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Prison hulks were decommissioned ships that authorities used as floating prisons in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were especially popular in Englandmarker. The term "prison hulk" is not synonymous with the related term, convict ship. A convict ship is any ship whose purpose is to transport convicted felons from their place of conviction to their place of banishment.

Initial authorization and later expansion of use

Parliament initially intended to use the hulks as a temporary measure and so the first authorization, in 1776, for their use was only for two years. Although some members of Parliament deplored the hulks the 1776 Act lasted for 80 years. Parliament regularly renewed the Act and even extended its scope "for the more severe and effectual punishment of atrocious and daring offenders". The American Revolutionary War, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars resulted in the availability of superannuated vessels suitable for conversion to prison hulks. Ships-of-the-line were particularly suitable because of their size as in active service they had accommodated crews numbering in the hundreds of men.

Conversion of decommissioned ships

Converting the ships to prison hulks involved removal of the rigging, mast, rudders, and various other features required for sailing. Some hulks retained some of these features, but all were rendered inoperable or unseaworthy in some way. The internal structure was also reconfigured with various features, including jail cells, in order to accommodate convicted criminals or occasionally prisoners of war.

The hulks, which retained only their ability to float, were typically located in harbors. This made them convenient temporary holding quarters for convicts awaiting transportation to Australia and other penal colonies within the British Empire. In 1798 the hulks held more than 1400 out of about 1900 people waiting for transportation to Australia. Most British prison hulks were decommissioned in the 19th century, although suspected and convicted criminals are still confined aboard ships on occasion for various reasons.

List of British prison hulks

This is a list of Prison ships known to have been served as prison hulk in the British Empire.

