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Convict Years in Van Dieman's Land

Convicts arrived in Van Diemen's Land, with Lieutenant Bowen in 1803, to establish a settlement in the colony. Penal settlements were constructed by convict labour at Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour in 1822, at Maria Island in 1825, and Port Arthur in 1830. The convicts to arrive at Sarah Island were harshly treated and worked in atrocious conditions to supply timber, firstly for construction of the penal settlement and later for ship building and to supply timber for Hobart Town.

Huon Pine was harvested from the banks of Macquarie Harbour a cold and damp environment the convicts were constantly wet and worked from daylight until dark, often in chains sometimes in waist deep water. Their punishment was flogging with the cat-o'-nine-tails.

Sarah Island was closed in 1833 and the convicts transferred to Port Arthur penal settlement. The first convicts to arrive at Port Arthur were also worked like slaves to establish a timber industry in the surrounding forest. Huge logs were carried out of the forest by up to 70 convicts working in heavy leg irons, Many men were killed being crushed by the logs they carried.

Convicts sent to Port Arthur were mostly repeat offenders, they were dealt with harshly with the worst convicts assigned to the chain gangs. Port Arthur soon gained a reputation as "hell on earth". To prevent escape the "Dog Line" was established at the narrow isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, the area was illuminated by lamps at night and patrolled by twenty five sentries and a line of nine hungry dogs. Port Arthur's was continually sent convicts until Britain began to wind down the penal system in 1851.

May 26th 1853, saw the last convict transport ship dock in Hobart Town. Britain had sent over 67,000 convicts to Van Diemen's Land since first the first settlement. The infamous and brutal Port Arthur penal colony " was finally closed in 1877.

Convict Ships, River Derwent
Sarah Island, Macquarie Harbour
Port Arthur Penal Colony


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