InDaily InDaily

Support independent Journalism Donate Subscribe
Support independent journalism

Local

Time and place: South Australia's "hell afloat"

Local

In the next installment of our series on South Australian places and things, we explore the grim history of the hulk Fitzjames – a vessel that was briefly used as a floating reformatory for young boys.

Comments
Comments Print article

Between 1880 and 1891 the hulk Fitzjames, colloquially known as ‘hell afloat’, served as a Reformatory for over 100 boys aged from eight to 16 years of age.

The first 35 of these were transferred from the Boys’ Reformatory at Magill on 5 March 1880. Some had been sentenced for having committed serious crimes, while others had been found guilty of petty theft, or deemed uncontrollable or neglected.

The South Australian Government had purchased the ageing vessel for the princely sum of £2,800 in 1876. The Fitzjames, which had for the previous 20 years brought immigrants from the UK to Australia, was to be used as the colony’s quarantine ship, and as such was moored off Largs Bay.

Upon the establishment of on-shore quarantine facilities at Torrens Island it was decided that the Fitzjames be employed as a tool of education and reform for wayward boys.

During their time on the Fitzjames some of the boys were trained in tailoring and shoemaking, all without the aid of sewing machines, while others were taught carpentry. Other tasks included transporting fresh water, cooking, and cleaning the ship. Most of the boys were apprenticed out after having served a third of their sentence.

In 1883 a Royal Commission to Report on the Destitute Act in South Australia found that the Fitzjames was in a bad state and unsafe in deep water. It was then moved to the shallow water of the False Arm of the Port River.

The commission reported that the boys were ill-fed, dirty, and  slept in rows of hammocks strung up side by side, with so little room that the hammocks “bowed up almost in an arc of a circle”.

With overcrowding, diseases spread easily and many boys contracted opthalmia, a painful eye infection; some went blind as a result.

In May 1891 the boys were removed from their floating prison and returned to their old address at Magill. The Fitzjames was broken up soon after, but its final resting place remains something of a mystery.

Nikki Sullivan is curator of the Migration Museum.

Time and place is a series about significant places in South Australia, brought to you by a partnership of InDaily and the History Trust of South Australia.

Read more articles in the series here.

 

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Help our journalists uncover the facts

In times like these InDaily provides valuable, local independent journalism in South Australia. As a news organisation it offers an alternative to The Advertiser, a different voice and a closer look at what is happening in our city and state for free. Any contribution to help fund our work is appreciated. Please click below to donate to InDaily.

Donate here
Powered by PressPatron

Comments

Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

More Local stories

Loading next article