Name Years in Service Location Comments
HMS Antigua 1804-1816 Antigua was the former French privateer Egyptienne, which Hippomenes captured in 1804.
HMS Antelope 1824-1845 Bermudamarker Antelope was a 50-gun Fourth Rate launched in 1802. She was used as a troopship from 1818, was placed on harbour service from 1824 and was broken up in 1845.
1815-1824 Sheernessmarker Bellerophon was a 74-gun Third Rate launched in 1786 at Frindsbury. She became a prison hulk in 1815, was renamed Captivity in 1824 and was sold in 1836.
HMS Belliqueux 1814-1816 Belliqueux was a 64-gun Third Rate launched in 1780 at Blackwall. She was used as a prison hulk from 1814 and broken up in 1816.
HMS Briton 1841-1856 Portsmouthmarker Briton was built in 1812, Chathammarker.
1810-1834 Chathammarker Canada was a 74-gun Third Rate launched in 1765. She became a prison hulk in 1810 and was broken up in 1834.
HMS Captivity 1796-1816 Gosportmarker and Devonportmarker The first Captivity was a former 64-gun Third Rate launched in 1772 as HMS Monmouth. She became a prison hulk and was renamed Captivity in 1796. She was broken up in 1816.
HMS Captivity 1824-1836 Gosportmarker and Devonportmarker The second Captivity was a former 74-gun Third Rate launched in 1786 as HMS Bellerophon. She became a prison hulk in 1815 and was renamed HMS Captivity in 1824. She was sold in 1836.
HMS Ceres 1787-1797 Woolwichmarker Ceres was a 32-gun Fifth Rate launched in 1781 and broken up in 1830.
HMS Chatham 1793-1805 Plymouthmarker Chatham was a 50-gun Fourth Rate launched in 1758. She was used for harbour service from 1793 and was a powder hulk from 1805. She was renamed Tilbury in 1810 and was broken up in 1814.
HMS Coromandel 1827-1853 Bermudamarker Coromande was a 20-gun storeship, formerly an East Indiaman that the Admiralty purchased in 1804, commissioned as a 56-gun Fourth Rate, and named HMS Malabar. She was refitted as a storeship in 1805 and renamed Coromandel in 1815. She became a prison hulk in 1827 and was broken up in 1853.
HMS Cumberland 1830-1833 Chathammarker Cumberland was a 74-gun third-rate launched in 1807, Northfleet. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1830 and was renamed Fortitude in 1833. She was put on the sale list in 1870 and was subsequently sold.
HMS Dasher 1832-1838 Woolwichmarker Dasher was an 18-gun sloop launched in 1797. She became a prison hulk in 1832 and was broken up in 1838.
HMS Defence 1850-1857 Woolwichmarker and Portsmouthmarker Defence was a 74-gun Third Rate ship of the line, built in 1815 and broken up in 1857.
HMS Defiance 1813-1817 Defiance was a 74-gun Third Rate launched in 1783 Rotherhithe. She was used as a prison hulk from 1813 and was broken up in 1817.
HMS Discovery 1818-1834 Woolwichmarker and Deptfordmarker Discovery was a 10-gun sloop launched and purchased in 1789. She was commanded by Captain George Vancouver on his voyage of exploration from 1791 to 1795. She was converted to a bomb vessel in 1799, a prison hulk in 1818 and was broken up in 1834.
HMS Dolphin 1824-1830 Chathammarker Dolphin was originally launched as an East Indiaman named Admiral Rainier, which the Navy bought and renamed HMS Hindostan. The Admiralty purchased her in 1804 for service as a 50-gun Fourth Rate. She was converted into a 20-gun storeship in 1811. She was renamed again in 1819 as Dolphin, and once more in 1831 as Justitia, when she became a prison hulk. She was finally sold in 1855.
HMS Dromedary 1825-1864 Woolwichmarker and Bermudamarker Dromedary was an East Indiaman that the Navy purchased in 1805. First named Howe and then renamed Dromedary in 1806. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1825, at Bermuda and broken up there in 1864.
HMS Dunkirk 1782-1792 Plymouthmarker Dunkirk was a Fourth Rate, built in 1754 at Woolwichmarker. Converted to guardship in 1782, at Plymouth. Sold in 1792.
HMS Edgar 1814-1835 Edgar was a 74-gun Third Rate launched in 1779. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1813, renamed Retribution in 1814, and broken up 1835.
HMS Euryalus 1825-1847 Chathammarker and Gibraltarmarker Euryalus was decommissioned in 1825 and converted into a prison hulk for boys at Chathammarker. In 1847 she was moved to Gibraltarmarker, and was sold for breaking up in 1860.
HMS Fortitude 1833-1844 Chathammarker HMS Cumberland was a 74-gun third-rate launched in 1807. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1830 and was renamed Fortitude in 1833. She was put on the sale list in 1870 and was subsequently sold.
