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Historian shares the secret romance of 18th century prison tattoo culture

victorian tattoos
The majority of documented 18th century tattoos are on prisoners, skewing people's perceptions

We've come a long way from assuming everyone with a tattoo is a criminal, but there is a reason why being inked has strong connotations with prison.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the British and American navies recorded tattoos on their enlisted men because it made them easier to identify if they deserted and went on the run. For similar reasons, prisons began to record tattoos and other identifying marks on inmates, including convicts shipped to Australia.

So while there were a lot of tattoos in prison, there was also a lot of tattooing happening elsewhere which simply wasn’t recorded in the same way, skewing future generations' perceptions