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Maritime Image of the Day: “Prison Hulks on the River Thames (c 1856)

PortandTerminal.com, November 3, 2019

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Prison hulks were decommissioned ships that authorities used as floating prisons in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were especially popular in England. The hulks were an emergency measure to cope with prison overcrowding.

The hulks, which retained only their ability to float, were typically located in harbours. This made them convenient temporary holding quarters for convicts awaiting transportation to Australia and other penal colonies within the British Empire. 

The forbidding form of the beached convict hulk HMS Discovery at Deptford. Launched as a 10-gun sloop at Rotherhithe in 1789, the ship served as a convict hulk from 1818 until scrapped in February 1834.

The hulks were run by contractors and were absolutely miserable. Mutinies were not unheard of. Crowded and unsanitary conditions led to a high mortality rate (from August 1776 to April 1778 176 of 632 prisoners on board died), largely due to gaol fever (typhus).

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