18th-century convict tattoos offered free in Shoreditch

Common tattoos convicts wore in 18th and 19th centuries

Common tattoos convicts wore in 18th and 19th centuries - Credit: 19 Crimes

A weekend pop-up tattoo parlour in Shoreditch has been offering free tattoos honouring 18th-century convicts shipped to Australia for committing any one of 19 infractions. 

It was the idea of 19 Crimes, a wine brand, which delved into the history of tattoos worn by convicts in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Matt Lodder... 'Convicts revealed through their tattoos to be more than simply criminals'

Matt Lodder... 'Convicts revealed through their tattoos to be more than simply criminals' - Credit: 19 Crimes

University lecturer Dr Matt Lodder found symbols such as anchors and hearts were common and, of course, women — even mermaids figured on his top 10 list of designs uncovered. 

"These convicts are revealed through their tattoos to be more than simply criminals,” he said. “The stories of the men and women who were transported to the other side of the world were human beings with social connections and profound emotions familiar to us today.”   

Navies recorded the tattoos of enlisted men to identify them if they ever deserted and went on the run, he found.


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Between 1780 and 1925, prisons also recorded tattoos as identifying marks on inmates.   

Wine and mermaids... frequent themes of convicts' tattoos

Wine and mermaids... frequent themes of convicts' tattoos - Credit: 19 Crimes

The ink parlour is called The Cl(ink), after The Clink jail where convicts were held on the Southbank before being shipped out.

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It is open September 11 and 12 at the Ace Corner Shop in Shoreditch High Street, corner of Bethnal Green Road, 10am to 6pm.  

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