Thursday, 2 March 2017

A sightseeing trip to Woolwich and those old wooden prison hulks with their chained convicts

Now I had completely forgotten about those old 18th century prison hulks moored at Woolwich and also of the excellent little book by Mr Reg Rigden*

The Floating Prisons of Woolwich and Deptford, describes in detail those three festering and rotting former warships.  I long ago lost my copy and so was over the moon when my friend Jean sent me her copy.

They were one of those short term measures used to solve the prison crisis in between sending convicts to America and later Australia.

And as so often happens they became tourist attractions with enterprising businessmen offering up river tours which provided glimpses of the chained men in the hulks or at work on the nearby shore.

So numerous did these excursions become that eventually they had to be ordered to stop.

I suppose it is easy to see why so many found such river trips a fascinating part of any visit to London.

“By 1777 there were over 220 felons at work in Woolwich, each chained by the leg.”*

Nor did the resumption of transporting convicted criminals across the world in 1787 spell the end of our prison hulks.

They had become part of the prison system and would continue well into the middle of the 19th century with the last Woolwich ship being burned in 1857.

There had been three such ships moored at Woolwich.

These were the Warrior, Jusitia and Defence which originally under "contract to a private individual, Duncan Campbell who looked after the convicts and was paid by the Government”* who in the 1780s had paid £32 a year for each convict which was later reduced to £26.

All of which promises more stories focusing on the awful conditions on board and some tales of desperate escapes.

So more later, alternatively you could just read Mr Rigden’s excellent book

Picture; cover from The Floating Prisons of Woolwich and Deptford

*The Floating Prisons of Woolwich and Deptford, Reg Rigden, 1976 London Borough of Greenwich

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