Life on board i

Extracts from London Illustrated News, 21 February 1846, page 125 (ZPER 34/8)


The subject of Prison Discipline, but more especially of Secondary Punishment, now occupying so large a share of the attention of the benevolent and humane, that we purpose to illustrate in our pages the general subject of Transportation, in the hope of fixing, by our graphic details, the attention of the reader upon the economy of this penal system. We commence with that branch of Secondary Punishment known in England as “the Hulks,” and contemplated merely as an intermediate establishment between the common gaols and the penal colonies, for prisoners sentenced to transportation; though, in fact, in many cases, they prove a substitute for that punishment.


The floating prison is rated to hold 600 men. Of these 124 are disposed on the top deck; 192 on the middle deck; 284 on the lower deck; and this is effected without crowding.

Beneath the lower deck is the hold, a large, and almost unoccupied space, divided into store-rooms, divided by a passage. The openings from the hold are -


1. The Main-hatch 2. The Fore-scuttle 3. The After-scuttle 4. A small scuttle in one of the classes.

The discipline and employment of the Convicts may be briefly detailed -

On board each hulk, a book is kept by the Overseer, in which are entered the names of all convicts; and, on the first Sunday of every quarter, they are mustered, and the character of each convict, for the previous three months, is marked against his name, as follows: v.g. very good; g. good; in. indifferent; b. bad; v.b. very bad.

The convicts, after they are classed, are kept in separate compartments on board the ship, and are not allowed to mix with any other class than that to which they belong, after the hours of daily labour. Every prisoner is required to serve two years certain as a period of punishment without any reserve earnings, and after that time is eligible to commence a period of probation which invariably commences when the prisoner has mustered eight times, ie. two years, either good, or very good. This and his subsequent character determines the


…duration of his period of probation. On his entering this, his reserve earnings commence, and continue until his ultimate liberation, subject, however, to be withheld for misconduct.

The cells throughout the hulk are numbered consecutively, beginning from the lower deck upwards; and prisoners of the worst character, or during their period of punishment, are classed in the lower deck, and rise upwards as they progress in character, from the lower to the middle, and from the middle to the upper deck; so that the highest number, containing the men of best character, is on the upper deck.

Whenever any convicts are allowed to earn a recompense from their labour, one-third of their earnings, that is, one per per diem, is expended for them in the purchase of bread and vegetables, but on no account is any convict allowed to have money in his own possession, and such reserved earnings is only given

Return to 19th century prison ships