Victorian London - Prisons - Hulks  

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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.
    Hulks (Hulk, Dutch; hulc, Saxon, the body of a ship) used as places of confinement and punishment for offences; corresponds with the galea of the Italians, the galere of the French, and our own English word galley.
The plan of confining offenders on board hulks was first adopted in England in 1776; but so early was their management abused, that in 1778, it was inquired into by Parliament; and in 1785, reported to have singularly improved the practice of villany. And, although several minor improvements have been made, from time to time, in the discipline pursued on board the hulks, we are led to conclude, from the various evidence given before Parliament on the subject, that no material change has been effected in the system.
    The stations at which hulks are maintained in England are Portsmouth, Gosport, Devonport, Chatham, Woolwich, and Deptford. We have selected the Warrior convict-hulk, stationed at Woolwich, as a fair specimen of the several vessels; and the large centre Engraving shows it to be not altogether an unpicturesque river-side object.
    There are in this shop three decks, or floors, called the upper, middle and lower decks. The communicate by two large openings at the centre and in the foremost end; and, as these openings in each deck are placed above those in the deck below, they form a kind of tube, reaching from the hold to the atmosphere above.
    The main hatchways are all 4 feet 9 inches square. The fore-hatchway, upper deck, 4 feet 6 inches  . . . 
    The habitable part of the upper deck is 84 feet long by 38 feet 6 inches wide; and is divided into two lateral portions by a central passage; the inner boundary being a partition, consisting of iron bars, reaching the full height of the deck. These are also called Galleries; and we have engraved one of them. Each ward is subdivided by three transverse bulkheads of wood, forming eight classes, but not crossing the passage. 
    Near the bow of the vessel are two small rooms appropriated to the sick, and an open space for the ladder and hatchways. There are four ports in this space that ventilate the passage. There is a room in the after end of each ward, called the guard's galley, in which fires are kept till nine in the evening. These also adjoin the chapel.
    The prison on the middle deck is 79 feet 6 inches long, by 45 feet wide. There are seven ports of each side, four bulkheads, and, in all, ten classes; and the dividing passage opens into the chapel. Two small rooms are set apart as work-shops . . . 
    On the lower deck, the prison is 115 feet 6 inches long, by 43 feet 6 inches wide . . . from the after bulk-head to the stern-ports, is a space occupied by dark cells and store-rooms . . .
   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 discipline and employment of the Convicts may be briefly described-
    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 the convicts who have passed two years of their sentence, and not misconducted themselves.
    [missing word] of convicts misbehaviour, mild and persuasive means of correction are first tried. If such fail, the punishments are reduction of allowance of provisions, confinement in a dark cell with no other food than bread and water, for not more than seven days; or by mulcting earnings; or moderate whipping, which, in any case, is not allowed to exceed twenty four stripes.
    "The overseer or officer in command is required to make a minute in the occurrence-book of the name of the convict, the name of the complainant, the nature of the crime, and the punishment inflicted. No convict is allowed to go without an iron upon one or both legs; and those employed on board are locked up and clothed in the same manner as those employed in the yards. An overseer is required  to be on the watch all night in the dormitories. Chaplains are appointed in connection with the different vessels, who are required, besides reading prayers and preaching on the Sabbath and the holidays of the Established Church, to attend to the religious wants of the prisoners individually, to distribute according to their discretion the books or tracts provided for the use of the prisoners, and to take a general superintendence of the schools for their instruction. A surgeon is employed in connection with the vessels, who is required to attend to the health of the convicts, inspect their provisions occasionally, and see that the wards are properly ventilated. The employments of the convicts consist of shipbuilding and painting, carrying timber for this purpose, in removing chain-moorings, in cleansing the rivers on which they are employed, and in different descriptions of hard labour, and a limited number in keeping the vessels clean, preparing the food of the convicts generally, and making and repairing their clothes. Their periods of labour are from eight to nine hours and a half hour daily, according to the seasons of the year.
    "The total expense per man in the hulks in England is 18 12s. 11d. The average value of labour per man is estimated at 10 18s. 9d. making the average annual expense per man 7 14s. 2d. The total cost per boy in the hulks is 13 5s 6d. The value of the labour performed by the prisoners in the hulks of Bermuda is so great as to leave an estimated annual profit for each of 13 3s. 6d."
    If to these details, we add the following "Daily Routine" on board the Warrior, the reader may form a tolerably correct idea of the Economy of the Hulks:-
    5 A.M. "All Hands" are called by the officers on watch; sufficient time being allowed to dress, and lash hammocks; the wards are then unlocked, and prisoners passed under the forecastle, in regulated numbers, to wash - troughs being there permanently fixed, and supplied with fresh water for that purpose. They then re-enter their respective wards, and return with their hammocks, which are stowed in appropriate places, ranged along side the main deck, and constructed so as to admit of free ventilation. Breakfast is now served, under the immediate supervision of the steward and officers, and the empty vessels returned to the galley, and washed by two prisoners, appointed as "Inspectors" of Weights and Provisions for the day. A thorough cleansing of the ship, including decks, poop, and forecastle next takes place, at which prisoners continue employed still.
    7.30 A.M. When a general muster is taken, and "All Ranks" are summoned to labour in Dockyard at the various duties assigned them, in divisions, each superintended by a guard connected with the establishment, who is responsible for their conduct and safety when on shore.
   Noon. Prisoners return on board to dinner, being allowed one hour: a portion of which time is daily devoted to a minute examination of bedding and clothing, under the inspection of officers alternately appointed.
    1 P.M. Dockyard duties are again resumed, and continued until
    5.30 P.M. When the labours on shore close for the day, and prisoners are received on board; washed; and mustered, to ascertain that "All is Right."
    Suppers are forthwith served; at the conclusion of which the men are again employed cleaning the interior of the ship, and the various utensils used by them during the day . . .  

