Explore over 195,000 burial records from Thames and Medway. The records include prisoners from the Woolwich prison ships and the names of over 1,200 seamen who died on the Seaman’s Hospital Society’s hospital ships near Greenwich. Discover your ancestor’s burial date, age at death and residence at the time of death.
Each record includes a transcript of the original burial records. Each transcript may include a combination of the following information:
Age at death
Residence – this field can sometimes contain additional information about the individual, especially if the person was unknown.
We have published approximately 195,000 Thames-side and Medway parish burial records. These burial records cover Middlesex, Essex, Surrey and Kent for the period 1696 to 1997. You can search the records by name, year and also by a keyword; such as, hospital, prisoner, drowned, etc.
The Thames and Medway Burials includes over 1,200 burials in Greenwich from the nearby hospital ships. These hospital ships were the home to the Seaman’s Hospital Society. In 1821 The Seaman’s Hospital Society was established in London for the relief of sick and distressed seamen of all nations. It was created by a philanthropic group who had witnessed the plight of helpless and impoverished merchant seamen living on the streets of London after the Napoleonic Wars.
The society was given a home by the Admiralty on board the ex-naval vessel, HMS Grampus, then onto the larger HMS Dreadnought in 1831. The hospital moved to another hulk 26 years later, HMS Caledonia, which was renamed the HMS Dreadnought. It was reported in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal on 5 March 1824, ‘that the ship Grampus, which was opened for the reception of patients on the 24th of October, 1821, received in less than two years & four months, 1,949 patients.’ On board the hospital ships there was issues with ventilation, lack of light especially in the winter months, spread of disease and noise from the busy River Thames. In 1870, the society finally moved on to land and were given a lease at the Greenwich Hospital, the hospital became the Dreadnought Seaman’s Hospital.
When the records are searched by the keyword ‘prisoner,’ we find nine results. One unknown prisoner buried in Bridewell, an Ernest Friend from Maidstone Prison and Samuel Barnard noted as a prisoner and buried in Dartford. Then there are six other prisoner burials listed, including one female prisoner Mary Owen who died in 1814 at the age of 39. All six had been incarcerated on board a prison ship and buried in Woolwich. Floating prisoners were used in the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries. The ships were decommissioned naval ships, commonly called a ‘Prison hulk.’ Once turned into a prison hulk the ship was made inoperable or unseaworthy. One way to do this was to remove the sails of the ship. This would prevent a prisoner mutiny and theft of the ship.
Before the use of these floating prisons criminals were transported to colonies. However, when conflict broke out with the American Colonies that route was closed and transport to the Southern hemisphere had become too costly. Average British prisons were beginning to over flow. Therfore, in 1776, Parliament passed an act to sanction the use of hulks for two years as a temporary place for prisoners. This practice continued for 80 years. Woolwich was one location for prison ships to berth, but others include Deptford, Chatham, Portsmouth, and Cork.
One of the ships found in the Thames and Medway Burial records is the Justitia in 1821. An ex transport vessel which had 25 years of service. The Justitia could hold around 150 prisoners. . Other prison ships could hole from 100 to 600 inmates depending of the ship of vessel. It can be hard to trace the records of prison ship because the names were reused on several ships; such as, the Justitia. Conditions were usually cramped and overcrowded and the spread of disease was common in these close quarters. The prisoners were sentenced to hard labour, this could include work on or off the ship. They could work for up to ten hours a day. Then the inmates were shackled in iron, down in the hold at night.
Woolwich prison hulks included:
HMS Prudent 1779-1814
HMS Savage 1804-1815
HMS Justitia 1812-1830
HMS Retribution 1814-1835
HMS Leven 1827-1848
HMS Justitia 1830-1855
HMS Unite 1832-1858
HMS Warrior 1840-1857
HMS Sulphur 1843-1857