Characters from the Colonies
I have created a collage using some of the pictures that are on display in the Museum housed in the Asylum complex. These pictures say it all! A truly moving experience to visit this very historic site! You can search the Convict Study Centre database for your own links to Port Arthur’s 19th century inhabitants.
Port Arthur in Tasmania is a former convict town settlement and officially Tasmania’s top tourist destination. In 1830 Port Arthur started as a timber station and three years later in 1833, became the destination for the hardest convicted British and Irish criminals. The Port Arthur prison officially closed in 1877.
Starting from left to right:
The Industrial Revolution
Thousands of country folk flocked to the towns and cities to find work in the new industrial centres. Many other skilled craftworkers were thrown out of work. They blamed the new machines for taking the bread out of their children’s mouths.
Robert Mason was sentenced to transportation for life for breaking machinery or, in his words: “because we advocated the cause of him who lived in a land of plenty, yet never knew what it was to have enough”.
Soldiers and Sailors no more
During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1789-1815) many men found work in the British Army and Royal Navy. At the end of the war tens of thousands were laid off.
Hector MacDonald was discharged from the Royal Navy in 1814. He spent three years tramping the countryside in search of work before he was transported for 14 years for stealing a fishing boat.
A Crime Wave?
More and more people lost their jobs and started stealing to make ends meet. It seemed to many middle-class observers that crime was out of control. They wanted the Government to do more to protect property and personal safety.
At age 17, Nathaniel Harding was sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing a handkerchief at Greenwich Fair. The gaoler wrote on his prison record: supposed to belong to the gangs that plague such places.
The woes of Ireland
Between 1798 and 1848, Ireland experienced a major rebellion, a land war and a devastating famine that killed over a million people. One in four of all convicts transported to Australia were tried in Ireland.
In 1799 James Dempsey was transported from Wicklow for ‘being present at an action near Ballyellis were several Britons and yeoman were killed.’ His fellow rebels, Michael Carr, Nicholas Delany, Edward Neil, John Kavanagh and Patrick Stafford were sentenced to death.