Incredible Hulks: The Fearsome Prison Ships of the Former British Empire

Known as prison ships or “prison hulks”, these decomissioned vessels were used by Britain during the 18th and 19th centuries to house prisoners of war and those awaiting transportation to penal colonies. Rife with death, disease and despair, prison ships reflect a less-than-proud corner of Britain’s impressive maritime history. Moreover, some converted hulks were among the Royal Navy’s most celebrated vessels, from veterans of Trafalgar to the ship that took George Vancouver to the west coast of North America (HMS Discovery, above; below: HMS York).