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 Research Guide > Prison Hulks > Next: Transportation

Research Guide

Introduction and comprehensive guide to finding Hulk Records

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Prior to transportation, convicts were often imprisoned in the hulks of many famous old warships which had been moored in the Thames Estuary or Plymouth Harbour. Conditions on board those floating gaols were apalling and the standards of hygiene were so poor that disease spread quickly. As mentioned in the section on English prisons, although there was a strong lobby movement regarding the living conditions on the hulks, the English government delayed building new gaols and preferred to search for new places to send her convicts instead. Many of the convicts sent to New South Wales in the early years were already disease ridden when they departed and a huge loss of life through typhoid and cholera epidemics was the result.

The State Archives Office of New South Wales (SAONSW) has a microfilmed collection of the English Hulk Returns dating from 1783 to 1803. They list the prisoners awaiting transportation and give their name, age, place and date of conviction, their sentence and in some cases, a record of their state of health and when and where the discharge took place. These records are also readily available elsewhere in Australia and outline the costs associated with the hulks.

The Phoenix Hulk was used as a prison ship in Sydney Harbour from 1825 to 1837 and the SAONSW also holds hulk records for that period. They give the convict's year of arrival, ship, free or bond status, place of origin, religion, trade or calling, details of admission to and disposal from the hulk, and occasionally a note about their behaviour on board the hulk. Description Books (1833-1837) and Discharge Books (1825-1833) were also kept and the Entrance Books are partially indexed. In Tasmania, an ex-naval ship called the Anson was used to accomodate female convicts.

Some hulk lists are included in the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) but may not be very extensive. Several specialist books have been written about various hulks and the conditions the convicts were exposed to. Although it does not list the convicts on each hulk as such, Charles Campbell's "The Intolerable Hulks - British Shipboard Confinement 1776-1857" does list the hulks by name, the year they were placed into service, the estimated time they stayed in service, their typical prisoner count and station.
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