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Pontons Anglais [English prison hulks]

Date: c 1829
Overall: 183 x 270 mm, 0.005 kg
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Etching
Object No: 00017767
Related Place:Portsmouth,

User Terms

    An etching from 'France Maritime' titled 'Pontons Anglais'. The image is based on an original artwork by Edward William Cooke.
    The engraving depicts the prison hulk YORK anchored at Portsmouth Harbour. Engraver 'Rouargue Jne. sc', artist 'Cook Del'. Reproduced from Edward William Cooke's 'Sixty Five Plates of Shipping and Craft', published London, 1829.

    Prisoners were held in prison hulks usually whilst awaiting transportation or as a sentence and were in operation until 1857 in Britain.
    SignificanceBetween 1788 and 1868, approximately 162,000 convicts were transported to the various Australian penal colonies by the British government. Many prisoners were confined in crowded prison hulks before being transported, one of those being the notorious YORK.
    HistoryThe YORK was a 74-gun Third-rate launched in 1807 at Rotherhithe. During her service with the Navy YORK was involved in various skirmishes with the French, most notably the seizure of Martinique in 1809. In 1819 the vessel was back in Portsmouth and the decision was made to convert her into a prison hulk.
    At any one time YORK would house about 500 convicts in typically unsanitary conditions. She became renowned for the unhappy state of the prison system which is clearly depicted in the work by Edward Cooke.
    There had been growing debate about the wisdom and humanity of the prison hulk system. Conditions on board were cramped and terrible. A penal reform movement was growing and was supported by naval surgeons who had the task of monitoring prisoner’s health and attempting to select convicts that were well enough to be transported from Britain.
    In 1848 a serious rebellion broke out on the YORK and in 1854 she was finally broken up, no doubt to the joy of those who had been forced to live on her.

    As late as 1848, a serious rebellion broke out on the York. This vessel had served as a hulk at Gosport and London since 1820. The conditions of confinement aboard her were terrible and this must have contributed to the unrest.

    Typically, she housed about 500 convicts in cramped conditions. The ringleaders of the disturbance were transferred to a land prison and the hulk was taken out of service in 1850.

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