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Image Convicts boarding a hulk at Portsmouth, 1828

TLF ID R3217

This is a hand-coloured etching, sized 16 cm x 24 cm, of a hulk (prison ship) anchored in Portsmouth Harbour, England. A large rowboat filled with convicts and soldiers approaches the hulk with oars held upright ready for boarding. The ship has stairs and additional rooms built on it, washing hangs from lines strung across it and smoke rises from a chimney pipe.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows one of the old naval ships that were used as prisons after transportation of convicts 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; many hulks were moored near areas that required dredging and were moved between several port towns.
  • It features a hulk at a time when the number of hulks in England rapidly increased - they contained 70,000 prisoners at their peak when French prisoners of war were captured after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, with the convicts being confined for months or years in the hulks before being transported to Australia between 1787 and 1856, when the hulk system ceased; debtors and people awaiting trial were also kept in hulks.
  • It illustrates typical structural changes made to a hulk to enhance its use as a prison before the completion of the Portsmouth Convict Prison in 1852 - grids have been placed over the gun ports with the wooden shutters retained to help regulate heat and ventilation, rooms to house the guards have been built on the top deck as well as a kitchen where meals were prepared; stairs were built onto the hulk’s side to make boarding easier, although it would have been a difficult climb for convicts wearing irons.
  • It indicates the crowded conditions experienced in the hulks - in the 18th century, gaolers charged board and lodging; the convicts were poorly fed and epidemics of diseases such as typhoid fever and cholera killed many on board; in London, drinking water was taken directly from the polluted Thames River, and the small deck over the river near the ship’s bow may hold a hand pump.
  • It includes rowboats that were used to transport convicts between the hulks and the shore where they worked on building the city and its defences.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9

Topics Prisons Convicts
Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Edward William Cooke
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Edward William Cooke
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements