and to start with a navy archive diagram of Bodmin  Naval Prison. This picture shows a 'zoom in' for detail of the prison, but it is part of a picture showing the overall area of Bodmin Prison, which was the central Prison for the County of Cornwall. Below you see two more pictures on the same theme.

This next picture [which hangs in my naval museum] shows the complete prison complex. The County Prison had a great deal of spare space/grounds, so the Navy were allowed to build a Prison within the wall grounds.

and finally, the same picture as above but with more detail on it.




In 1909, DETENTION was first awarded as a punishment.  The admiral who introduced it was the Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman  at a time when he was in charge of 131,000 sailors.


Reference War Office - W.O. 226/1
BR 668 - Rules & Regulations for Naval Detention Quarters




To sailors of my time [early 50’ to early 80’s] RNDQ’S [Royal Naval Detention Quarters] were established at Portsmouth. Chatham and Devonport each had its own DQ's until 1931 when everything was transferred to Portsmouth into the old Convicts Prison by Anchor Gate in the dockyard.  Chatham's original DQ was in the Barracks in Collingwood Block down on Kyber Road, whilst at Devonport, it had been at Keyham.  The DQ's at Portsmouth opened on the 1st January 1911 and closed its doors on the 4th September 1995 when all involved moved to the Military Correction Centre {Berechurch Hall Camp} at Colchester vide DCI [RN] 146/95. It takes some believing that a man would want to do this, but on the 6th March 1993, CPO William Price retired from the navy {having joined in 1948} after having served for TWENTY-TWO YEARS in RNDQ Portsmouth.  Hardly what most of us would class as a naval career!  These establishments, and those of the naval prisons, were manned by the Regulating Branch, only in those days they were called Naval Police Corporals controlled as of yore by the Master-at-Arms. They were grossly disliked by all in the navy including the majority of its officers. Working alongside the Naval Police Corporals were the Royal Marines Police, and they continued as a separate entity until 2008 when they were incorporated into the Naval Regulating Branch.


The above mentioned situation has been long gone now, and punishments today in the 21st century are contained in a smaller tri-service environment,  meted out without the severity and cruelty of times gone by.  I can’t call the approach ‘soft’ but it is a sign of the times and therefore EXCEEDINGLY liberal by comparison.


Before my time, there were two very separate periods of punishments for erring sailors, and both, I rather suspect, will be very new to you.


First off then is the last half of the 19th century to the immediate post WW1  years, roughly 1869 to 1922, a time when much was being done to moderate the cruelty manifest in the preceding one hundred years of crime, justice and punishments, and flogging had ceased, so too had walking the plank, keelhauling, hanging by the yard and the general barbarity of the Georgian, Regency and early Victorian navies.


After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain’s large fleet was maintained and that meant lots of sailors.  From the very beginning of the war with France, the Battle of the Glorious 1st of June, the navy had been continuously engaged in combat, but after Trafalgar, the likelihood of an encounter or an engagement grew ever slimmer except for the prosecution of the War of 1812 which Britain fought against the USA, and after that 1815 arrived and the French were defeated at Waterloo.   Smaller wars [at least for the navy] followed – Crimea – and skirmishes/involvements – Indian Mutiny, Opium Wars in China, wars with Egypt and others, but no big battles occurred and yet the large fleet was maintained.  By 1860 we were [on paper at least although never proved in battle] the envy of all navies [and feared by them also] with our brand new Ironclads propelled by steam as well as by sail, and “invincible”. 


By this same time, 1860, the navy had a great number of men with a high return of criminal activity, petty and not so petty.  With the Ironclads came a move-up from the crudity of the sail navy to a new found sophistication brought about by steam and new gunnery techniques with rifled barrels instead of the less accurate smooth bore guns.  Punishments, hitherto carried out onboard the offenders own ship were moderated and no longer relevant,  and the hulks in ports  were bulging with sailors either being accommodated or trained or both, so they were at a premium and could not be spared as punishment hulks.  Additionally plans were in place to systematically decommission the hulks and move the sailors into purposely built barracks ashore.  At this point, many sailors had been sent into civil prisons in the vicinity of naval ports where the naval authorities had no say in their welfare – not that sailors per se were well looked after.


So Their Lordships at the Admiralty looked for an alternative way to house those sailors whose crimes were considered to warrant “the sharp point of a tool of correction”  in an area over which the navy would have full and unconditional control.  They decided that the way ahead was a shore-side Naval Prison, and whilst they were at it, they decided upon having two.


