Awaiting transportation

Jack was sentenced to transportation on 13 January 1789 but it wasn’t until 27 March 1791 that he was transported to Australia – that’s over two years later.

So what happened to him in those two years? Did he remain in Dunstan’s Gaol or did he go somewhere else?  These sources tell us about the normal process.

The Convict Journey states

“The first leg of the transportee’s journey would be made from the local gaol to a holding prison – perhaps Millbank prison in London or in one of the prison hulks at Woolwich or Portsmouth. This journey might be made by cart … After perhaps two or three month’s incarceration (although in the early period of transportation to the Australian colonies this could be many years), the convict would be loaded along with fellow prisoners onto a ship destined for New South Wales.

Convict Hulks states

“The hulks continued to be used, however, as a place to keep convicts until they could depart on a transportation ship. Some convicts, who for whatever reason (often because they were unwell) were not taken up by a transport ship, remained on the hulks for long periods.

According to Life inside the prison hulks: Staying alive.

“The hulks were designed to act as a deterrent as well as an attempt to address the overcrowding. They were created following the 1776 statute which ordered that male prisoners sentenced to transportation should be put to hard labour improving the navigation of the Thames.

It is therefore likely that Jack spent most of the two years before transportation on a prison hulk or prison ship.

The BNA article, ‘Colleges of Villainy’ – Life Onboard the Prison Hulks, referred to prison hulks as “freights of human vice and misery”.

“The hulks are large vessels without masts, which have been line of battle ships or frigates, fitted up for the reception of the convicts sentenced to be transported.

In charge of the prison hulk would be a captain, who was accompanied by a ‘certain number of inferior officers, with a chaplain and surgeon.’ Also onboard would typically be a hospital.

But even before the transportation of sentenced criminals to Australia began, prison hulks were in use to provide accommodation for Britain’s ever-expanding prison population. Transportation begun in 1787, and prison hulks were in use some time before this.”

There were prison hulks located at Deptford, Chatham, Woolwich, Gosport, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Sheerness and Cork. The hulks themselves varied greatly in shape and size. Many were decommissioned former naval vessels, but civilian ships were also used.

Wikipedia’s List of British prison hulks shows us that naval vessels operating at the time of Jack’s incarceration (1779-1781) were Censor, HMS Ceres and HMS Prudent at Woolwich and HMS Fortitude at Chatham.

It is therefore very likely that Jack spent most of the two years before his transportation on one of these prison hulks on the Medway or Thames.  Records are unfortunately not available for that period.

What was life like on a prison hulk? A day in the life: convicts on board prison hulks gives us a feel for life on board.

“A day in the life of convicts on board hulks differed from their counterparts in land prisons due to the nature of their confinement. Daily routines were more naval than penal. However, over the eighty-year period of their operation, discipline and routine on board the hulks began to reflect reforms which took place on land.

“Conditions aboard these floating prisons were notorious. They were dirty, overcrowded, and disease-ridden. Prisoners were not given medical attention, and mortality rates were high, especially during the early days before overcrowding was reduced by the advent of transportation to the Australian colonies. In fact, it is estimated that between 1779 and 1795, almost 2000 out of the 6000 prisoners serving their sentences on the hulks died. Furthermore, hulks housed hardened criminals alongside relatively innocent first-time offenders, which could result in bullying and abuse.”

Considering the conditions inside these prison hulks, it is therefore very likely that Jack wasn’t in good physical or mental shape when he did eventually embark ship for transportation to Australia in 1791.

> Onboard the convict ship

Last updated: March 11, 2022 at 15:06 pm