Scottish Prisons 18th and 19th Century

Irish Prisons

English Prisons

Convict Prison Hulks


Irish Prisons of the 18th and 19th Centuries


Irish female prisoners sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen's Land were removed from the local county or city gaols and transferred to a transportation depot to await the arrival of a prison ship. The early ships departed from The Cove of Cork, and from mid 1820's ships were also departing from Kingstown Harbour, Dublin.

The 17th century Elizabeth Fort at Cork, and the Cork County Gaol were used up to 1837 as early depots for Irish female convicts awaiting transportation to New South Wales. From 1837, the women's depot was at the Grangegorman Women’s Penitentiary located in the Stoneybatter district of northern Dublin, Ireland, close to Kingstown Harbour. The site had previously been the location of older establishments known at various times as the Richmond Asylum, Richmond Penitentiary, and a fever (cholera) hospital.[1]   The first contingent of female convicts at the Grangegorman depot, departing direct for Van Diemen's Land from Kingstown Harbour, were on the Mary Anne on 27 November 1840. 

Male convicts awaiting transportation were confined to prison hulks at Cork from 1823 (HMS Surprise) and from 1824 at Kingstown Harbour (HMS Essex).  Kilmainham Penitentiary was also a depot for the northern part of Ireland and from 1847 Spike Island at Cork was used for male convicts. There is also mention that women were retained on the Kingstown hulk.  (Freemans Journal, Tuesday, June 25, 1839; Page: 1).



Departure of the Earl Grey 1849 – Departure of Female Convicts from Kingstown

Some days since the EARL GREY transport ship, arrived from the Thames in Kingstown Harbour, having been chartered by Government for the conveyance of female convicts under sentence of transportation to Hobart Town, Van Dieman’s Land. In the course of last week the convicts, all – or nearly all- young creatures, some of them mere girls – were brought down from Grangegorman Depot and embarked onboard the transport. They numbered 380; and, owning to the humane regulation of not severing infants and growing children from their mothers – the human freight included 60 more, comprising the infants and children of tender age belonging to the convicts. Dublin Evening Post 13 December 1849 (Transcription courtesy of Keith Searson.)


Transferring convict women to awaiting ships

Prisoners sentenced to transportation were transferred from Irish country and city gaols to depots, to await convict transport ships. In the early days of transportation, as explained by Charles Bateman, 'In Ireland the prisoners, both men and women, were collected from the country and city gaols and placed aboard small vessels at Dublin or Cork or to voyage to one of those ports. Sometimes they remained for weeks in the small, crowded brigs, awaiting the arrival of a convict ship, but more often the convict ship had to await its passengers.' (Charles Bateman, The Convict Ships 1787-1868) 


Convicts.—137 female convicts, from Kilmainham and Newgate prisons, were shipped on board the Isabella brig for Cove, on Thursday, at Kingstown. The greater number were from the counties of Cavan and Fermanagh.

Belfast Newsletter  Tuesday, December 06, 1831; Page: 4


The prisoners would have been transferred, under escort of constabulary, or military guards, by whatever means was convenient - whether by cart, coach, train or boats.  The Limerick Chronicle 23 June 1841 mentions 'a strong detachment of Constabulary' departing the City Gaol with eight female convicts and collecting 2 from the County Gaol and four from Ennis [county gaol].


Transferring convict women by train from county gaol to Grange Gorman gaol to await transport via the ship Martin Luther

Limerick Chronicle - Wednesday 28 January 1852, p1: The following convicts were transmitted from Limerick gaol on Monday by rail, for Dublin, with police escort under Head Constable Joynt: County convicts – Johanna Sullivan, Eliza Roche, Margaret McNamara, Bridget McNamara, Catherine Hayes, arson, to be transported for life; Catherine Quin and Mary O’Brien, arson, for 15 years; Bridget Carroll, Johanna Lynch, Bridget Ryan, Mary McQuain, Margaret Ryan, Johanna Slattery, Margaret Duhig, Mary Fitzgerald, Bridget Fitzgerald, Honora Dea, Ellen Sowney, receiving stolen goods, 7 years. City convicts – Mary Hanneen, Catherine McInerney, Margaret Ryan, Bridget Flannery, Rose O’Hara, Mary Kelly, for larceny, 7 years each.