NAVAL DISCIPLINE BILL.htm  This rather gruesome file conveys to you a debate in the House of Commons wherein specific punishments are discussed and outlined for the layman.



Royal Naval Prisons!

Before these prisons were built/used sailors from Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth were respectively incarcerated in the central prisons in Maidstone, Winchester and Exeter.  Reference: Admiral Sir Charles Napier HANSARDS May 1860.


These were to be the Establishments where punishments of the hardest type would drive the prisons modus operandi.  Therefore,  and unlike many of the civil prisons housing far more hardened criminals and those who had committed unspeakable crimes, hard labour was to be the norm and in many cases, followed by discharge from the Service if not already in a coffin, but whichever way, a broken man. Malta also have a notorious Naval Prison but is not a part of this story: however, see this file COMMANDER_FREDERICK_HILDEBRAND_STEVENS_RN for a mention of its Governor.


The first of these UK based RN Prisons [called RNP] was at Lewes in East Sussex.  It is still in use as a “over filled prison for male remand and tried/punished prisoners”.  It was built in 1853, and its first prisoners were 300 Finnish prisoners-of-war captured in the Crimean War.  The first Naval Governors  report recorded by the Admiralty is dated 1868 and is recorded as ADM 116/6.  In 1888, the Commanding Officer was  Captain Malcolm McNEILE Royal Navy, a “rod-of-iron” officer from the old school who would have been a disciplinarian  of the meanest type.  ADM 116/1065A, if you are not squeamish, describes the ethos of the “Hard Labour in Force” in the years 1907-08. During WW1, German naval personnel were incarcerated at RNP Bodmin and one letter home to his father in Germany can be found in the National Archive file [FO = Foreign Office: 383/295].  In 1922, the Prison was handed over to the Home Office after which it became a civilian prison.


Running concurrent with this prison was the second RNP, this one in Bodmin Moor Cornwall.  The rationale was that Lewes was midway between Chatham and Portsmouth whereas Bodmin looked after all West Country  areas including Portland whose harbour regularly played host to the Home Fleet, a number of ships which was many times bigger than the whole of the Royal Navy today [2009].  Bodmin Jail was somewhat different to the “luxuries” offered by a new building at Lewes, because this was second-hand to the navy and already had an history [a gruesome history].  Also, unlike the loveliness of the Sussex town  of Lewes, Bodmin, and particularly its prison, was austere, remote and archaic.  It was built in 1779 by prisoners-of-war and operated for 148 years closing in 1927.   Today, it is a relic, a tourist attraction, so the next time you are down in the West Country, visit this NAVAL SHRINE to many of our fellow sailors whose crimes, in many cases, were trivial and yet they were punished disproportionately, and we who come behind should lament those most dreadful times.  RNP Bodmin, in 1889, is covered by Admiralty record ADM 116/743.  RNP Bodmin was a civilian prison part taken over by the navy, whilst Lewes was a naval prison taken over by the Home Office. Bodmin Prison, in its day, carried out fifty public hangings the last one in 1909; thereafter, all hangings were shifted to the next county Devon, to Exeter Prison.


In 1869, new legislation stopped people in debt from going to prison and many were released from prison.  This left Bodmin Prison running at just less than a quarter occupied capacity, and the navy jumped at the chance of filling these places.  Very soon after, the navy had occupied most of the buildings, so the prison was split between naval and civil prisoners.  The RNP closed in 1922.  Of great interest is that the Prison had a three-way-split during WW1.  The first two splits have been explained, but those parts of the prison which were not occupied by prisoners, were used to store the DOOMSDAY BOOK and the CROWN JEWELS for safe keeping.  There are, regrettably, graves, some unmarked, in East Sussex and Cornwall in which lay the victims of the harsh treatment dished-out by the perverted staff of these prisons.


At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 when these prisons were fully operational,  in addition to the three mentioned DQ’s above, erring sailors were incarcerated as follows:-

a.     from the Scottish Command,  in Scotland Military Detention Barracks at Stirling or York Castle

b.     from the Northern Ireland Command,  in Ireland Military Detention Barracks at Cork or Dublin.

Sailors serving on foreign stations were landed ashore to serve their sentence in suitable correction camps run by the army, and the following report is just one of several.  I refer to ADM 178/1 which covers the military detention in Gibraltar of Ordinary Seaman T.M. Richardson of HMS Formidable.


