Febrarury, 2005

Original Entry (extract)

The [ferry] captain announced they were turning around to go to Sarah Island first and we'd come back to Hells Gates later, when the tide was running the other way and it was, hopefully, less windy. And so we headed for Sarah Island.

As we got closer, we could see some of the ruins.

We'll take a break here for a history lesson. Anyone who feels they are familiar with the history of Sarah Island may skip down to the next photo. Right, all ready?

Sarah Island was the site of the first penal settlement in Van Diemen's Land. Started about 1823, just 20 years after the British settlers arrived, it was a place of secondary punishment for repeat offenders. It was intended to be a deterrent. "Behave or you'll be sent to Macquarie Harbour." So, the punishment was brutal - flogging with a modified cat-o-nine-tails, solitary confinement - and the conditions were bad. A slave labour camp. From which escape was almost impossible -- an island in the middle of a remote harbour, surrounded by impenetrable forest (and ss we'll see later, by forest we're not talking just tall trees with some bushes growing down low) and a long way overland to civilisation. Anyone that did manage to escape, would most likely starve to death.

Some did. Most of the successful escapes were by water, stealing a whale boat or ship. There were some other ways (don't read if you're squeamish)

In later years there was a change of management, who realised that treating men well resulted in better works. I think it was in this later period that most of the shipbuilding happened. In the early year, it was timber cutting, particularly the lovely Huon Pine, which as being an attractive timber doesn't rot and it wonderful for ship building.

The settlement was finally abandoned in 1834, in favour of Port Arthur, which was much more accessible from Hobart.

Back to the present.


Gaol. Six solitary confinement cells (I think five are visible there) with their thick walls. Physcial punishment (floggin) combined with pyschological punishment (isolation), guaranteed to break a man's spirit?

I know a couple of those people!

The penitentiary is from the later years. The penitentiary was the barracks/dormitory, as opposed to the gaol, which was for punishment.

You can't really see the wind in the photos. As one guy in the group said, "just sending them here with the wind would be bad enough, don't need to work too". Although it was coming from a different direction than usual.

We had an hour on the island and the tour took up most of that, so there wasn't really time to look around on our own, unless we skipped the tour, before we had to head back to the ferry and leave. Is that blue sky starting to appear?

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