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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

British Prison Hulks--Floating Coffins

by Guest Blogger Laurie Alice Eakes
http://www.lauriealiceeakes.com


“It is difficult to account for the fact that so interesting a page of our history should have remained unwritten. Even authors of fiction, who have pressed every department of history into their service, have, with about half a dozen exceptions, neglected it as a source of inspiration…
“Yet the sojourn among us of thousands of war prisoners between the years 1756 and 1815 must have been an important feature of our national life …”

~ Francis Abell from Prisoners of War in Britain, 1756 to 1815; a record of their lives, their romance and their sufferings.

Having discovered this lack of fiction about prisoners of war myself nearly 100 years after this heavy tome was written, I set out to find what I could about American prisoners in Britain during the War of 1812.

Dartmoor was easy. The Dartmoor Prison Massacre of 1815, months after the war between the United States and Great Britain ended, is infamous, if one looks into prisons during the American and Napoleonic wars. But the prison hulks were something not much mentioned except in passing in The Age of Fighting Sail books abundant twenty years ago or so.

Hulks are, in short, a disgrace to British history. The were often referred to as “floating coffins” because the death toll was so high and the conditions so appalling.

So of course I had to put my American hero into one.

Prison hulks were ships taken out of condition because they were no longer sail-worthy. They were anchored in harbors and tidal rivers, especially the Thames Estuary, where getting to shore from the hulk, even if a prisoner did manage to slip over the side and swim, was difficult because of mud flats. Many a man escaped only to find himself stuck in mud and unable to move; thus, he was left to die stranded, his corpse sticking up when the tide ebbed, a warning to others who might try to get away.
Dr. Fontana, French Officer of Health to the Army of Portugal, Wrote a treatise on the diseases suffered by prisoners on the hulks that sums up the conditions in a few blunt words.

“(1) External, arising from utter want of exercise, from damp, from insufficient food especially upon the 'maigre' days of the week and from lack of clothing. Wounds on the legs, which were generally bare, made bad ulcers which the 'bourreaux' of English doctors treated with quack remedies such as the unguent basilicon. He describes the doctor of the Fyen prison hospital- ship as a type of the English ignorant and brutal medical man.

(2) Scorbutic diatesis, arising from the ulcers and tumours on the lower limbs, caused by the breathing of foul air from twelve to sixteen hours a day, by overcrowding, salt food, lack of vegetables, and deprivation of all alcohol.

(3) Chest troubles naturally the most prevalent, largely owing to moral despair caused by humiliations and cruelties, and deprivations inflicted by low-born, uneducated brutes, miserable accommodation, the foul exhalations from the mud shores at low water, and the cruel treatment by doctors, who practised severe bleedings, prescribed no dieting except an occasional mixture, the result being extreme weakness. When the patient was far gone in disease he was sent to hospital, where more bleeding was performed, a most injudicious use of mercury made, and his end hastened.”

Hulks were so bad that incorrigible prisoners from the land prisons were sent to the hulks as an extra punishment for fighting against Great Britain.

Prisoners did escape and with relative ease. Sometimes they forced Englishmen to help them and sometimes Englishmen helped them voluntarily. Ladies organized aid for the prisoners, trying to ease their burden. Other not so genteel females also went aboard to ease the burdens of the prisoners. Some enterprising souls managed to become merchants aboard the hulks, selling items like tobacco. Reports of drunken orgies aboard the hulks are not uncommon. Once, when a fire started aboard by such a party, the captain of the prison ordered prisoners shot rather than to allow them to escape the flames and thus the blazing prison.

The reports on the hulks led to the building of land prisons such as Dartmoor in 1809. Despite these structures, despite the horrors aboard these floating coffin prisons, and despite raised objections amongst even military men, the hulks remained in use until 1815, when the wars with France and America were conclusively ended.

True as Fate
by Laurie Alice Eakes


Lady Chloe Ashford detests going to balls, loathes social pretense, and finds the very idea of hunting for a husband obscene. But she has an even more scandalous secret: she once helped an American—the enemy—escape from Dartmoor Prison. Now, nearly three years later, Ross Trenerry is back—and in trouble again. So is her traitorous heart. He doesn’t know she’s the one responsible for sending him to a second prison, and she has no intention of telling him.

A former privateer, Ross has finally run out of his legendary luck. Only one woman lies between him and freedom. He desperately needs Chloe’s help to prove he hasn’t committed treason, but he’s distracted by the passion that flares between them.

They set out on a cross-country adventure together to prove Ross’s innocence, but peril soon dogs their heels. As they race to reach their appointed rendezvous on time, they must fight their growing attraction and focus on discovering who is behind this deadly plot. Will they finally admit their love and put the pieces together before it’s too late?

Order True as Fate on Amazon here.

About Laurie Alice Eakes:
“Eakes has a charming way of making her novels come to life without being over the top,” writes Romantic times of  bestselling, award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes. As a child, Eakes began to tell herself stories. Since then, she has fulfilled her dream of becoming a published author, with more than two dozen books in print. Accolades for Eakes’s books including winning the National Readers Choice Award and is Rita finalist.

She has recently relocated to a cold climate because she is weird enough to like snow and icy lake water. When she isn’t basking in the glory of being cold, she likes to read, visit museums, and take long walks, preferably with her husband, though the cats make her feel guilty every time she leaves the house.

You can read more about Eakes and her books, as well as contact her, through her Web Site:
http://www.lauriealiceeakes.com
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5 comments:

Donna Hatch said...

I had heard of these but hadn't learned much about them until now. It was probably one of those things that sounded good at the time, but the administration obviously had serious flaws. I'm appalled that they let conditions get so bad! There is no excuse for that kind of inhumanity.

Jackie C. Horne said...

I seem to recall reading recently of similar prison hulks used by the Americans—during the Civil War? Do you know if they were in use during the Revolution, or War of 1812, Alice?

English Lady said...

I'm sure such Black Marks and examples of inhumanity can be found in American History as well, if one looks hard enough.

Laurie Alice Eakes said...

I haven't studied prisoners during the American Revolution, and know that hulks were used during the Seven Years War, so more than likely during the American Revolution.

Laurie Alice Eakes said...

I know that many American prison camps were atrocious. Andersonville, during the American Civil War, was pretty horrendous. In fact, the director of that camp was the only official in the South who was hanged for war crimes after the war ended.