Oh, the prison hulk. What a monstrous place to end up. In my research for an upcoming novel, I have been uncovering some horrifying tidbits about these prisons so aptly dubbed "Hell on Earth". (I did a more in-depth post about this in May.)
First, a few basic facts...
What is a prison hulk? It was a decommissioned ship, moored and adapted to house criminals awaiting transportation.
Why were they used? They were supposed to be a temporary solution when it became impossible to transport criminals to America during the American War of Independence (Revolutionary War). They became too convenient to give up.
What kinds of criminals did they hold? They were intended for the worst offences. It wasn't too long, however, before they ended up being the easy answer. Boys as young as ten were incarcerated with grown men. It wasn't until 1823 that it was decided it would be better for boys under the age of 16 to be on their own ship.
The picture below was painted by a French prisoner of war, Louis Garneray, who was incarcerated on a prison hulk. He was one of the few who made the best of his situation.