(pencil sketch of a prison ship, ©2009 Jay Lyons)
I am working on a new Regency, one that completely fascinates me. It revolves around the hulks, decommissioned ships that were converted into prisons and moored in the Thames. These prison ships were meant to be temporary solutions for prisoners who were sentenced to transportation when England could no longer ship them to America during the American War of Independence (1776). They ended up being just another convenient place to contain petty criminals that lasted until 1859 in Britain.
By 1828 over 4400 prisoners were contained on ten ships. More died than were released some years. The convicts were forced to do hard manual labor; stone-breaking was considered undemanding work suitable for invalids. The hulks were supposed to be for the worst offenders but boys as young as ten were included. The convicts were packed close together on three decks at night, locked in and left to fight amongst themselves. Gambling was the main recreation and talk of crime was rampant; the majority were determined to return to it.
Young boys were held with their elders until 1823 when it was determined it would be best to hold them separate. Eight out of ten released returned to their old life, their hatred for authority far outweighing their fear of the hulks. The statistics were similar among the older criminals.