Master Collection activity 4: prison hulks
Pupils explore hulks and what they were used for in the 18th and 19th century, including as prison ships and accommodation for coastguard and other families, as in the case of the Pelter Brig in Folkestone Warren, inspired by images on the Learn with Objects website.
They investigate the crimes for which people could be imprisoned on hulks and transported to Australia. This is the starting point for a piece of creative writing such as the diary of a prisoner, a letter from a prisoner to his family, or a newspaper report of a visit to a hulk.
Increased knowledge and understanding of hulks, Victorian prisons, the coastguard and smuggling.
KS1-4 Art (investigating art)
KS1-2 History (prison history, history of houses and homes).
KS1-2 English (creative writing)
KS1-2 Maths (create a pie chart of hulk prisoners and their crimes)
Pupils explore the images of prison hulks at Learn with Objects Master Collection 4: hulks as the starting point of a wider investigation of prison hulks and Victorian crime and punishment.
Prison hulks - what they looked like
Explore images of prison hulks to view alongside the Master Collection drawings by Samuel Prout:
- Samuel Prout watercolour of convicts being rowed out to a prison hulk at Deptford (National Maritime Museum)
- Louis Garneray, Prison Hulks in Portsmouth Harbour (National Maritime Museum), showing the large number of hulks moored there
- Samuel Scott, Hulks at Sheerness (Government Art Collection)
- Clarkson Stanfield’s Prison Hulks and other shipping (University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust)
- Edward William Cooke’s Portsmouth Harbour: The Hulks (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Convicts and crimes
Hulks were authorised by Parliament in 1776 to house prisoners because of overflowing prisons. They were also used for quarantine. Their use as prisons was intended to be temporary, but lasted almost a century.
Explore with pupils the crimes for which people were sentenced to transportation and ended up on hulks: see List of prisoners on board the Retribution convict hulk at Sheerness recommended for mercy, 1829 (includes ‘Thomas Jacobs, aged 19’ convicted for ‘stealing a handkerchief’ sentenced to transportation for life, mitigated to 14 years; ‘Thomas Lilley, aged 19, convicted at Chatham’ for desertion, sentenced to seven years; man convicted at Maidstone for stealing a pitcher sentenced to seven years):
Use information from analysis of prisoners in Hulk Registers to make a pie chart - see research analysis under.
For lots of images, information and quotes about life on board the prison hulks at Woolwich, on the Thames.
For detailed information about prison hulks see transcript of a lecture by Jeff James, National Archives.
See also Learn with Objects Topics, Maritime Folkestone 9: Pelter Brig for information and images about Folkestone’s very own Victorian hulk - but one used as accommodation for coastguard families combatting smuggling, rather than as a prison. See also Learn with Objects Resources section Maritime: activity ideas and resources, Maritime Activity 7: The Pelter Brig – a visit from Charles Dickens.
Use the list of convictions on the National Archives website link above to inspire a piece of creative writing, such as:
- the diary of a prisoner
- a letter from a prisoner to his family
- a newspaper report of a visit to a hulk
Learn with Objects links
Use Learn with Objects Master Collection 4: hulks and Maritime Folkestone 9: Pelter Brig