History of Dartmoor Prison
1805, Great Britain was at war with Napoleonic France;
a conflict during which thousands of prisoners were taken and confined
in prison “hulks” or derelict ships. This was considered
unsafe, partially due to the proximity of the Royal Naval dockyard
at Plymouth and as living conditions were appalling in the extreme,
a prisoner of war depot was planned in the remote isolation of Dartmoor.
In 1806 construction started, taking three years
In 1809 the first French prisoners arrived, and
were joined by American POWs taken in the war of 1812.
At one time the prison population numbered almost 6,000. Many prisoners
died and were buried on the moor. Both French and American wars
were concluded in 1815, and repatriations began.
prison then lay empty until 1850, when it was largely
rebuilt and commissioned as a convict gaol.
With the establishment of the prison farm in about 1852,
all the prisoners remains were exhumed and re-interred in two cemeteries
behind the prison.
Dartmoor Prison, reckoned in Victorian times to be the hardest
and most severe in England, has been in constant use from 1850
to the present day.
1917 all convicts were withdrawn from Dartmoor,
which was then used to confine 1100 conscientious objectors who
refused military service.
Until recently, Dartmoor Prison's inmates have been some of the
most dangerous and notorious in English penal history.
Picture courtesy of M. Chamberlain