HMS Fortitude 1795-1820 Chathammarker Fortitude was a 74-gun Third Rate ship of the line launched in 1780. She served as a prison hulk from 1795 and was broken up in 1820.
HMS Ganymede 1819-1838 Chathammarker and Woolwichmarker Ganymede was the French frigate Hébé captured in 1809. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1819 and broken up in 1838.
HMS Gelykheid 1807-1814 Gillingham Equally Gelijkeidt, Gelykheidt, or Gelikheid. On 8 May 1800 a court martial was held at Sheerness, on board HMS Savage on Lieutenant Wheatly and his Clerk, of the Gelykheid prison ship, at Gillingham, for drunkenness and neglect of duty, ungentlemanlike conduct, embezzlement of stores, tyranny, and oppression, but the charges being malicious and ill founded, they were acquitted. In 1803 was stationed in the Humber as Guardship and in 1807 she was fitted out as sheer hulk at Falmouth. She was disposed of in 1814.
HMS Glory 1809-1814 Glory was a 90-gun Second Rate launched in 1788. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1809, a powder hulk in 1814, was and broken up in 1825.
HMS Goree 1814-1817 Bermuda Goree was the 16-gun sloop of war HMS Favourite launched in 1794. The French captured her in 1806 and renamed her Favorite; the British recaptured her in 1807 and renamed her HMS Goree. She became a prison hulk in Bermuda in 1814 and was broken up in 1817.
HMS Hardy 1824-1833 Hardy was a 14-gun gun-brig launched in 1804. She was used as a storeship from 1818 and a hospital ship from 1821, before being sold in 1835.
HMS Hebe 1839-1852 Woolwichmarker Hebe was a 46-gun Fifth Rate launched in 1826, made a receiving ship in 1839, hulked in 1861, and broken up 1873.
HMS Hector 1808-1816 Hector was a 74-gun Third Rate launched at Deptford in 1774 and converted to a prison hulk in 1808, and broken up in 1816.
HMS Justitia 1812-1830 Sheernessmarker Vice Ad. Richard Onslow seized the Zeeland seized from the Dutch by at Plymouth on 4 March 1796. She was renamed Justitia in 1812 and broken up in 1830, when her name was transferred to Dolphin.
HMS Justitia 1830-1855 Woolwichmarker Justitia was originally launched as an East Indiaman named Admiral Rainier. The Admiralty purchased her in 1804 to use as a 50-gun Fourth Rate, and named her HMS Hindostan. She was converted into a 20-gun storeship in 1811. She was renamed again in 1819 as Dolphin, and once more in 1830 as Justitia, when she became a prison hulk. She was finally sold in 1855.
HMS Jersey 1776-1783 New Yorkmarker Jersey was a 60-gun Fourth Rate built in 1736 as Plymouth. She is perhaps most noted for her service as a prison hulk during the American Revolutionary War. She was abandoned at New York in 1783.
HMS Leven 1827-1848 Woolwichmarker and Deptfordmarker Leven was launched in 1813 at Ipswich. She became a hospital ship in 1827 and then a prison hulk at Chathammarker. She became a receiving ship at Limehousemarker in 1842 and was broken up in 1848.
HMS Leviathan 1816-1848 Portsmouthmarker Leviathan was a 74-gun Third Rate ship of the line launched in 1790 at Chathammarker. She fought at the Battle of Trafalgarmarker, was used as a prison hulk from 1816 and sold in 1848.
HMS Lion 1816-1837 Gosportmarker Lion was a 64-gun third-rate launched in 1777. She was used as a sheer hulk from 1816 and was sold for breaking up in 1837.
HMS Medway 1850-1862 Bermudamarker Medway was a 74-gun Third Rate launched in 1812. She was used as a prison hulk after 1847 and was sold in 1865.
HMS Menelaus 1832-1897 Menelaus was a Royal Navy 38-gun Fifth Rate frigate, launched in 1810 at Plymouth. In 1820 she moved to Chathammarker and in 1832 became a quarantine hulk. On 19 December 1848 she accepted sick from the convict ship Hasemey, which called in at Portsmouth en route from the River Thames to New South Wales with a number of cases of cholera and diarrhoea. She remained with the Quarantine Service until 1890 and was sold in 1897.
HMS Narcissus 1823-1837 Narcissus was a 32-gun Fifth Rate launched in 1801 at Deptford. She became a prison hulk after 1823, and was sold in 1837.
HMS Oiseau 1810-1816 Oiseau was a 36-gun Fifth Rate, originally a French ship called Cleopatre but captured in 1793. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1810, later lent to the Transport Board and sold in 1816.
