How many people get to live their dreams? I am..........!

This is my story from the time when Capt'n John and I first decided to sail around the big block, to circumnavigate this great land of ours, AUSTRALIA.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Tasmania's Sarah Island – A Penal Colony

An island lost in time
Friday 31st Jan 2014:
Sarah Island – A Penal Colony
The Gordon River
The Gordon River - Heritage Landing

Because we were miles deep into the wilderness country there was not phone, internet or UHF coverage. MrJ was able to get a regional weather report out of Charleville in Queensland via our HF radio. With these reports the weather looked good for a window to travel further south in the next couple of days but MrJ really did want to get a more up to date report before we made the decision to go.

life on the river

To be able to get this up to date report we needed to be out of the Gordon River, anchored closer to Strahan to get the wi-fi connection. We un-rafted from Rhapsody, said out fond farewells (Steve and Kerrin were staying in the river for a bit longer) and then motored down the river. We were blessed with some spectacular reflection on the still dark waters of the river. We motored out of the river mouth into Macquarie Harbour with not enough wind to put up a sail. We motored down the harbour passing many Trout Fish Farms to another pretty anchorage on the western side at Double Cover, stopping for a short visit at the ex-penal colony island, Sarah Island before the wind change was due to come in.
Sarah & Grummat Islands - Macquarie Harbour
Sarah Island with a dark and fascinating convict past was once a notorious convict prison and is a powerful reminder of the brutal treatment of Tasmania's convicts. During the 1800’s the thickly-wooded Sarah Island was chosen as the site for the new penal settlement after Hobart. The Prince Leopold, one of two brigs carrying the founding party, was forced back to Hobart due to bad weather. The other brig, the Sophia, arrived in January 1822 with Commandant Lt. Cuthbertson, his officials, a detachment of soldiers, and 66 male and 8 female convicts on board. On arrival, the ground had to be cleared and shelters erected even though the sawyers and necessary tools had been aboard the Prince Leopold. Shortages of food, clothing and tools reached crisis levels because the Sophia took three months to return. The settlement was under the administration of Commandant Capt. Butler. Dangerous shipping conditions, lack of supplies and poor soil plagued the settlement. The difficulties were compounded by episodes of convict unrest and attempted escapes. Nevertheless some progress was made. Weatherboarded cottages were built for the Commandant and his officers, and out stations for procuring timber, lime and coal, and cultivating vegetables were established.

A brick gaol had been built by 1826, the bakehouse in1828 and substantial brick and stone penitentiary was erected in 1828. The remains of these I saw while on the island. Industries, including ship building, tanning, shoe-making and brick making were developed. David Hoy was employed as Master Shipwright from 1828 - 1832. Under his management the Sarah Island shipyards became a highly organised and productive industrial centre. Over 100 vessels were built during the life of the settlement, including a 226 tonne barque, 5 brigs, 3 cutters, 7 schooners and 24 sloops.
At low tide, the remains of the extensive log wharves can still be seen along the shore.
The island and outlying stations housed up to 385 male convicts. A few women convicts were kept on the island to work as domestic servants for the officers and their wives.
Grummet Island as seen from Sarah Island
Less the half a mile from Sarah Island is the tiny rocky outcrop of Grummet Island. This was indeed a Hell on earth for the convict prisoners of Van Diemen's Land. It was here in 1822 that the originally a group of women was housed but were removed after a few months due to moral and disciplinary problems. A report of June 1822 makes obscure references to the unsoldierlike behaviour of three soldiers that visited the women. The three men were court martialled.
Later it was the place where the worst male convicts, the offenders and troublemakers were sent at night. As there was no wharf, the men had to wade through chest deep water or swim to get ashore. They would then have to sleep either naked or in wet clothes throughout the night and then wade back to the boat in the morning for another day of hard labour.

