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"These old Navy ships were hulked out to hold prisoners until they were assigned a convict ship leaving for the colonies."
Evie Frye on the prison hulks, 1888.[src]

A prison hulk was a vessel, usually unseaworthy, that acted as a prison to hold convicts or civil internees. At least two such vessels were beached at Deptford, south-east of London, in 1888.

In that year, the Deptford prison hulks were guarded by Chief Warder John Billingsworth - a sympathizer and operative of Jack the Ripper - who was responsible for maintaining Jack's prisoners; a job he relished for allowing him the opportunity to maltreat and execute his detainees almost at will.


  • Historically at least three separate Royal Navy warships - HMS Discovery, HMS Levan, and HMS Thames - served as prison hulks stationed at Deptford, though all three had been completely decommissioned by 1864.