RAHS Special Event – Floating Prisons: Irish Convict Hulks and Voyages to NSW
June 25 @ 13:00 - 14:00
During the years 1823 to 1837 men in Ireland who had been sentenced to transportation were held in two prison hulks. The first, the Surprize, was moored in Cork harbour. She was built as a 38 gun frigate of 1072.35 ton. The second, a smaller hulk, was the Essex moored in Dublin Refuge Harbour. She had been built as a 32 gun American frigate of 850 ton which had been captured by the British Navy. The holding gaols for the prisoners marched from the Counties where they had been sentenced were Kilmainham in Dublin and Cork City.
12,000 men and boy prisoners from the two hulks were transported to Sydney at a time when the Colony numbered 36,000 people. They came on 61 convict voyages of hired merchant ships controlled by naval surgeons.
Floating Prisons portrays life on these hulks which the prisoners detested. High bulwarks had been erected around their decks to prevent escapes. Punishment was harsh. Diet was at starvation level. Clothing was flimsy. Faction fights erupted at night so that guards dared not enter the prisons below decks. The prisoners set alight to both hulks.
Australians who have Irish prisoner ancestors tend to know the ships on which they came to the Colony but may not be familiar with the hulks or the Irish penal system of the disturbed 1820s. The Kilmainham Heritage staff have said this book fills a gap in Irish history.
About the speaker: Anne McMahon is already admired for her last book bringing new light to convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. She is a graduate of the University of Tasmania and the ANU. Her thirty year academic career was at the University of Canberra.