In the 1770’s, the American Civil war put an end to British convicts being transported to America. The prisons quickly became overcrowded and old warships were converted into hulks. These were prison ships for the convicts who had been sentenced specifically to transportation. The length of the sentence would usually be upwards of 7 years to life. A few of these hulks were moored at Woolwich. One of the original hulks, the Ganymede was moored at Woolwich by 1777 and she was there until 1840. The Justita was bought in from Chatham in 1829, and was anchored at the lower end of the Royal Arsenal. The Warrior, built in 1781, was moored with her bow facing upstream, alongside the Royal Dockyard. The Warrior was set down on the foreshore as she was in such a bad state of repair. In 1862, the Defence was anchored, head to head, with the hospital ship Unite, along side the Royal Arsenal.

According to a report regarding the hospital ship Unite, the state of cleanliness aboard left much to be desired. The clothing of the prisoners had not been changed for five weeks. New admissions went straight into a bed and the single sheet on it had not been changed. The water closets were neglected and in an unwholesome state. The Sulphur was a laundry hulk at a mooring just behind the Warrior. The Warrior was re-fitted over time and was the only hulk to have gas lighting. Gas lighting and a launderette – what a dez-rez! But the sources show that linen hanging from the rigging looked as if it had been showered with pepper – vermin!…which I presume means fleas.

The Warrior had three decks and was allocated 600 men. The deck onto which the convicts were billeted depended on their character. There were 284 cells on the third deck for the convicts with life sentences. Ventilation was through the old gun ports and there were fireplaces in every passageway and the hold. Was there time in a convict’s day to sit and read the hymn book, prayer book and bible that they were given, sitting in front of the fire? Up at 5.00am to wash, dress and have breakfast before cleaning the ship. 7.30am was the time to start the days allocated work. The usual work for the unskilled was manual labour in leg irons. The convicts were back on board at noon for their dinner hour, which included a bed and clothing inspection. Back to work until 5.30pm then back on board for supper and then more cleaning. Educated convicts were set work that made use of their skills. The convicts clothing was a uniform and they had to wear badges on their sleeves which showed which deck/class they belonged to. When they were off the ships, the convicts could not socialise between the classes.

The convicts were working and living in these conditions with the knowledge that they still had to face a voyage of about three months to the other side of the world.
Transportation ended in 1868 as Australia was now self-governing. Life was hard in past times!