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Regulations for the reformatory school on board the hulk DEBORAH

Date: 1865
Overall (folder and page): 335 x 214 mm
Medium: Ink on paper, cardboard, staples
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Report
Object No: 00045731
Place Manufactured:Melbourne

User Terms

    Hulks were used in New South Wales, Victoria and Van Diemen's Land as portable prisons, manufacturies and places of secondary punishment. The hulk DEBORAH was established in 1853 to cater for an increasing criminal population in the colony of Victoria. It was later converted into a reformatory hulk for boys under the age of 16.
    SignificanceThe hulk DEBORAH was established in 1853 to cater for an increasing criminal population in the Colony of Victoria and was later converted into a reformatory hulk for boys under the age of 16. Material related to Australian based convict hulks is rare and historically significant with few examples surviving in private or public collection.
    HistoryUntil the early 19th century, except for the King's Bench, Marshalsea, Fleet Prisons and Newgate Gaol which were all Crown prisons attached to the central courts, prisons were administered locally and were not the responsibility or property of central government. They were used for the correction of vagrants and those convicted of lesser offences, for the coercion of debtors and for the custody of those awaiting trial or the execution of sentence.

    For nearly all other crimes the punishments consisted of a fine, capital punishment or transportation overseas. From the early 1600s European societies used the transportation of criminals overseas as a form of punishment. When in the eighteenth century, the death penalty came to be regarded as too severe for certain capital offences, such as theft and larceny, transportation to the British colonies in North America, became a popular form of sentence.

    In the 21st century we are accustomed to thinking of imprisonment as one of the more obvious forms of punishment for convicted criminals. This was not so in the past, the industrial revolution, social change and war caused great changes in the lives of British people in the 17th and 18th centuries. Extreme poverty was a fact of life for many, and desperate people resorted to crimes such as theft, robbery and forgery in order to survive. If caught and convicted, they faced a harsh and complicated criminal code. Imprisonment was only one of a range of sentences that judges could inflict and, with no national prison system and few purpose-built prisons, it was often not their first choice. Instead, most criminal offences were punishable by death, public humiliation in the form of branding, whipping, hair cutting, the stocks or the pillory, the imposition of a fine, or transportation overseas.

    British authorities had used the transportation of criminals overseas as a form of punishment since the early 17th century, particularly to provide labour in the American colonies. When in the 18th century, the death penalty came to be regarded as too severe a punishment for offences such as theft and larceny, transportation to North America became an even more popular form of sentencing.

    The American can War of Independence (1775-1783) put an end to this human export. Convicts sentenced to transportation were sent instead to 'hulks', old or unseaworthy ships, generally ex-naval vessels, moored in rivers and harbours close enough to land for the inmates to be taken ashore to work. Although originally introduced as a temporary measure the hulks quickly became a cost-efficient, essential and integral part of the British prison system. and sentenced convicts were sent to a receiving hulk for four to six days, where they were washed, inspected and issued with clothing, blankets, mess mugs and plates. They were then sent to a convict hulk, assigned to a 'mess' and allocated to a 'work gang'. They spent 10 to 12 hours a day working on river cleaning projects, stone collecting, timber cutting, embankment and dockyard work while they waited for a convict transport to become available.

    From 1776 to 1802 all English hulks were operated by private individuals such as the shipowners Duncan Campbell and James Bradley, under contract to the British government. These included the JUSTITIA, CENSOR, CERES and STANISLAUS on the River Thames at Woolwich, the CHATHAM and DUNKIRK at Plymouth, the LION at Gosport and LA FORTUNEE at Langstone Harbour near Portsmouth.

    From 1802 the private contractors in England came under the direct supervision of Aaron Graham, the first government-appointed Inspector of Hulks. All overseas hulks were operated by the British or colonial governments, including those in Bermuda (from 1799), Malta (1800), Nova Scotia (1813), Barbados (1814), Ireland (1817), Van Diemen's Land (1824), New South Wales (1825), Gibraltar (1842) and Victoria (1852).

    With Graham's retirement in 1814 John Capper was appointed Superintendent of Prisons and the Hulk Establishment. The private contractors were phased out and replaced by government operated hulks. Initially Capper responded to his onerous responsibility with great enthusiasm.

    He commenced an improvement program that involved refitting the hulks to allow for the easier separation of convicts, and made regular inspections and reports to parliament on the conditions of the hulks. He also introduced a six tiered convict classification system that included the possibility of government pardons for good behaviour, and literally separated the men from the boys by commissioning a hulk, the BELLEROPHON, for boys under the age of 18.