HMS Owen Glendower 1842-1862 Gibraltarmarker Owen Glendower was launched in 1808 at Humber. She became a prison hulk in Gibraltar 1842, a receiving ship in 1876, and was sold in 1884.
HMS Portland 1802-1817 Langstone Harbourmarker Portland was a 50-gun Fourth Rate launched in 1770 at Sheerness. She was converted to a 10-gun storeship in 1800 and a prison hulk in 1802. She was sold in 1817.
HMS Prudent 1779-1814 Woolwichmarker Prudent was launched in 1768 at Woolwich Dockyardmarker. She was on put on harbour service 1779 and sold in 1814.
HMS Racoon 1819-1838 Portsmouthmarker Racoon was an 18-gun sloop launched in 1808 at Yarmouth. She was used as a hospital ship for convicts from 1819 and was sold in 1838.
HMS Resolute 1844-1852 Resolute was a 12-gun gun-brig launched in 1805 in Dover. She was used as a tender from 1814, a diving bell vessel from 1816 and a prison hulk from 1844. She was broken up in 1852.
HMS Retribution 1814-1835 Woolwichmarker and Sheernessmarker Retribution was a prison hulk launched in 1799 as the 74-gun Third Rate . Edgar was converted into a prison hulk in 1813, renamed Retribution in 1814 and broken up in 1835.
HMS Royalist 1856 Royalist was originally HMS Mary Gordon of six guns, purchased in China in 1841. Became a hulk in 1856.
HMS Savage 1804-1815 Woolwichmarker Savage was a 14-gun sloop launched in 1778. She became a hulk in 1804 and was sold in 1815.
HMS Stirling Castle 1839-1855 Portsmouthmarker Stirling Castle was a 74-gun Third Rate ship of the line launched in 1811 at Rochester. She became a hulk in 1839.
HMS Success 1814-1820 Hobartmarker Success was a 32-gun Fifth Rate launched in 1781 at Liverpoolmarker. She became a prison hulk in 1814 and was broken up in 1820.
1843-1857 Woolwichmarker Sulphur was a 10-gun bomb vessel launched in 1826. She was used as a survey ship from 1835, and for harbor service from 1843. She was broken up in 1857.
HMS Surprise 1822-1837 Corkmarker Surprise was a 38-gun frigate, previously named HMS Jacobs and launched in 1812. She became a prison hulk in 1822 and was sold in 1837.
HMS Temeraire 1812-1815 Hobartmarker Temeraire was a 98-gun Second Rate launched in 1798 at Chathammarker. She served as a prison hulk between 1812 and 1815, then as a receiving ship until 1836, and was broken up in 1838.
HMS Tenedos 1843-1875 Bermudamarker Tenedos was a 38-gun Fifth Rate launched in 1812. She was used as a prison hulk from 1843 and was broken up in 1875.
HMS Thames 1841-1863 Bermudamarker and Deptfordmarker Thames was a 46 gun Fifth Rate launched in 1823. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1841, and sank at her moorings in 1863.
HMS Unite 1832-1858 Woolwichmarker Unite was a 40-gun Fifth Rate captured from the Frenchmarker in 1793. She was taken into service as HMS Imperieuse and was renamed Unite in 1803. She was on harbour service from 1832 and was broken up in 1858.
HMS Warrior 1840-1857 Woolwichmarker Warrior was a 74-gun Third Rate ship of the line launched in 1781. She became a receiving ship after 1818, a prison hulk after 1840, and was broken up in 1857.
HMS Weymouth 1828-1865 Bermudamarker Weymouth was a 36-gun Fifth Rate, previously the East Indiaman Wellesley. She was purchased in 1804, and by 1811 had been converted into a 16-gun storeship. She was used as a prison hulk from 1828 and was sold in 1865.
HMS York 1820-1852 Gosportmarker York was a 74-gun Third Rate launched in 1807 at Rotherhithe. She was converted to a prison hulk in 1819 and served as a prison hulk at Gosport and London from 1820 until 1848 when a serious rebellion broke out. Typically she confined about 500 convicts. She was taken out of service and broken up in 1854.


Notes

Bibliography

  • "The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850", by Brian Lavery (Conway Maritime Press, 2003). ISBN 0-85177-252-8.
  • "The Floating Prison: The Remarkable Account of Nine Years' Captivity on the British Prison Hulks During the Napoleonic Wars", by Louis Garneray & Richard Rose (Conway Maritime Press, 2003). ISBN 9780851779423.
  • "The Intolerable Hulks: British Shipboard Confinement (1776-1857)", by Charles F. Campbell (Fenestar Books, Tucson, AZ, 2001).
  • "The Convicts of the Eleanor", by David Kent and Norma Townsend (Merlin Press, London, 2002).
  • "A Commonwealth of Thieves", by Thomas Keneally (Random House, Milson Point NSW, Australia, 2005).


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