Saturday, 14 July 2012

14th July 1812: The prisoner, Thomas Holden, writes from the HMS Portland at Langstone

On Tuesday 14th July 1812, the prisoner Thomas Holden wrote to his family from the Prison Hulk HMS Portland at Langstone, near Portsmouth. Tomlinson (1967, pp.104-105) has a long passage quoting parts of this letter:

The Portland had been a ship of 50 guns, completed at Sheerness in 1770, fitted as a convict ship in 1802 and sold in 1817. Holden's early opinion was that he had
the good luck to be at the very best place of this kind that there is and Captain and officers are all verry good to the prisoners under their charge we go on shore at 7 o'clock in the morning and leave off work at 5 in the afternoon.
There appeared to be some elementary welfare work on the part of the officers for Holding told his mother and father on 14 July
you are to understand that any money that is sent to any of the prisoners on Board this ship the Captain keeps it in his hand and let us have 3 shillings per week which supplies us with what Necessarys we want and that Means the Money is kept safe.
He acknowledged the receipt of 'one pound safe for which I Return you the Most heart felt thanks' and reported that he had not recovered the money which had been stolen. Finance and food were still continuing concerns for there was 'not the smallest way of making one penny here & the ship allowance is too scanty to supply Nature'. He hoped that those at home would remember him for 'We are not debared from having any necessary food if we have a little money to provide it'. He went on to say that everything was
extreamly dear. We pay ten pence for a Quart of flower and that only weighs one pound & about eleven ounces & everything is proportional to that.
Holden though that 'all the officers over us seem to be very humane men' and strove for good reports
for every three Months there is Return made of all the Mens Characters on Board & the Captain was pleased to speak favourable of us even for the little time we have been here (The Characters is laid before the secretary of state in London).

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