Grummet Island 1824 with prisoners towing a raft of logs to Sarah Island on the left
The Women of Sarah Island
There is very little information is available on the women who lived at Sarah Island and the Macquarie Harbour penal settlement. What information that does exist shows that the female population was composed of a handful of convicts, the wives of the military and civil officers, and perhaps surprisingly, the wives of a small number of convicts. The Reverend Scholfield recorded 14 women and 27 children in August 1828, the highest number known to reside on Sarah Island. In the last year of the settlement, several Aboriginal women were brought to the island by George Augustus Robinson during his conciliation campaigns. Women convicts were gradually moved to Hobart. A report of 1828 reveals only one female prisoner remained at the settlement, while a further 13 women, wives of the military and civilian officers lived with their husbands.
Grummet Island 2014
Less information is available which might reveal the lives that these women led, other than the assignment of some convict women as servants to civil officers and their families. Women in these positions lived in outbuildings attached to the quarters in which they worked. One of the tasks assigned to the female convicts was the production of lime. Shells obtained from the entrance of the harbour were burned to produce the lime that was so desperately needed to fertilise the poor soils of the settlement.
One of the female convicts, Jane Davis, was sent to Macquarie Harbour with her husband, William. Both were guilty of receiving stolen sheep, although it appears that Jane was the guiltier partner. Jane, who was born in Tasmania, was sentenced for 14 years. Punishment records show that Jane was punished at Macquarie Harbour for disobedience of orders and sending an improper message to Mr Barnes, the Assistant Surgeon. Her punishment was to wash 40 prisoners' shirts weekly. Both Jane and her husband were later sent to Maria Island.

some of the ruins of the penal colony
Mary Ann Furze was transported for seven years. On arrival in Van Diemens Land she was assigned to a position of domestic servant. She absconded from this position for several months, an act which led to her being sent to Macquarie Harbour for the rest of her sentence. Like many convicts, Mary found herself in solitary confinement on more than one occasion for disobedience of orders and neglect of duty. On one occasion she was given seven days solitary confinement for Neglect of duty, using threatening language to the Dispenser of medicine and destroying the fresh water kept for hospital use.
Sarah Simmonds was sent to Sarah Island and assigned as a servant to the last doctor of the settlement. After an affair with the Commandant's clerk, and being caught visiting his quarters, she was deemed unsuitable for the settlement and returned to Hobart.
While several soldiers and civil officers were accompanied to Sarah Island by their wives and children, there is no record of the officers being accompanied by their wives. The largest family of a civil officer was that of Thomas Cole, who lived with his wife on the island. Later Mrs Cole became embroiled in a scandal over the smuggling of tobacco for one of the prisoners.
there were no trees, only stone buildings and prisoners
The Pilot, James Lucas, lived with a woman known as Margaret Keefe and four children at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour. Initially the couple lived together unmarried and were consequently shunned by the Commandant. When they were married, the Commandant did not attend the wedding.
Sarah Island Penal Colony

Lempriere was also accompanied by his wife, Charlotte and two children. Together with Reverend Scholfield they set up a school for the prisoners. The Reverend Scholfield was similarly accompanied by his wife, Martha, who remained on the Island for the duration of her husband's stay. Martha suffered a miscarriage shortly after arriving. The couple were to have no children.


A small number of well-behaved prisoners were allowed to have their wives with them on Sarah Island, where they lived in small huts. There appears to have been no more than two such women on the island at any one time. Not all the appeals of convicts to have their wives with them met with success, as the following response by Governor Arthur to one such petition demonstrates: “Two worse characters there cannot be, and I will not approve of the woman being transported to the same place as her husband”. was a gloomy place in the eyes of a prisoner, from the privations he suffered there, in being shut out from the rest of the world, and restricted to a limited quantity of food, which did not include fresh meat; from being kept under a military guard; from the hardship he endured... as well as from the liability to be flogged or subjected to solitary confinement, for small offences.
Backhouse and Walker, 1832
MrJ and I had anchored AR off Sarah Island (S42’ 23.393/E145’27.342) for a short stay while going ashore. When the winds kicked in we moved to Double Cove (S42’20.448/E145’20.364) on the western side of the harbour for the night before leaving Macquarie Harbour the next morning for an overnight passage down to Port Davey. The holding in Double Cove was very good in strong mud against the fresh SW winds that had kicked in. MrJ and I didn’t go ashore as I was still reliving the memory of the runaway AR in Strahan. I could see that there was the ruins of a small jetty on the W shore where there is supposed to be a walking track into the forest.
1100hs the next morning, the first day of February, AR was leaving the Macquarie Harbour with a good weather forecast, clear skies and hopefully calm seas.

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