The transportation of thousands of men from Irish hulks to New South Wales is so crucial in the history of Ireland, Australia and the British Empire that you wonder why we’ve waited so long for the whole story of it. It illuminates much that has happened since in Australia and Ireland, as well as the mistakes, the successes and the lessons of British control, which were reflected in the subsequent conduct of the Empire.
Floating Prisons by Anne McMahon
the dramatic story of a small island nation on the other side of the world . . . a most exceptional investigation of a core element in the deeply troubled story of Ireland
—Richard O’Brien, Ambassador of Ireland to Australia 1995 to 2002.
Ireland was so troubled in the 1820s and 30s that gaols were overflowing. Marauding bands of Whiteboys and Ribbonmen and Rockites attacked the property of prosperous farmers and the Protestant establishment—which used harsh laws to control the Catholic labouring class.
Undernourished and clad in rags, thousands of male prisoners were confined to hulks moored in the harbours of Dublin and Cork, waiting for ships to Australia. They were grim places of violence, abuse and boredom.
Looking deeply into Ireland’s penal administration, divided society, and the convict voyages, Anne McMahon draws conclusions that will change many assumptions about Australia, Ireland and the British Empire.
The loss for Ireland was a boon to the Australian colonies flooded with involuntary Irish settlers: 60 shiploads from the hulks alone. Today their descendants form a substantial part of the Australian population.