A first for Ancestry.co.uk (Link is a compensated affiliate link) is their newly published “Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849″Â This record set contains the incarceration records of nearly 200,000 people locked up in giant floating jails known as prison hulks.
The convicts’ records that are physically stored away in The National Archives in Kew, provide us with a fascinating insight into the Victorian criminal underworld and conditions aboard the Dickensian ships, which were created to ease overcrowded prisons.
Prison Hulks became an all to common place means to intern criminals during the 18th century. This was a time when many warships, previously used in naval conflicts were being decommissioned and then converted into huge floating prisons. Some of the ships that feature in this fascinating collection include HMS Bellerophon that saw action during the Napoleonic Wars, HMS Retribution, from the American Revolutionary War and HMS Captivity, a veteran of the French Revolutionary Wars.
The records Ancestry have put online, can show you who were imprisoned on these hulks and detail each inmate’s name, year of birth, age, year and place of conviction, offence committed, name of the hulk and, somewhat fascinatingly, character reports written by the ‘gaoler’ that provides an intriguing insight into the personality of each convict.
A an example, the entry for one Thomas Bones recalls that he was ‘a bold daring fellow, not fit to be at large in this country’, while the record for George Boardman explains ‘this youth has been neglected by his parents and been connected with bad company’. William Barton’s record simply reads ‘very bad, three times convicted’.
As well as featuring murderers, thieves and bigamists, the records also reveal examples of rough justice. Several eight-year-old boys were imprisoned on the hulks, as was 84-year-old William Davies, who was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for sheep stealing and later died on board the hulk HMS Justitia.