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Prison hulks on the River Thames

Introduction
The English penal system and transportation to the colonies
Establishment of the prison hulks
Hard labour
Life on board
George Barrington
Escapes and revolts
Penal reform and the end of the hulks
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Introduction

Transport to North America

Vaisseau monte par le capitaine Cook dans son dernier voyage. T.1er P.219. 2eme Edition 1838 Album Maritime
View full size imageThe Discovery convict ship at Deptford, c. 1829.
From the early 18th century until the American Revolution, Britain transported convicts each year to Maryland and Virginia.

The North American colonies declared their independence in 1776 and closed their ports to British prison ships. A crisis in the British criminal justice system followed.

Floating prisons

The hulk Warrior (1781) anchored off Woolwich
View full size imageThe hulk Warrior (1781) anchored off Woolwich.
Britain started converting old merchant ships and naval vessels into floating prisons known as hulks. Many of these were on the River Thames.

Convicts spent time on the hulks before being transported to Australia, the new destination for Britain's criminals.

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Glossary
Hulk

Find out more
StoriesThe 18th-century port
London becomes a centre of finance, commerce and industry
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StoriesThe 19th-century port
Docks and industry transform the Thames
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StoriesDeptford and Woolwich: London's Royal Dockyards
The rise and decline of Henry VIII's Dockyards
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory GreenwichNew Opportunities Fund 
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