This asset depicts some of the old naval ships that were used as prisons after transportation of convicts from England to the American colonies ceased in 1776 because of the American War of Independence - initially a temporary measure, the 1776 Hulks and House of Correction Act introduced the concept of prisoners being held in hulks and performing hard labour; although the Act did not determine where the hulks would be located, the requirement that prisoners dredge the Thames River to improve navigation resulted in hulks being moored near areas that required dredging.
It reveals a substantial number of hulks - the number of hulks in England rapidly increased, and contained 70,000 prisoners at their peak when French prisoners of war were also confined in hulks during the Napoleonic war; convicts were imprisoned for months or years in the hulks before being transported to Australia between 1787 and 1856 when the hulk system ceased; the decision to send convicts to Australia was made after a riot on a hulk at Plymouth resulted in deaths and injuries.
It shows hulks in which the gaolers charged the prisoners board and lodging in order to make a living, so having a maximum number of people using a minimal amount of space was to their advantage - the convicts were poorly fed and often in ill-health, with epidemics of cholera killing many convicts in the crowded and poorly ventilated hulks; an official report into the 'State of the Prisons' published in 1777 described the hulks as 'filthy, corrupt-ridden and unhealthy'.
It was painted at a time when the rate of transportation of convicts to Australia was rapidly increasing - in 1814 more than 1,000 convicts arrived in Sydney; transportation peaked in 1833 when 36 ships brought 6,779 prisoners to Australia.
It is a work by French painter Ambroise-Louis Garneray (1755-1837) - Garneray worked as a painter on board French Navy ships and was captured by the English in 1806; he spent from 1806 until 1814 in the harbour at Portsmouth imprisoned on a hulk, but he managed to paint and sell his work for a pittance; when the Napoleonic war ended, the British freed their prisoners of war and Garneray returned to Paris.