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from The Illustrated London News, 1846

see also Mayhew and Binny in Criminal Prisons of London - click here

A Convict Hulk.

There has been lying for the last few weeks in the East India Docks, close to Blackwall Station, a remarkable vessel. This is the "dark-cell drill ship" Success, an old East Indiaman, built of teak at Moulrnein in 1790, and of the massive bluff-bowed type characteristic of her age and class. For nearly half a century she traded to the Indies, and in 1849 went to Australia as an emigrant ship. On her second voyage to Melbourne, in 1851, her crew deserted and hurried up to the goldfields, and she was sold to the Victorian Government, who converted her into a prison hulk of unusual strength. At the same time the Victorians bought four other ships, the President, Lysander, Sacramento, and Deborah, the ruffianism consequent on the gold rush having taxed the resources of the colonial prison department to the uttermost. The other four vessels were broken up ; the Success remains as an object-lesson of man's brutality to the brutish. She looks a horrible object by the side of the smart clippers amidst which she is moored, but she is one of the most interesting things ever seen in London. Here is prison discipline as it existed forty years ago in all its glory, and one cannot look upon it without a shudder. She is just as she was left, with cells, instruments, and records complete, and wax figures doing duty for the convicts. Among these figures there is one of Power, the bushranger, who was sentenced to fifteen years' confinement on hoard; and there is another, somewhat humorously represented as a reformed character and decent member of society, silk hat, and so on, after he had "done his time" and been engaged by the purchasers of the hulk "to be of interest to visitors." Another figure is that of a black man who served his time and a very rough time - and is now flourishing as a restaurant keeper. There are a few others who seem to have been reformed, but how such treatment could reform any man is a mystery. There are sixty-eight cells in the ship, built along the sides on the main and lower decks, and on each deck is a "tigers' den," a sort of heavily barred loose box, in which the worst characters were herded together. The dangerous prisoners were on the lower deck, chained in their cells so that they could only just reach the door, the plank near the doorway being in many cases worn into by the prisoner's feet as he waited for the warder to hand him in his bread and water. In some of the cells there is a ring about a yard from the deck, through which the prisoner's arm was passed, so that with the big figure of eight handcuffs on he had to kneel or rest against the ship's side, it being impossible for him to stand upright. In the open corridor are the bilboes, in which the prisoner's neck was fastened to an iron bar, while his feet were secured in a kind of stirrups so as to keep him in a stooping posture. The iron work is all appallingly heavy  -some of the men had to drag eighty pounds weight about with them - and one of the noteworthy fittings of the ship is a wheel aloft, by means of which a sort of cage was hauled up with the men in it to take an airing, the fetters and manacles being too heavy for them to walk up the stairs with. Another peculiar feature on the upper deck is the bath, or "coffin," in which the prisoners - two or three at a time - were soaked and pumped on and scrubbed by the warders with long-handled brushes. In the bows, just behind the figure-head, are the two sentry-boxes, in which warders or police were on duty day and night. Among the wax figures of notorious residents in this terrible ship, most of whom seem to have been Irishmen, there is a group representing the murder of the superintendent, who, after years of tyranny, was done to death by one of the shore gangs with spades and pickaxes, the man who struck the first blow having been here nearly seventeen years, and having only two months to serve to gain his liberty. The death of this superintendent, the Maurice Frere of Mr. Marcus Clarke's "His Natural Life," led to a general overhauling of the system and great amelioration in the punishments. Another of the groups is the Kelly gang of bushrangers, and hanging on the upper deck is Ned Kelly's armour, helmet, breastplate, back plate, and skirt complete, made of eight of an inch iron plate, and weighing 92 lbs. A man who could wear such a weight as that for the love of plunder would hardly be inconvenienced by small chain cables such as his predecessors had to drag about with them.

article in The Leisure Hour, 1896