Tasmania

Convicts & Colonists in Tasmania

My first introduction to Tasmania was a historical one, specifically Tasmania’s history as “Van Diemen’s Land”, a settlement for convicts and colonists.  Tasmania loves its heritage and really loves to brag about it.

First up on the agenda after landing in Hobart was a walking tour. Our walking tour started at Cascades Brewery (Australia’s oldest brewery!) although our afternoon had nothing to do with beer. We joined “Louisa’s Walk”, which was part play, part guided walk, centred on a convict woman named Louisa, who was sent to Australia in 1841 for stealing a loaf of bread. She was sentenced to 7 years – sentences came in 7 year chunks only – and her four children in the UK were left on their own, as the oldest at 14 was deemed old enough to take care of them. Heaven only knows where they ended up. Louisa was sent to Hobart, to a women’s prison in the Cascades area, known as “The Factory”.

Tasmania

Tasmania

From Hobart it’s a short drive to the historic village off Richmond.  A very quaint Georgian village stuffed with gorgeous Georgian houses, old churches, pubs, as well as antique stores and little gift shops. We stayed in a beautiful old brick house, Mrs Currie’s House, which was built around 1820 or so and was once upon a time the pub. It was very sweet.

Tasmania

Tasmania

The entire town seemed to be historic. We went for a walk to the Richmond Bridge, built in 1823 (Australia’s oldest bridge!), St John’s Catholic Church, consecrated in 1837 (Australia’s oldest Catholic church still in use!), St Luke’s Anglican Church, built in 1834 by convict labour and the Richmond Gaol built in 1825. The Gaol was truly creepy, and the little solitary confinement cells which plunged the unlucky inhabitants into pitch black for 24 hours had me longing for sunshine after only a few seconds.

Tasmania

Tasmania

Our next destination was Port Arthur, which was one of the largest convict settlements in the early 1800s. Its convict history started in the early 1830s and lasted for about 20 years, until the early 1850s. There were a number of reasons to end transportation in 1852, but the final nail in the coffin was the discovery of gold, as it was thought that free passage to the goldfields wasn’t much of a disincentive. It was a much larger site than I had ever expected, however it had to be big, as it housed around 1800 convicts at any one time. Add on the officers, policemen, doctors and nurses from the hospital, workers at the law courts, and there could be around 2300 people there. The site was massive, and we did a whirlwind tour and saw as much as we could in around 3 hours.

Tasmania

Tasmania

I hadn’t realised before I arrived that this wasn’t the usual convict prison for those sent straight from the UK, but this was where the career crims where sent – the thieves and murderers in the new colony, the recidivist offenders. This made the last part of our Port Arthur visit even more interesting, as their stories added flavour and ambiance to the Ghost Tour. All of the Ghost Tours depart after dark, so you’re almost guaranteed to feel a little spooked before you start. But then the guide begins the ghostly tales and these stories of evil villains and friendly apparitions alike seemed designed to scare the living daylights out of both young and old. We visited Australia’s “third most haunted house”, although how that was defined was a little unclear. We finished off in the “Separate Prison”, an area which even in the daytime gave me the creeps. It was developed in order to experiment on prisoners with new-fangled methods of isolation in order to punish the mind. From what I could gather it was all about messing with their heads. So as to whether or not ghosts really exist or not, who can say. However when we got back to our B&B for the night and reviewed our pictures for the day, all of the photos my mother took on the ghost tour, and only these photos, were wiped from her camera. So how’s that for mystery?

 

Tasmania

Tasmania

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