Monday, 23 April 2012

Reformatory Ship

When boys were convicted of crimes from the 1840s onwards they were typically given a short gaol sentence followed by a period of years in a Reformatory School. At the Epiphany Sessions in 1871 Henry Tuck, a 13 year old apprentice to a shoemaker at Husborne Crawley, was convicted of stealing a coat, a hat, a scarf and a pair of shoes from his master Alfred Faulkner before absonding. He was apprended two weeks later at Huntingdon and sentenced to one month of hard labour in Gaol followed by 5 years at a Reformatory. The gaol database tells us that after his release from Bedford Gaol he was sent to the Akbar Reformatory Ship. This sounded intriguing, so I did a little research.

The informative website of the E Chambré Hardman Archive includes several pages about the Akbar. From 1855 to 1907 two school ships named Akbar were moored on the Mersey by a charitable organisation, the Liverpool Juvenile Reformatory Association. Henry Tuck would have served his time on the second Akbar, a former Royal Navy vessel which replaced its predecessor in 1862. The ship was funded by a grant from Liverpool Council, the Reformatory Association, charitable donations and parental contributions, which could be up to 5 shillings a week. Up to 200 boys could be held on the ship, where they were to receive a combination of discipline and education intended to equip them with skills for later life. The E Chambré Hardman Archive website tells us that:
Life on board the Akbar was harsh and dangerous. Food was in short supply and not very healthy. In the summer ventilation was inadequate and in the winter temperatures on board were very low. This was particularly so in 1894 when parts of the River Mersey froze for around thirteen weeks. It is no surprise that many boys fell ill and that some died. In 1893 an inspector criticised the Akbar’s health record and as a result the boys were evacuated to New Ferry Cholera Hospital on the Wirral while the ship was cleaned. Life on board any ship was by its very nature dangerous. The Akbar’s minute books record a number of accidental deaths and injuries amongst its boys.
A little research on Henry Tuck himself threw up some more interesting information. In the 1871 census a Henry Tuck, aged 13, was in the Bedford Union Workhouse. Henry had been born in Thrapston in Northamptonshire and was described as "deserted". In 1861 he had been living in Thrapston with his father Henry Tuck, a 31 year old "engine smith" born in Dunmow (Essex), his mother Maryann, aged 25 from Thrapston and a 5 year old sister Jane. The death of a Mary Ann Tuck is recorded in the Bedford registration district in 1865. It seems likely that this was Henry's mother and that some time between 1865 and 1871 the older Henry abandoned his children and disappeared. There is no trace of him on later censuses - possibly he changed his name to avoid being prosecuted for desertion. Unfortunately I was not able to find out anything about young Henry's life after he left the Akbar, as he also disappears from the censuses.

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