    On the 1st January, 1842, there were 4,280 prisoners on board the various hulks in England. During the year, 3,954 were received in addition; 3,615 convicts were transported to Van Diemen's Land; 60 were sent to Bermuda; and 200 to Gibraltar; 501 have been discharged or transferred to other establishments; 144 have died… and 3,614 remained on board the hulks in England, 1,120 at Bermuda and 200 at Gibraltar, on the 31st of December last [1842]

    The value of the work carried out by the convicts on board the hulks both in England and the overseas colonies was immense. However, following several parliamentary inquiries, John Capper retired in 1847 and the British government set about reforming the System. More land prisons were built and the hulks were slowly decommissioned. They were similarly closed down in Britain's colonies, with the last hulk being decommissioned in Gibraltar in 1884.

    Transportation and colonial hulks

    In 1784, the British government passed legislation, The Transportation and Penitentiaries Act, authorising the transportation overseas of convicts from the hulks. The notion of using hulks as floating prisons was exported along with the convicts. Eventually convict hulks were established at many British colonies including Gibraltar, Bermuda, New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). (Frost, 1995)

    Between 1788 and 1868 over 160,000 men, women and children were transported to Australian colonies by the British and Irish Governments as punishment for criminal acts. Although most of the convicted prisoners were habitual or professional criminals with multiple offences recorded against them, a small number were political prisoners, social reformers or one-off offenders.

    Although the Australian colonies were established as penal settlements with the prisoners assigned within the community, the need for more secure accommodation quickly became apparent, especially for refractory or rebellious offenders and those found guilty of an offence in the colony, called secondary offenders. Following the British example, colonial authorities in New South Wales, Van Diemen's Land and Victoria purchased old or unseaworthy ships and converted them into floating prisons.

    The hulks in Australia had two main uses. They provided prison accommodation when existing colonial gaols were unsuitable or already full, and they served as floating holding pens for prisoners convicted of secondary offences while they awaited ships to transfer them to dreaded places like Norfolk Island or Port Arthur in Van Diemen's Land.

    The PHOENIX was the first floating prison used in Australian mainland waters. Between 1825 and 1837, it was moored in Sydney Harbour at Lavender Bay, known then as Hulk or Phoenix Bay, as sobering symbol of the 'strength and terror' of the colony's police, according to Governor Brisbane. It housed up to 260 prisoners at a time, including those awaiting trial, convict witnesses giving evidence, invalid convicts waiting for a ship to Port Macquarie Invalid Station, and those under colonial sentence of re-transportation. As with other prison hulks around the world, the human cargo on board was a source of cheap labour. Phoenix convicts worked from dawn to dusk predominately in 'shore parties' quarrying stone, cutting timber, building fortifications, reclaiming land and working in dockyards.

    The ANSON hulk on the Derwent River in Hobart was unusual in that it housed only female convicts. It was used to alleviate overcrowding at Hobart's Cascades Female Factory and to stop newly arrived convict women mixing with 'old hands' there by having them spend six months probation on the Anson. At the end of their probation the women were sent to hiring depots to be assigned to settlers as domestic servants, or, occasionally, were hired directly from the hulk. Over 4000 women spent time on the ANSON between 1844 and 1850, when the last inmates were moved to Cascades.

    The women worked at spinning, sewing, dressmaking and laundering. They made straw bonnets, knitted stockings from the wool processed on board, made shoes, picked oakum and prepared food.

    Although Victoria was nominally outside the Imperial Convict Transportation System its close ties with New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land meant that the colony not only inherited many of the other colonies former convicts but it also inherited notions and methods associated with the confinment and treatment of both imperial and colonial offenders.

    The hulks established in the Victorian colony were an indirect result of the discovery of gold in 1851. Victoria's population grew rapidly and the prison system was soon over-stretched. The newly constituted government established floating prisons on the PRESIDENT, SUCCESS, and DEBORAH and SACRAMENTO in Hobson's Bay at Williamstown. By the end of 1853, 455 prisoners were held on these hulks. A fifth hulk, the LYSANDER, was added in 1854. Conditions were the most severe on the PRESIDENT where shackled inmates were confined without work in cramped conditions under orders of silence. The next level was the SUCCESS, from where prisoners were sent ashore in chain gangs to work cutting or quarrying stone. Insubordination could mean transfer to the PRESIDENT. If well behaved, prisoners could be moved to other hulks and eventually to one of the stockades before ultimately obtaining their freedom. In 1857, a group of SUCCESS prisoners was hanged for the murder of John Price, Inspector General of Penal Establishments in Victoria. Price had a reputation for inhumane treatment of prisoners and his assassination triggered an inquiry into the use of the hulk system, leading to its ultimate demise in the Australian Colonies.

    Between 1800 and 2005 the British Government converted more than 150 ships into guard, prison, convict, accommodation, receiving, hospital, and school hulks. Great Britain's last prison hulk, HMP WEARE in Portland Harbour, Dorset, was closed in May 2005.
    Additional Titles

    Web title: Regulations for the reformatory school on board the hulk DEBORAH

    Assigned title: Report on regulations for the reformatory school on board the hulk DEBORAH

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