Over the last few months I have introduced some of the convicts we have uncovered in our cataloguing of record series HO 17 (criminal petitions for mercy 1819-1839). The detailed correspondence pleading mitigating factors like unemployment, ill health, youth, age or perhaps providing witness statements and other evidence can provide unexpected insights into early nineteenth-century life. The case of George Sanglier, the workhouse master who featured in last monthâ€™s blog, provides a first hand account of the power relations within the Poor Law system, for its employees and the paupers who were unfortunate enough to rely on its relief.
In this blog I will introduce some petitions which include complaints from convicts about the conditions in which they were kept. Their detailed complaintsÂ about prisons and prison hulks provide fascinating and unsettling insights into what it was like to be on the receiving end of 19thÂ century justice.
Life aboard convict hulks
In 1826 convict Henry Adams made a series of allegations and complaints about his treatment on the York and the Antelope convict hulks (catalogue reference: HO 17/49/125). Adams wrote that â€˜Convict Hulks are totally forgotten Places teeming with every Crime that can degenerate a Manâ€™. Convict hulks were huge floating prisons moored off the coast of England (the York was moored at Gosport, in Hampshire) and overseas in territories like Bermuda (where the Antelope was stationed). Adams claimed that he was kept in double leg irons on the York, and that John Henry Capper, Superintendent of Convicts, readÂ all of his letters for fear that Adams would expose the cruelties of hulk life. Continue reading »