Politics

The sinister tale of a seemingly innocent bollard that marked the end for some

Bollards are a regular occurrence in city life, and we might never think there’s anything special about them.

But some of them are of greater significance than others: one in Millbank has a rather sinister story behind it.

About 100 metres to the right of the north side of Vauxhall Bridge stands a bollard which represents the gates of what was Millbank Prison, active between 1816-1890.

This bollard was the last thing criminals saw before being shipped to Australia to spend their sentence for their crimes.

If you look carefully, you’ll notice the bollard bears the caption: “Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890. This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

READ MORE: Swimming in the River Thames used to be even more dangerous – as it was home to a polar bear

The text on the bollard

Millbank Prison was mainly used as a holding facility for prisoners who were being transported to Australia, a practice which stopped in 1868.

Initially, sentences of five to 10 years at the National Penitentiary were offered as an alternative to transportation to those thought most likely to reform.

But as the years progressed it stopped being a prison: instead it was a detention centre for criminals awaiting transportation. It also held ill prisoners, who’d be dumped onto one of the ‘hulks’ – an offshore ship that was used to house inmates.

The sinister tale of a seemingly innocent bollard that marked the end for some

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Every person sentenced to transportation was sent to Millbank first, where they were held for three months before it was decided where to send them.

Around 4,000 prisoners were being transported annually from the UK as of 1850.

Prisoners awaiting transportation were kept in solitary confinement and were forced to be silent for the first half of their sentence.

The National Gallery of British Art – now the Tate – was built on the prison site in 1897.


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