BOOK REVIEW | Floating Prisons – Irish Convict Hulks and Voyages to New South Wales 1823-1837

By Anne McMahon

The Irish and their descendants have for almost two hundred years made up a significant part of Australia’s population. For a long time, at least until World War II, they were often a turbulent and troublesome part. This carefully researched book examines the first fifteen years of that lengthy, large and still continuing migration.

Its rule over Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was one of the more notable failures of the British Empire. It was a malign and negligent rule that led to economic and crop failure and, ultimately poverty and outright starvation. This made Ireland a political hot bed. The British response to Irish rebelliousness, in lieu of execution, was imprisonment in the “hulks” or floating prisons and eventually to transportation. By the 1820s New South Wales had become the primary destination for that.

Remarkably, as the author so clearly explains, rather than leading to hell, transportation was for most Irish convicts a relief and an opportunity. They lived better than at home and, the vast majority who behaved themselves, used the opportunity of a new life to better themselves. Theirs was a fascinating period of Irish, English and Australian history that turned out much better than most of the participants expected.

Available from The Halstead Press, Braddon, Australia.


Neil Baird

Co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime and Work Boat World magazine, Neil has travelled the length and breadth of this planet in over 40 years in the business. He knows the global work boat industry better than anyone.