The next step up from warrant punishments in RNDQ’s was imprisonment either for civilian law offences or for naval offences warranting a more severe punishment than DQ’s.  In the former case, sailors were imprisoned in civilian prisons if the punishment carried with it an automatic discharge from the navy in ignominy.  Again it was achieved on Depot-Associated lines where Devonport ratings went to Bodmin Moor civil prison before the RN/Civil split,  Portsmouth ratings to Portsmouth civil prison and Chatham ratings to Canterbury civil prison.  These last three prisons were unknown’s although all prisons were grim in the early part of the 20th century little changed from the mid-19th century.   However, Bodmin Moor [RNP Section] and the RNP Lewes were well known and much feared.  During WW1, there is anecdotal evidence that a common utterance was “better to be shot at dawn than suffer a day in RNP”.  For those of you not familiar with the expression, shot at dawn, referred to being shot by a British firing squad for desertion, sleeping on watch, willful disobedience of orders, cowardice etc., during WW1.


Second off, is the change between the wars.

By the time of WW2, things had changed dramatically.  Gone were the RNP’s and in their place other Establishments were commissioned, now to curtail the many instances of WW2 disobedience, as much as anything, conscientious objectors.


By 1942 the disposition looked like this:-


Manchester Area
West Yorkshire
Lancashire  - used by Plymouth Command
Northallerton MILITARY PRISION – North Yorkshire
North Yorkshire
Glasgow Area
Glasgow Area
10 miles east of Glasgow and 46 miles ESE from Faslane
Moss Bank DETENTION BARRACKS – Shetlands, a village site made famous [or infamous] by the Sullom Voe oil terminal.

Carrickfergus DETENTION BARRACKS - Northern Ireland [not visited because of a misunderstanding ! - see PDF below]

# these naval places were adapted civilian prisons
* this naval place was a converted Drill Hall.




This is AFO 4417 from 1945 regarding Civilian Prisons and Detention Quarters. Its originator is NL [Naval Law] and dated 9th August.

 4417.—Imprisonment or Detention—men sentenced to and discharged from—


(N.L. 12070/45.—9 Aug. 1945.)

The following amendments are to be made to A.F.O. 2987/45 :—

Paragraph 2, Civil Prisons—

Delete “ Forward ” and “ Flora ” and insert “ Victory ” and “ Fieldfare ”


Paragraph 2. Naval Detention Quarters :—-

Delete reference to Fort Darland and insert new sub-paragraph—-

Military Detention Barracks with accommodation for naval offender

Administrative Authority

for Naval personnel

Commodore, Royal Naval

Barracks, Chatham.

Fort Darland is a Military Detention Barracks and the provisions of the Naval

Discipline Act which affect offenders in Military Detention Barracks apply. All

correspondence, including warrants, Committal warrants, service documents, and

draft notes for offender^ whom it is intended to commit to Ford Darland are to be

sent to the Royal Naval Barracks, Chatham, and ships and establishments are not to

communicate direct with the Commandant. See also paragraphs 9 and 10.”

(A.F.Os. 2987/45 and 3726/45.)

Under Para 2, Civil Prisons -  all I can say is that all four names {Forward, Flora, Victory and Fieldfare} are RN ships or shore authorities [whether afloat or terra firma], and neither is a Civil Prison, so the entry is cryptic! The rest of the AFO is self explanatory.


Now, as always with changing generations [although kids today don’t seem to understand that] bad things, nay evil things, which in the absence of authority would continue, were checked and questioned and the cruel and perverted influences would be highlighted and addressed.


So in 1942, when two such warrant officers harassed and ultimately killed a poor soldier in Fort Darland Detention Barracks, the Country went “bananas” and demanded that the punishment system Establishments should be brought “to book”.  This crime, widely and continuously mentioned for many weeks in the newspapers, was just a tiny representation of the many many crimes of the naval regulating branch [Masters at Arms, Regulating Petty Officers, Ships Corporals, and Leading Patrol Men] and other soldiers and airmen, alerted the Top Brass and through them, no less a person than the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister was WINSTON CHURCHILL.  He was so upset that he immediately ordered an enquiry which in a moment I will show you the report filed.  The two warrant officers were tried in 1943 at the Maidstone Assizes in  Kent on charges of manslaughter, and I am currently awaiting correspondence from the Maidstone Assizes concerning the trial outcome, and will add their answer into this paragraph when received. However, on the bottom of this page you will find some detail of the soldier who died..    I got fed up of waiting for the sleepy old Court Archive to wake up, so I asked the equally sleepy Kent Messenger newspaper for advice.  Neither one bothered to answer [must be something to do with Kent people manifest in their cricket prowess] so I approached The Times newspaper.  'You pays for you get' is a good expression, and I got the answer I sought. They too are at the bottom of the page.