The women had to be medically fit to survive the long journey. ‘Medical certificates were completed by the medical officers in the gaols, confirming fitness of each convict to undergo the voyage. Once the paperwork was done, the prisoners were sent to Grangegorman in Dublin under the charge of the constabulary.’[2] The matron at Grangegorman depot, along with the depot's medical officer and finally the ship's surgeon, would make a ruling on the health and fitness of convicts before embarkation.


Numbers of convict women from Ireland to Van Diemen's Land.

Of the 4634 Irish female convicts transported to VDL, the number sentenced in Irish courts was approximately 3776.  Of these, 259 women were transferred from Irish prisons prior to 1836 (prior to Grangegorman opening). These women would have departed from Cork arriving in New South Wales before being forwarded on to Van Diemen's Land. 

Approximately 3216 women are recorded in the FCRC database as having Grangegorman records – with the records starting  from 1840, and first disposal in 1842 on the convict ship 'Hope'. This indicates Grangegorman records are missing for approximately 300 women  who may have been at Grangegorman between 1836 and 1840, and include the 260 women on the  Mexborough and Mary Anne, both departing in 1841.


Grangegorman Female Penitentiary and Depot


GrangeGormanPenitentiary web

Grangegorman Female Penitentiary, Dublin


Grangegorman Female Penitentiary was opened in 1836 as a purpose-built female model prison to receive women locally sentenced to imprisonment as well as a depot to detain women under sentence of transportation to the colonies. Grangegorman was praised, in a parliamentary report from 1838, as a successful experiment in that 'when the period of confinement was at an end generally they came out much better than they went in and, in many instances, with acquirements which enabled them to earn their subsistence by honest industry in after-life'.[3] 


The prison was capable of containing from 1,000 to 1,200 prisoners. A report in the Freemans Journal June 25 1839, mentioned at certain periods of the year the prison could lodge from two hundred to three hundred convicts from the interior of the country, until a ship arrived to convey them to their destination, 'this practice is going on since the breaking up of the Hulk at Kingstown...'.


The Governor of Grangegorman Penitentiary was responsible for the safe custody of the prisoners while a matron and several deputy matrons were entrusted with the care and discipline of the prisoners.  Besides care of prisoner’s health, the matron’s role was to oversee instruction in reading, writing, other branches of education, and useful trades.*  Needlework was one such trade that provided income for the prison and allowed the prisoners to earn some money.

The net profits arising from needle-work and washing, done for the public by the prisoners here, amounted for the year ending 31st October, 1841, to 212l., which does not include a sum of 951. 16s. 11d. earned by the prisoners, and paid to them upon being discharged.[4]


* Research indicates that as many as 65 percent of the women passing through Grangegorman Depot prior to transportation had no trades. ('What embarkation lists and prison registers can tell us about what female convicts left behind'. Trudy Cowley,



Van Diemen's Women: A History of Transportation to Tasmania by Joan Kavanagh and Dianne Snowden. Published by The History Press Ireland, 2015

The East London by Colleen Arulappe Chapter 4: The Women from Country Cavan Gaols





[2] Kavanagh, J. & Snowden,D., Van Diemen’s Women, A History of Transportation to Tasmania, The History Press, Ireland, 2015,  p. 105

[3] Kerry Evening Post 1813-1917, Saturday, May 12, 1838; Section: Front page, Page: 1

[4] Freemans Journal 1763-1924, Friday, December 31, 1841; Page: 4







Please acknowledge our work, should you choose to use our research.  Our work may be subject to copyright therefore please check our Copyright Policy, and Disclaimer policy.

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed online [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed online [date] from [http address].