To ease overcrowding in the gaols, the authorities also decided to imprison convicts in the hulks of old warships moored on the Thames.
|The prison hulks were a temporary measure that lasted for 80 years. © NMM|
Many prisoners served their entire sentence on the hulks. Others were housed there until a space could be found on a transport ship to Australia.
In 1798 it was reported that more than 1400 out of a total of almost 1900 people waiting for transportation to Australia were confined on the hulks.
|The hulk Warrior (1781) anchored off Woolwich. © NMM|
The use of the hulks was seen as a temporary measure, and so was first authorized by Parliament for only two years. But despite the concerns of some members who deplored its inhumanity, the 1776 Act lasted for 80 years. It was regularly renewed and extended in scope 'for the more severe and effectual punishment of atrocious and daring offenders'.
The Woolwich Warren
The first hulks were moored on the Thames off Woolwich and the opposite shore. In the 18th century there were marshes along the north shore and few people lived there.
|Woolwich dockyard and the surrounding area. © NMM|
On the southern shore, the Woolwich Warren was a maze of workshops, warehouses, wood-yards, barracks, foundries and firing ranges.
Home of the Royal Arsenal
The Warren had been the site of naval shipbuilding since the 16th century. The Royal Arsenal was not established there until 1805, but military arms had been made there for more than a century.
|A plan of Woolwich, showing the dockyard and surrounding land. © NMM |
These facilities were gradually being expanded. However, an adequate river harbour was essential if development of the Woolwich Warren was to continue.