Friday 9 April 2021

Hulks and the Home Office - AJCP

Prison Hulks

Floating decommissioned ships were used extensively in the late 18th century to relieve the pressure on British prisons. These were not the ships used to transport the prisoners across the seas but were indeed unseaworthy floating prisons. They were often used to house prisoners prior to transportation to the penal colonies.

The AJCP has extensive records about these hulks housed in a great variety of Departmental files as well as in County records. It may well be that your ancestor was imprisoned on one of these hulks whether or not he/she was eventually transported. 

Home Office records include convict prisons and registers of prisoners in hulks on Chatham, Woolwich, Devonport, Portsmouth,  as well as transportation lists, number of convicts by year and colonies to which they were sent. 

There is a great deal of general correspondence such as these letters of request from prisoners aboard the hulks. The appalling conditions aboard  made transportation appear to be a desirable alternative.

Edward Moseley states:
I am a young man of twenty two years of age, by trade a bricklayer...............
he goes on to relate his conviction to transportation for stealing a Game cock and rather than asking for pardon petitions
to be taken out of this floating hell, and sent in the next ship to Botany Bay. I am lame from a fall but stout and robust, and every day go thro' laborious work. I have three times had the Gaol fever which is another reason for my importunity. 

Convict Prisons

The huge collection relating to the hulks is inside the Prison Department and Inspectorate Fonds of Home Office files.
Series HO 8. Convict Prisons, 1824 - 1869
Quarterly list of prisoners in British prisons and hulks giving name and details of age, offence, and convictions, surgeons' reports, and behaviour. 
a snip from the extensive list of files

Prison Commission

From the Prison Commission, lists of prisoners aboard hulks are available across the years 1837 - 1855.

A search in the Treasury Records finding aid for the word hulk reveals there are accounts of expenses of keeping convicts on board the prison hulks.

If you had an ancestor committed to a hulk you may well find these are just some of the many records to browse for your ancestors.

This post first appeared on


  1. Wow, A few of my 10 convicts were on hulks. I wonder what I can find.

  2. More treats ahead! I can’t thank you enough for simplifying this record source for us all and giving us all these tempting tips.

  3. Jill and Pauleen, thanks as always for comments. Convict records are plentiful throughout the collections, a pity all my ancestors were free settlers as far as I can determine.


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