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The Indelible Hulk

Prison hulks were a flawed system, but that was not what finished them off.

Prison hulks on the Thames, by William Henry Pyne, 1805.Prison hulks on the Thames, by William Henry Pyne, 1805. The Print Collector / Alamy Stock Photo.

In three couplets, American revolutionary Philip Freneau lambasted a new type of prison:

The various horrors of these hulks to tell

These Prison Ships where pain and horror dwell

Where death in ten fold vengeance holds his reign,

And injur’d ghosts, yet unaveng’d complain;

This be my tale-ungenerous Britons, you

Conspire to murder those you can’t subdue—

A prison hulk – a ship not seaworthy enough for full-service – was Freneau’s accommodation for six weeks.