Little England – Van Diemen’s Land

With fellow picker Liz we headed South to Old Beach to find more work. We were lucky to find the last three spots on a cherry farm, near Hobart. The camping was on a hill overlooking one of Tasmania’s beautiful views.

Tasmania’s unpredictable, almost English summer treated us to a night of rain followed by a very humid first day of picking.

The next day we were unexpectedly joined by cherry pickers from the last farm and it was great to be reunited.

As we passed the 500 day mark on our impressive journey it was a great feat to ponder we were now at the closest landmass to Antarctica, the opposite end of the world to where we started our journey, 1 year, 4 months and 13 days ago.

Day 502

We had a great day out at Port Arthur, the convict penitentiary on the Tasman peninsula. It was established in 1833 as a site for repeat offenders of convicts brought to Australia and described as ‘the mill to grind rogues into honest men.’ At port Arthur they used discipline and punishment, religious and moral teachings to deter bad behaviour but also set about reeducating the men and a handful of women with one of 50 trades. The prison was a full scale community with a population of 2000 by 1840. The men lived in the penitentiary but surrounded by churches, the dockyards and military barracks for the men who watched over them. The commandant and higher military men moved their wives and children into the township which existed as a prison until 1877. As such their were areas of beautiful gardens and common spaces.

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Port Arthur was completely self sufficient, producing bricks, clothing, boots, boats and food all on convict labour, it was the only government prison to function at a profit!

Convict transportation to Van Diemen’s land stopped in 1853 and as convicts stopped flooding in it took more ageing and mentally ill convicts. Bush fires late in the century destroyed a lot of the buildings. It was renamed Canarvon and populated as a town as an attempt to forget its history however only a few years after this place shut it was functioning as a tourist site, people fascinated with its history. Visiting as a tourist now, parts are preserved as they would have been, and parts to show how things were at the turn of the 20th century where hotels and restaurants were set up to cater for honeymooners and the like.

We walked around the several properties on the site, the sun casting a rosy view on life here. The solemn feel set in as we got to the separate prison, a punishment which took over when lashes with the cat of nine tails fell from favour. This psychological punishment meant prisoners were incarcerated for 23 hours a day in complete silence, their one hour of solitary exercise was conducted in a way they would never seen another human, walking just far enough behind the guard so they would never even catch a glimpse. The silence was eerie, only broken by a session of chapel once a week where prisoners would stand in upright coffins to observe.

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We were also told of 200 escape attempts made during Port Arthur’s history. It’s position on the Tasman peninsula meant most attempts were made by sea, one man stealing a bathtub and making it 10 metres before it sunk. Other convicts stole the commandants dingy and made I to New South Wales before being caught there. The other way of escape was a thin strip called Eaglehawk neck to get to the rest of Tasmania. Here a man shot a kangaroo and tried to hop past the guards. Unfortunately, on small rations, the guards were so hungry they tried to shoot the kangaroo causing the man to surrender. Another escapee disguised himself in seaweed and tried to move ashore but alas was spotted as the clump of seaweed was moving against the tide.

We were also taken out on a boat to see the dock from the water. Many convicts would be involved in boat production. The ride also took us out to Point Puer, a boys prison on a spit of land which had detainees as young as 9. Charles Dickens visited and this is said to have inspired many of the characters in Oliver Twist. The ‘isle of the dead’ just in view was a cemetery of 1100 people, convicts and military who were at this place. Despite its history this site was beautiful, both out to sea and looking back at the penitentiary.

Another dark chapter of history on this site was as recent as 28th April 2006 when a lone gunman opened fire and killed 35 people injuring many more. We visited the peaceful memorial gardens which commemorated their lives.

Tasmania was originally named Van Diemen’s land after it was discovered by Abel Tasman in 1642. He names it after the Dutch East Indies governor. In 1803 it became Australia’s second biggest colony. Convicts were among the first settlers and after deportation stopped in 1856, it was in an attempt to change this looming image that resulted in the eventual changing of the name to Tasmania, after the Dutchman.

On our drive home we passed through Eagle hawk neck, beautiful coastline on either side.

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Our next day off was a contrast in weather and we drove up Mount Wellington for a clear but chilly view over Hobart city. It was a long and windy climb for an incredible view, expanses of houses spreading through the mountain ranges. An excerpt of an 1890’s travel guide described the mountain as ‘an easy climb for men and manageable for any female determined not to miss out!’ As the icy wind grew we headed back to the city for Devonshire cream tea and a walk around Battery point, tiny lanes of old Seaman’s cottages and antique shops.

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As it was Liz’s 21st birthday, our group all stayed the night in Hobart. She ended up with three birthday cakes, but very little recollection of the night!

The next day, January 26th, was Australia Day. Apparently tradition is to have BBQ, beers and listen to the ‘hottest 100.’ It marks the arrival of the first fleet in Sydney cove in 1788. The 11 ships contained 751 convicts, 250 soldiers, officials and wives under the command of Arthur Philip.

As we walked around Hobart we came across a protest, a group of people arguing a change of date of Australia Day. They were pointing out the need for a day which represents all races and creeds of Australians, not marking a period of white supremacy at the expense of the native owners of the land. An interesting consideration for progressive Australia? It is unfortunately very noticeable the lack of aboriginal communities. The well known decline of the native people due to conflict and European diseases means that there is little sign of aboriginal people.

We spent a relaxed day in the sun before returning back to the farm for our own BBQ ahead of our last day cherry picking.

And with more of Tasmania still to explore, up next is our long awaited post farm roadtrip.

Place names borrowed from the UK:

Cambridge
Perth
Melton Mowbray
Somerset
Hampshire
Sheffield
Bangor
St Helens
Ross
Tunbridge
Swansea
Orford
Lewisham

One comment

  1. Many parallels with the UK, not only the changeable weather but, the darker periods of its history and the on going challenge to integrate different cultures and peoples. What a fascinating place it seems. Thank you for sharing more of your insight and lovely photos to accompany the descriptions you give. XXXX
    ,

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