 The following report is self evident and needs only one introduction before you open it.  I have already mentioned that the norm inside the Naval Prisons at Lewes and Bodmin was hard labour with all the horrors of Dickensian treatment imaginable.  As a normal [and rational] comparison, it would be safe to say [or think] that a remand centre/correction centre/borstal is a lesser punishment than going to prison and that the former regimes would be easier to tolerate than the latter.  However, as you are about to read, Naval Detention Quarters were considered to be the worst possible punishments, where, for example, one had to sleep on bare floor boards [no beds, never mind bedding] for the first two weeks of incarceration. I hope that this document 'educates' you and makes you aware of what was happening in the navy just 30 short years before I joined, and by that, I mean in RECENT MODERN TIMES !  To ease the download speed I have put the Report into three Portable Data Files [PDF].  Here they are:-









Research shows that despite the reason for Rifleman William Clarence CLAYTON being in detention, he died in the war wearing the uniform of his King and Country, and as such was buried with dignity in a Military Cemetery.  I found his details as recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission [CWGC]. In common with all, there is no mention of how he died, but posterity knows that he was killed [murder/manslaughter whatever] by Detention Barracks Staff, by his own men ! It is highly probable that he was an H.O., soldier and at the age of 40, still a bachelor....but read on ! 


No Surname Rank Service Number Date Of Death Age Regiment/Service Nationality Grave/Memorial Ref. Cemetery/Memorial Name
1 CLAYTON, WILLIAM CLARENCE Rifleman 6849893 17/03/1943 40 King's Royal Rifle Corps United Kingdom Grave 1686. FORT PITT MILITARY CEMETERY,


This is the entry from the CWGC book giving details of the man and date he died.  He was killed in Fort Darland but buried in Fort Pitt - click here for their web site Fort Pitt Military Cemetery, Chatham

This entry shows his parents [when possible the CWGC always state the parent[s] and/or  wife's details],


Initials: W C
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Rifleman
Regiment/Service: King's Royal Rifle Corps
Unit Text: 30th Bn.
Age: 40
Date of Death: 17/03/1943
Service No: 6849893
Additional information: Son of William and Emily Clayton, of Enfield Wash, Middlesex.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Grave 1686.

This plate shows the communal burial certificate of part of the cemetery


In Memory of

6849893, 30th Bn., King's Royal Rifle Corps
who died age 40
on 17 March 1943
Son of William and Emily Clayton, of Enfield Wash, Middlesex.
Remembered with honour

 The poignant Commonwealth War Graves Commendation for  CLAYTON_WILLIAM_CLARENCE.pdf

To his tomb stone either his mother or father [the other spouse presumed to be dead by this time] added this:-



The following newspaper stories tell the full story and fill in the much needed blanks.  They come from the Times of 1943 [various dates].  It transpires that Clayton was indeed a bachelor and that he was wrongly recruited as a sick man suffering from TB.  By 1943 he was a very sick man, but this had been missed by the Army Doctors and his distraught state, caused by his severe ill health, was misinterpreted by the Detention Barrack guards as he being a malingerer.  Perhaps understandably, given the doctors nod, he was roughly treated, and as a man quite near to death anyway, succumbed and died.  A tragically sad story, which on reflection, makes me wonder why the doctors were not severely punished with a prison sentence, for after all, it was they who were the establishment criminals and not the warrant officers, inhuman though their treatment of fellow soldiers was. However, as you will read, the warrant officers were tried and found guilty of manslaughter and were jailed for up to eighteen months, this despite a long service record with more than good assessments.


The clips from the TIMES are in date order. To best read these cuttings first get rid of the right hand scroll bar if it appears.  Do this by clicking in the top of the open piece on the □ icon.

Click to enlarge

The inquest 1

Click to enlarge

The inquest 2

Click to enlarge

The inquest 3

Click to enlarge

Chatham Magistrates

Click to enlarge

Maidstone Assizes 1

Click to enlarge

Maidstone Assizes 2

Click to enlarge

Maidstone Assizes 3 and the sentence


Before naval prisons were established, RN sailors if sentenced to imprisonment, were thrown into some of the vilest prisons in the land, although fortunately for a finite period whereas many of the civilians [especially debtors] could remain locked-up for long and ambiguous periods. Have a look here for an example, looking to the end of the page and particularly for reference to Marshalsea Prison INQUEST_ONBOARD_HMS_GANGES_OCTOBER_1822