery. Crews for the fishery were drawn from farms, villages and towns across the south east and they flocked to the harbour area to join ships for the cod fishing season on the Grand banks. These were young, healthy and energetic. Perfect for the hungry Press-gangers.
|Accessed from: http://www.hmsacasta.com/2013_08_01_archive.html|
Going ashore was one method and this clipping from Waterford of 1777 gives a good example of the practice:
The major disadvantage of the shoreside press was that citizens did not take kindly to the practice and were want to show their displeasure
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The other approach was to attack ships at sea, and in many cases merchant men were stripped of their capable crew and very often such men were swapped with either injured or incapable sailors, deemed unfit for the Navy. Even in circumstances where armed Naval vessels were employed however, successful outcomes were not guaranteed. For example an unnamed Newfoundland vessel sailing to Waterford on the 5th November 1770 was challenged by a “press boat” off Cork harbour. The crew and passengers gave a fight however and following an exchange of gunfire the press boat thought it best to sheer off. Five aboard the Newfoundlander were wounded, who put in to Youghal where one of the injured died. The Press boat put into Dungarvan where her wounded crew were treated. 
Several other accounts of the press gangs have come to my attention including a shore based captain who organised the press of sailors from an office at Passage East, a press in Waterford city that resulted in 140 men pressed on the quay and the landing of the press gangs on the Hook peninsula and their working along the coast to Duncannon.
The press gang diminished after the Napoleonic wars. A peace time navy required less men, naval reforms and pay helped recruitment, but social reformers also helped in fighting the hated practice. The next great naval dispute against Russia in the Crimea in 1853 is said to be the first in which impressed sailors did not serve.
My thanks to Maurice Power and Myles Courtney for help with this piece
 The Waterford Chronicle, Tuesday April 1st 1777.
 Accessed from google books, The account is contained in Rule Britannia, The press gang afloat and ashore. J.R. Hutchinson. 2010. Fireship Press. Available from wwwFireshipPress.com
 Cork Examiner. September 1st 1883 P5 (a piece looking back on newspaper reports from 1770)