The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 37, Issue 2

Article 3
A “Receptacle of Our Worst Convicts”: Bermuda, the Chatham Prison Riots and the Transportation of Violence

Alyson Brown
Clarence Maxwell


The Chatham prison riots that took place in England in 1861 were due partly to structural weaknesses in the prison system during a period of considerable change, and partly to the return of many hardened convicts from the Bermudian prison hulks. British policy in the early period was to provide labour and to save on building, administrative and other costs by sending these prisoners far away from their home base. Incarceration in the hulks was often imposed prior to transportation to the “convict’ colonies” in Australia and New Zealand in order to provide labour for government works in Bermuda, thus operating as an additional hardship for convicts. However, in 1860 the government repatriated large numbers of convicts from Bermuda to England to facilitate the closing down of the Bermudian hulks. Many of these convicts were returned to convict imprisonment in Chatham, where they were to play a significant role in a large-scale disturbance that occurred in 1861. This riot is one of the factors that caused the government to take a hard look at its prison system and the public criticism it was attracting. In the light of this, penal policy in England shifted towards greater deterrence and discipline.