Tuesday, 12 December 2017




The above engraving represents a view of the penal establishment at Port Arthur, Tasmania, and as the question of the immediate or gradual abandonment of this depot for Tasmanian prisoners and old Imperial convicts, is again likely to be brought before Parliament, 
 our sketch will no doubt be all the more acceptable just now. At present there are nearly 300 prisoners at this settlement, but the government propose to reduce this number to 150 long sentenced men, by removing the others to the Hobart Town goals. It is further proposed to call in the guards at East Bay Neck and woody Island, and to build a rockade around a portion of the ground by prison labor so as to superintend the establishment with a smaller staff, and also permit the whole of Tasman’s Peninsula beyond a radius of four miles from the church (the spire of which can be seen in our engraving) to be thrown open for free settlement.

Weekly Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1872 - 1878), Saturday 4 October 1873, page 1 National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233105058 

Location of Port Arthur, Tasmania 
Courtesy of Wikipedia

 From what was once an accepted, if not admired, penal settlement, over years the attitudes changed. 

Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899), Tuesday 25 September 1860, page 2 
National Library of Australia

We have before us the Report of the
Select Committee appointed by the House
of Assembly to inquire into the system
under which tickets-of-leave are granted
tomen confined at Port Arthur. The com-
mittee sat seven times, and examined the 
Comptroller-General, the Police Magis-
trate of Hobart Town, the Inspector of
Police, and the Superintendent of the City
Police, Hobart Town.. The report states
that "during the period extending from
23rd September, 1859, to 30th June, 1860
the number of men discharged from Port
Arthur amounts to 161. The number of
men detained at Port Arthur in July, 1819,
was 573; in July, 1860, 5164. During
the last twelve months 225 have been dis-
charged with tickets of leave or pardons,
and about 216 sent down under judicial or
magisterial sentences, of whom 42 are the
same individuals. Out of 564 men now
detained at Port Arthur, only 24, or 4 per
cent. of the whole number, were originally
free." The commitee remark that '"every
succeeding return shows a gradual trans-
ference of the burden of malintaining these
criminals from the Imperial to the Colonial
Government, under the operation of that
most unrighteous regulation which pre-
scribes that all men convicted of crime,
after one year's enjoyment of a conditional
pardon, or expiration of their original
sentence of transportation, shall be re-
garded as colonial and not Imperial con-
victs. On lst July the relative numbers
18t58-Imperlal, 339 ; Colonial, 240.
1859-Imperlal,310 ; Colonial, 263.
1860--lmperial, 271 ; Colonial, 298."
The number of male convicts transferred
to Port Arthur from Norfolk Island on the
breaking up of the settlement there were
242; of whom, on lst September, 1860,
52 had become free by expiration of their
sentences; 32 had received conditional
pardons; 10 have been sent back to Syd-
noy ; 65 are holders of tickets of-leave in
Tasmania; 2 are lunatics; 30 are under
sentence at Port Arthur; 27 are absconders
illegally at large; 4 have died; 3 have
been hanged; and 5 are unaccounted for.
The number of male ticket-of-leave holders
under sentence of transportation on 30th
June, 1860, was 459. In concluding the
report the committee state that they
"would not advocate the adoption of a
general penal code more severe than that
which now exists. They entertain the be-
lief that short sentences, if rigidly carried
out to their full limit, are for more efficient
in repressing crime than more lengthened
periods subject to great reductions under
regulations of a varying character, and
liable to be capriciously administered; but
they are of opinion that the periods of
penal servitude prescribed by the existing
law ought to be extended with special
reference to this class of criminals, so as to
enable the Judges to take into considera-
tion their whole character and previous
career, and to pronounce such sentences as
will better guard the colony from a repeti-
tion of their crimes." With regard to the
criminals from Norfolk Island, the com
mittee say: "On the cessation of trans-
portation and the abandonment of Norfolk
Island as a Penal Establishment, the whole
of the desperate men who had been there
incarcerated were ruthlessly introduced
into this colony, not only without the con-
sent of its inhabitants, but against their
most earnest remonstrances. The neigh-
boring colony of Swan River has consented
that the criminals of Great Britain should
be banished to its shores. The people of
that colony are at this moment complain-
ing of the diminished number lately intro-
duced among them, and appear to regard a
continuance of transportation as essential
to their prosperity. The appliances of a
Penal Establishment are there in full
operation; and your committee believe
that the men whose presence is so hurtful
in this colony would, from the different
circumstances in which the people of Swan
River are placed, be far less injurious than
in Tasmania. Your committee, therefore,
deem the question of removing these
criminals from this colony to Swan River
worthy of the serious consideration of the
Government." The committee further
express their opinion "that the Governor
in Council should assume the entire con
trol of all persons ho!ding tickets-of-leave
or incarcerated at Port Arthur; and that
if such authority be not already possessed,
it ought to be immediately conferred by

Pardon issued to George Epping, 1848, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1835 for burglary and sent to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).  Australian Convict Records, Tasmania 
     State Library South Australia

Convict built church at Port Arthur  
CC BY-SA 3.0  (Creative Commons)

Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954), Monday 14 July 1913, page 4 
National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50715340 

We cannot compliment those indivi-
duals who are busying themselves about
the restoration of the decaying relics of
the old convict days at Port Arthur,
and have no sympathy with such morbid
sentimentalism. Port Arthur is boun-
tifully endowed by nature. It is one
of the most beautiful spots in our lovely
island. It ought to be associated with
rural peace, contentment, and prosperity.
It was designed by an All-Wise Provi
dence as the home of human felicity, and
where existence should attain its high
est and most idyllic dorm. It was made
a hell upon earth. For years the baser
passions in human nature ran riot there.
The chain, the lash, the solitary cell,
and other devices for inflicting torture
on human beings, were in daily use, and
we have stories of fierce dogs being
stationed along the narrow channel and
neck which divide the peninsula from the
mainland to prevent the escape of the
unhappy beings immured there. The
crimes or offences for which some of
them were transported would, to-day, be
regarded as amply atoned for by a few
weeks or months' imprisonment, but un
der the brutal laws which then prevailed
men and women were transported over
leagues of ocean, and were immured un
der a system which was a disgrace to the
nation. Marcus Clarke*  has given a
succession of lurid pictures illustrative of
the system, and while he doubtless exer-
cised the novelist's privilege of making
the most of his material, there are
those to-day in Tasmania who assert
it was not overdrawn. Of course, we
do not assert that all the officials at
Port Arthur in the old days were Man-
rice Freres, and there were doubtless
many who sought to alleviate the lot
of the unhappy prisoners. But is the
history of the days when Tasmania was
a convict settlement such as the average
healthy Tasmanian mind would seek to
perpetuate? Is it not a disgraceful re-
cord, which they would rather, if pos-
sible, see blotted out? There was some
talk of a museum containing relics of
the old days, and a suggestion was made
of making a charge for tourists to in
spect these degrading mementoes, but it
is to be hoped Parliament will not think
of spending public money on such an
object. If the church can be preserved
and used as a means of propagating
Christian doctrines, and for inculcating
the love of one's fellow men, the project
might be worth consideration; but it
would probably be more economical to
erect a new edifice, free from the taint
which surrounds everything associated

with the old penal system.

For the Term of his Natural Life  Marcus Clarke  A novel about a Port Arthur convict

 Port Arthur..

A postcard depicting a convict team ploughing a farm at Port Arthur, dated 1926  Public Domain

Inside the separate prison, Port Arthur, Tasmania  Public Domain

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