Decried by reformers as “wicked Noah’s arks” and “rotten leaky tubs”, prison hulks were a looming presence off the shores of 18th- and 19th-century Britain and its empire. Large former navy ships were docked on the Thames and elsewhere, housing convicts awaiting transportation, often in hideous conditions. Dr Anna McKay explains to David Musgrove why these floating prisons existed, what life was like on board, and why the system eventually fell out of use.


Dr David MusgroveContent director,

David Musgrove is content director of the website and podcast, plus its sister print magazines BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed. He has a PhD in medieval landscape archaeology and is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.