Convicts on the West Coast of Tasmania

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The remains of the stone penitentiary building on Sarah Island at the Macquarie Harbour Penal Station

The West Coast of Tasmania has a significant convict heritage. The use of the West Coast as an outpost to house convicts in isolated penal settlements occurred in the era 1822–33, and 1846–47.

The main locations were Sarah Island (known by many in the late twentieth century as Settlement Island) and Grummet Island in Macquarie Harbour. The entrance to Macquarie Harbour was known as Hells Gates and the play on this name has travelled from its naming in the 1830s to Paul Collin's book published in 2002.

Convict parties used the land around the harbour as a work area as far as Gordon River. The prison's existence was for only 15 years, but its hold on the imagination have spawned a significant literature.

Physical heritage[edit]

Most physical traces of the convict era were abandoned or lost. Sarah Island was allegedly vandalised for building materials in the 1890s mining communities. However enough remains that guided tours of the island can still give a feeling of the prison. Piners also have periodically discovered convict era items during their work along the rivers.

The Frederick[edit]

The Frederick was a merchant ship stolen in 1834 by escaping convicts from Sarah Island. It has inspired several books and a play.

The Ship that Never Was, by the Round Earth Theatre Company, at the Strahan Visitor Centre, in Strahan, is a long running play about a successful escape. It was written by Richard Davey, a descendant of Governor Davey who worked on Sarah Island as a guide and researcher. He has also written The Sarah Island Conspiracies — an account of twelve voyages to Macquarie Harbour and Sarah Island (Hobart, 2002) and two pamphlets — a narrative of the event the play was based on and Sarah Island - The People, Ships and shipwrights — a guided tour. Collins refers to Davey in his Hells Gates book.

The Ship Thieves by Sian Rees focuses upon James Porter one of the group of convicts on The Frederick, and manuscripts found in the Dixson Library in Sydney. Rees had previously written about a very different ship of convicts — the Lady Juliana.

No mention of Davey or his work on the Sarah Island convicts is noted at all in Rees's book about James Porter, yet dealing with the same subject.

Fiction[edit]

Film[edit]

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Butler, Richard. The Men That God Forgot. London, 1977 ISBN 0-552-10469-8
  • Brand, Ian. Sarah Island Penal Settlements 1822-1833 and 1846-1847. Launceston, 1984. ISBN 0-949457-31-0
  • Collins, Paul. Hell's Gates/ The terrible journey of Alexander Pearce, Van Diemen's Land cannibal. South Yarra, 2002. ISBN 1-74064-083-7
  • Davey, Richard Innes. The Sarah Island Conspiracies. Hobart, 2002. ISBN 0-9750051-0-3
  • Flanagan, Richard. Gould's Book of Fish Sydney, 2001. ISBN 0-330-36378-6
  • Julen, Hans. The Penal Settlement of Macquarie Harbour Launceston, 1976. ISBN 0-9599207-3-0
  • Pearn, John. "Sarah Island/The infamous prison island in Macquarie Harbour", Van Dieman's Land. Chapter 1 of:
    • Pearn, John and Carter, Peggy. Editors. Islands of Incarceration/ Convict and Quarantine Islands of the Australian Coast by Seven Authors. Brisbane, 1995. ISBN 0-86776-599-2
  • Pink, Kerry.G. Through Hells Gates/ A History of Strahan and Macquarie Harbour. Strahan, 1984. ISBN 0-646-36665-3 Chapter 3: Macquarie Harbour: Convicts' Hell
  • Porter, James. (1981) The capture of the Frederick, Macquarie Harbour Van Diemen’s Land 1834 Adelaide : Sullivan’s Cove. ISBN 0-909442-19-3
  • Rees, Siân . The Ship Thieves. London: Aurum Press. 2006. ISBN 1-84513-140-1
  • Whitham, Charles (2003). Western Tasmania - A land of riches and beauty (Reprint 2003 ed.). Queenstown: Municipality of Queenstown. 
2003 edition — Queenstown: Municipality of Queenstown.
1949 edition — Hobart: Davies Brothers. OCLC 48825404; ASIN B000FMPZ80
1924 edition — Queenstown: Mount Lyell Tourist Association. OCLC 35070001; ASIN B0008BM4XC
    • notably the 'Account of Macquarie Harbour' by T.G. Lempriere from the Tasmanian Journal of natural Science of 1842–6 on pages 39-46 of Charles Whitham

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander, Alison, ed. (2005). The Companion to Tasmanian History. Hobart, Tasmania: Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania. ISBN 1-86295-223-X. OCLC 61888464. 
  • Alexander, Alison (2010). Tasmania's convicts: how felons built a free society. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, ISBN 9781742372051
  • Robson, L. L. (1983). A History of Tasmania. Volume I. Van Diemen's Land From the Earliest Times to 1855. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-554364-5.
  • Robson, L. L. (1991). A History of Tasmania. Volume II. Colony and State From 1856 to the 1980s. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-553031-4.