A prison ship
, historically sometimes called the
, is a
vessel used as a prison
, often to hold
convicts awaiting transportation to penal
. This practice was popular with the British government
in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The vessels were a common form of internment in Britain and
elsewhere in the 18th and 19th centuries. Charles F. Campbell
writes that around 40 ships of the British Navy were converted for
use as prison hulks.. Other hulks included HMS Warrior, which became a
prison ship at Woolwich in February
1840, One was established at Gibraltar, others at Bermuda, at Antigua, off
Brooklyn in Wallabout Bay, and at Sheerness. Other hulks were anchored off Woolwich, Portsmouth, Chatham, Deptford, and
Private companies owned and operated the
hulks holding prisoners bound for penal transportation
British Use During the American War of Independence
During the American War of
, more Americans died as prisoners of war
on British prison
through intentional neglect than died in every battle of
the war combined. During the war, 11,500 men and women died due
to overcrowding, contaminated water, starvation, and disease on
prison ships anchored in the East River; the bodies of those who died were hastily buried
along the shore. This is now commemorated by the "Prison Ship Martyrs Monument"
in Fort Greene
Park in New York
One such British ship during the War of
Independence was the HMS Jersey
Christopher Vail, of Southold, who was aboard Jersey
1781, later wrote:
'When a man died he was carried up on the forecastle
and laid there until the next morning at 8 o'clock when they were
all lowered down the ship sides by a rope round them in the same
manner as tho' they were beasts. There was 8 died of a day while I
was there. They were carried on shore in heaps and hove out the
boat on the wharf, then taken across a hand barrow, carried to the
edge of the bank, where a hole was dug 1 or 2 feet deep and all
hove in together.'
Robert Sheffield of Stonington, Connecticut, escaped from one of the prison ships, and told his
story in the Connecticut Gazette, printed July 10, 1778.
was one of 350 prisoners held in a compartment below the decks.
"The heat was so intense that (the hot sun shining all
day on deck) they were all naked, which also served the well to get
rid of vermin, but the sick were eaten up alive. Their sickly
countenances, and ghastly looks were truly horrible; some swearing
and blaspheming; others crying, praying, and wringing their hands;
and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving and
storming,--all panting for breath; some dead, and corrupting. The
air was so foul that at times a lamp could not be kept burning, by
reason of which the bodies were not missed until they had been dead
British Use in Napoleonic Wars
British hulk, the former man-of-war HMS Bellerophon, was
decommissioned after the Battle of Trafalgar and became a prison ship in October 1815.
off Sheerness in England, and renamed HMS Captivity on
5 October 1824, she
usually held about 480 convicts in woeful conditions and HMS Discovery, which became a
prison hulk in 1818 at Deptford.
Another famous prison ship was the HMS Temeraire
which served from
British Use in Australia
New South Wales
In New South Wales, hulks were also used as juvenile correctional
(1867–1892) and Sobraon
(1892–1911) - the latter officially a "nautical school ship" - were
anchored in Sydney Harbor. The commander of the two ships,
Frederick Neitenstein (1850–1921), introduced a system of
"discipline, surveillance, physical drill and a system of grading
and marks. He aimed at creating a 'moral earthquake' in each new
boy. Every new admission was placed in the lowest grade and,
through hard work and obedience, gradually won a restricted number
List of decommissioned prison hulks of the British Empire
Nazi Germany assembled a small fleet of ships
in the Bay of
Lubeck to hold concentration camp bound prisoners.
These consisted of the passenger liners Cap
and the SS Deutschland
and the vessels Thielbek
. All were sunk by British aircraft, killing all
but a few prisoners aboard.
Military regime in Chile
Reports from Amnesty
, the US Senate
Chilean Truth and Reconciliation
as a kind of a floating jail and torture chamber for political
prisoners of the Augusto Pinochet
regime from 1973 to 1980. It is claimed that probably over a
hundred persons were kept there at times and subjected to hideous
treatment. , among them the British priest Miguel Woodward.
Venice uses boats
to ferry convicted criminals around the city.
HMS Maidstone was used as a
prison ship in Northern
Ireland in the 1970s for suspected Nationalist guerrillas
and non-combatant activist supporters held
The current president of the Nationalist
political party Sinn Féin
, Gerry Adams
, spent time on the
in 1972. He was released in order to take part
in peace talks.
In 1997, the United Kingdom
established a new prison ship, HMP Weare
, as a temporary measure
to ease prison overcrowding. Weare was docked at the disused
Royal Navy dockyard at Portland, Dorset.
9 March 2005
announced that the Weare
was to close. Since then, the
government has advertised for a contractor to supply 800 prison
ship spaces to alleviate overcrowding.
The Weare is an example of an innovative solution to the problem of providing the right type of accommodation in the right location at the right time.
The Weare was used as a floating barracks during the Falklands war, and was subsequently purchased by the new york department of Corrections for use as a rehabilitation centre for those involved in drug crime. The Weare is a flat bottomed barge, and its superstructure consist of steel containers stacked on top of one another provide five level of category C accommodation . It arrived in Portland Harbour on 13 March 1997, But there was no planning permission . The application had been rejected at the beginning of february mainly on the grounds that it would be a blight to tourism.
United States, the Vernon C. Bain
Correctional Center is a prison barge operated by the New York City Department
of Correction as an adjunct facility to Rikers Island.
However, it was built for this purpose
rather than repurposed.
In June 2008 The Guardian
printed claims by Reprieve
that the US military is holding people arrested in the War on Terrorism
on active navy ships,
including the USS Bataan
, although this was
denied by the US Navy
the Mediterranean, convicts and prisoners-of-war were used as
oarsmen on galleys as late as the 19th century.
Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations opens in 1812
with the escape of the convict Abel
Magwitch from a hulk moored in the Thames Estuary.
In fact, the prison ships were largely
moored in the neighboring River Medway
but Dickens combined real elements to create fictional locations
for his work.
early stages of Victor Hugo's novel
Jean Valjean is a convict on the
galleys at Toulon in France.
French artist and author Ambroise Louis Garneray
life on a prison hulk at Portsmouth in the memoir Mes
- Colledge, p. 109
- Colledge, p. 331
- Colledge, p. 375
- Brad William, The archaeological potential of colonial
prison hulks: The Tasmanian case study
- Colledge, p. 51
- Prison hulks on the Thames
- Australian Dictionary of Biography, Neitenstein,
Frederick William (1850–1921)
- Niegan libertad en crimen de sacerdote en la
Nacion, 3 May 2008