PortCities London

Prison hulks on the River Thames


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. © NMM
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. © NMM
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.