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On 22 January 1853 "An Act to make provision for the better Control and Disposal of Offenders" (16 Vic.,No.32) was assented to. This Act authorised the Lieutenant Governor to proclaim any hulk to be used as a public prison. It is evident that the purchase by the Colonial Government of immigrant ships which had been deserted by their crews, and the subsequent fit out of the ships as penal hulks, was a response to a shortage of prison accommodation in the Colony, particularly for hardened criminals.
The hulk "Sacramento" was fitted out and moored in Corio Bay, off Geelong, in the latter half of 1853 and by December 1853 it held 79 prisoners, half of whom had been transferred from H.M. Gaol, Geelong. The hulk was formally proclaimed a Public Prison by the Lieutenant Governor on 15 march 1854, and by September of that year held its capacity of approximately 130 persons.
In terms of the corrective system of the time the "Sacramento" was viewed as a 'probationary' hulk - a stage between the 'punishment' hulk for hardened criminals, and the stockades which housed the less serious offenders.
Prisoners detained aboard the "Sacramento" was required to undertake labor, either aboard the hulk, or on public works on shore. Prisoners showing good conduct could be removed from the hulk to a stockade and eventually emerge with a ticket-of-leave. Due to the expense of maintaining the hulks, and the shortage of labouring duties, all the prisoners aboard the "Sacramento" were removed to Pentridge before the end of 1857.
Although it was intended that the use of the hulk as a prison would cease at this time, a shortage of prison accommodation for female prisoners led to the removal of female prisoners from the Western Gaols to the "Sacramento" on 1 January 1858. A number of children of the prisoners, as well as some destitute children and young offenders were also detained aboard the hulk at this time. On board the hulk the female prisoners were employed at washing, needlework and making clothes. A school was set up on board to occupy the children for several hours a day. In 1859 the female prisoners were to be transferred to the hulk "Success" and from there on to the Collingwood Stockade. It is not known whether this occurred in that year, nor is it clear whether the hulk was used over the next decade.
By 1872 the "Sacramento" was moored near the mouth of the Yarra to accommodate approximately 100 male prisoners who were employed by the Public Works Department on works on the Yarra embankment. In consequence of the management of the Port of Melbourne being transferred to the Melbourne Harbor Trust Commissioners in 1877, the works on the Yarra were discontinued and the hulk was gradually vacated. When it was finally abandoned in March 1878 it was transferred to the Torpedo Corps.
Location of Records
See listing below and List of Holdings 1985 section 13.13.0.