Prisoners Held on Hulks in England, 1777 to 1856

face of a prisoner

Yearly figures for convict prisoners held on hulks, 1777-1856, with ship-specific data by year compared for Campbell (2001) and original hulk inspector reports.

Prisoners were held in decommissioned ships, called hulks, in England from 1777 to 1856. Through 1775, Britain punished serious criminal offenders (convicts) with transportation to the American colonies. The outbreak of the American Revolutionary War made transportation to American impossible. In 1777, convicts began to be held in prison ships anchored in the Thames River. Conditions on these ships were far worse than conditions in English jails.

In 1802, the British government established direct control of the hulks under Inspector Aaron Graham. John Henry Clapper, who served as Graham’s clerk, succeeded Graham in 1814. From 1814 to 1847, Clapper filed annual or semi-annual reports giving the average number of prisoners on the hulks. These reports were printed as parliamentary papers. Subsequent reports on the hulks are included in reports of the directors of the convict prisons. Counts for these years are less standardized and less reliable than the earlier figures.

The hulks prisoner statistics are for convicts, and exclude prisoners of war. During the American Revolutionary War, British prisoner-of-war hulks stationed near the American colonies held American prisoners-of-war. During the Napoleonic Wars, French prisoners were held on hulks in England.

Dataset sheets:

  • summary series: ships’ and inspectors figures for prisoners on hulks yearly, 1777-1856, with synthesis estimates
  • yearly ships’ estimate: prisoners on hulks estimated yearly by durations of individual ships’ service and average prisoners held; with aggregated total prisoners
  • hulk inspector reports: prisoners on hulks by ship and year
  • hulks 1813-4: estimates of earnings and expenses of convicts working on hulks
  • hulks 1846-56: details of yearly estimates from fragmentary hulk inspector reports

Related datasets:

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