​Alastair Bett
​Alastair Bett
Travel Tip

8 Ways To Uncover Tassie’s Convict Past

Kathryn Leahy
​It’s a dark and compelling journey into Tasmania’s convict past and as you move from convict site to convict site the plot thickens. The stories grow darker as you build a picture of the people transported to an island at the world’s edge.

The convict story

The early settlement of Australia is a story of European exploration and colonisation, long ocean voyages, harsh conditions and the settlement of a strange new land. It’s also a deeply personal story of the forced migration of over 70,000 men, women and children, separated from family, and transported to the other side of the world. Their labour filled the Tasmanian landscape with sandstone streetscapes and grand country estates, much of it still used today.

people walking through a historic site filled with ruins
Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority
Port Arthur Historic Site

Port Arthur Historic Site and Ghost Tour

Port Arthur is a remarkably intact and evocative convict prison with ruins and complete buildings set in English gardens. Step into the past at this World Heritage listed historic site and learn of Port Arthur’s story and the hardships faced at this isolated prison at the end of the earth. Come nightfall, take a tour  and let your guide lead the way telling chilling stories of the apparitions and strange occurrences across the settlement.

night time ghost tour through a convict site
Jonathan Wherrett
Port Arthur Historic Site: Paranormal Investigation Experience

Coal Mines Historic Site

Lesser known is the island’s first operational mine, the Coal Mines Historic Site. Near Saltwater River on the Tasman Peninsular, it served as a punishment station for men who committed serious offences in the colony.  By the 1840s, almost 600 prisoners along with officers and their families lived and worked at the mines.

couple learning about convict history
Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority
Coal Mines Historic Site

Woolmers and Brickendon Estates

Visiting Woolmers Estate and its outbuildings in Longford is like walking through a door into the life of a successful early Australian settler, his family and the convicts who worked for them.  Also at Woolmers, the National Rose Garden presents a comprehensive view of the history and development of the rose.

walking through the national rose garden
Simon Griffiths
The National Rose Garden, Woolmers

From Woolmers, you can follow a path lined with hedgerows to another grand colonial estate, Brickendon Estate. Now in its seventh generation of farming, Brickendon was once a place of Assignment, where convicts were placed under the control of a private landowner as a free labour force and given food and shelter while undergoing religious instruction.

old convict built historic farm
Heath Holden
Brickendon Estate

Cascades Female Factory

The Cascades Female Factory  tells the stories of the women and children transported to Tasmania.  Often overwhelmed by the male convict narratives, this historic site, built in 1828, gives their stories a strong and poignant voice.

historic convict female factory
Jonathan Wherrett
Cascades Female Factory

Darlington Probation Station

Darlington Probation Station  on Maria Island off Tasmania’s east coast, is a place of outstanding natural beauty and heritage. Convicts were sent to Darlington to be reformed through work, education and religious instruction. At Darlington, you can sleep in the 1830s convict penitentiary, prepare your meal in the mess hall or walk along one of the many convict roads. Maria is also a national park where there are no private vehicles and the wombats, Cape Barren geese and kangaroos run with far more freedom than the convicts ever did.

aerial of darlington probation station
Flow Mountain Bike
Darlington Bay Aerial

Sarah Island

Picturesque Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour was the site of Tasmania’s oldest convict settlement, operating from 1822 to 1833. The island is near Strahan in the heart of Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area. Take a harbour tour to the island and learn of the brutal history of one of the world’s severest penal settlements.

convict ruins on an island
Rob Burnett
Sarah Island

The Ship That Never Was theatre performance

The Ship That Never Was, presented at the Visitor Centre in Strahan on Tasmania’s west coast, tells the true story of a convict escape from Sarah Island, brought to life in this humorous and engaging play. By day you can cruise up the stunning Gordon River and walk in the footsteps of these convicts on the very island where they lived, worked and escaped.

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