Bermuda’s Convict Hulks: 1823 – 1863

In 1823, during the reign of King George IV, an Act of Parliament was passed by the UK Parliament (further to the original 1776 Act), authorizing the transport of convicts to any British colonies, for the purpose of being employed as ‘labourers’ on any public works for the improvement of such colonies.

The Act was passed on 4 July 1823 (is it just a coincidence that 4 July is US Independence Day?), and formally entitled “CAP XLVII: An Act for authorizing the Employment at Labour, in the Colonies, of Male Convicts under Sentence of Transportation“.

As a result of the Male Convicts Act 1883,  Bermuda became a British convict destination for the first time in 1824, principally for the purpose of building its naval docks, and associated naval engineering works.

Between 1823 and 1863, over 9,000 British and Irish transportees are reported to have been sent to Bermuda, and they were employed mainly in building the Royal Naval Dockyard on Ireland Island.  Most of the prisoners had been convicted for the offence of larceny, and sentenced for the relatively short term of seven years.  Had they not been sent to Bermuda, they would probably have been sent to Australia instead.

The prisoners were kept on convict ‘hulks’ (decommissioned naval vessels), called Antelope, Ardent, Dromedary, Coromandel, Weymouth, Slaney, Tenedos, Thames and Medway.

Despite various historians’ excellent attempts to describe the conditions on such ‘hulks’, it is hard to imagine how unpleasant a convict’s daily life must have been, especially given the heat and humidity in Bermuda’s summer months.

For more information, see:

Conceptualising Islands in History: Considering Bermuda and Gibraltar’s Prison Hulks

The Convict Hulks of Bermuda





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