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Welcome to Australia
photo by
G. Wilson

Opera House
photo by
G. Wilson

Welcome To Van Dieman's Land

From 1787 when the First Fleet sailed to Sydney Cove, until the year 1868 when the Hougoumont, the last convict transport, arrived at Freemantle, Western Australia, 875 shiploads of prisoners, averaging 200 convicts per ship, came to Australia. Transportation or exile from Britain as an alternative to execution became the prescribed penalty in 1717 and convicts were transported to the new colonies in America. This site for the sentenced was closed by the American Revolution.

As crime in the overcrowded cities became rampant, finding a new place for prisoners became an urgent matter. The British Government decided the solution was, out of sight, out of mind. Australia saved the day. This new British possession on the other side of the world needed a cheap work force and found it in the felons who provided the much-needed manpower and muscle. Hundreds of ships loaded with prisoners set sail, transported beyond the seas.


Bound for Botany Bay
For each ship having the good fortune to find it, many others were

Botany Bay, Australia


Known to Australians as Tassie, Tasmania is the smallest and only island state. The first European to see this island was the famous Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, who arrived there in 1642 and named it Van Dieman's Island after the governor of the Dutch East Indies. Van Dieman's Land became notorious as a British prison colony during the 19th century. Interest in its infamy is widespread, and penal sites that are still in existence are popular tourist attractions.

In addition to criminals brought from Great Britain, Canada also contributed to the prison population of Van Dieman's Land. Their crime, however, was neither theft nor murder, but Mackenzie's mayhem. The Firebrand, William Lyon Mackenzie, decided if he and like-minded liberals could not bring about responsible government peacefully, he would take a more direct approach, and convert Britain's colony to a republican democracy.

The Rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada resulted and no sooner had they started, than they were stopped, for want of support from the majority of the population, who, whatever the disaffection they felt for the Family Compact, were not roused to rebel. If Upper Canada's rebellion exhibited aspects of farcical comedy, its consequence for the convicted rebels was anything but laughable. A few were hanged for high treason, but most of those fated to fall from the gallows had their sentences commuted to transportation to a penal colony as an act of mercy. Those, whose sentences were so moderated, sorely suffered and doubtless some may even have regretted ever receiving the kind clemency. In all seventy-two of the Canadian culprits, men whose names never reached the pages of history, were captured, tried, found guilty and condemned to be transported to Van Diemen's Land, a devil's island located at the other end of the earth.

"The most humane punishment the wit of man ever devised." That is how the punishment meted out on Van Diemen's Land was described by Sir George Arthur. His praise for the penal colony's practices was a bit biased, since he fiercely served as its chief enforcer from 1824 to 1836. As lieutenant governor of the convict colony, Arthur's word was law and during the time the penal complex was under his "iron rule," he earned a reputation as a master "most tyrannical, arbitrary and capricious."

Penal Settlement 1830-1877

We followed the course of the convicts who came to Van Dieman's Land so long ago, and sailed across the Tasmanian Sea from the mainland of Australia to Bass Strait. After picking up our Pilot, we entered the Tamar River and sailed nine nautical miles to a place called Beauty Point. While it had, in fact, a great deal of natural beauty, its name came not from the scenery, but from, if you can believe, a bullock, called Beauty. From Beauty Point, our trip up the Tamar Valley took us past rolling hills and lovely valley outlooks to the city of Launceston.

Tamar River
photo by
G. Wilson

Map of Tamar River Valley

photo by
G. Wilson

We took a ride on the chairlift over famous Cataract Gorge that spans 457 metres. The gorge was created by an earthquake that ravaged the island years ago. The middle span of 308 metres is believed to be the the greatest single span of any chairlift in the world.

A Breathtaking view of Launceston's famous Cataract Gorge

Suspension Bridge
photo by
G. Wilson

Lugging Logs while chained

In Van Dieman's Land, this chain-gang of convicts lugging a log had to wade up to their wastes in bitter cold water of the Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania. In addition to harvesting the huge Tasmanian timber, convicts at the site were also employed in the shipbuilding industry, For a time, it was the largest shipbuilding operation in the Australian colonies. Convicts were set the task of cutting down Huon Pine trees, tying the logs together and rafting them down the river. Most were forced to do this work chained and under the watchful eye of guards.

An example of the magnificent monster timbers growing in the Tasmanian Rainforest

Convict Cell Remnants

Dog Guards To Deter Convicts from escaping.

Penny Royal World Complex
photo by
G. Wilson

Launceston is Australia's third largest city and one of its most popular tourist attrctions is the Penny Royal World. A ride on a barge went underground through gunpowder mills where we saw waterdriven machinerey as it was in the 19th century. We also sailed on a ship named Sandpiper, a 10-gun sloop-of-war on a man-made lake. The ship partially shown was 1/3 the size of Nelson's Victory.

Gun Terrace and Armoury
photo by
B. Wilson

Lavendar Farm

The best time to view the panorama of the worlds largest commercial lavender farm is in the morning sunshine. The air is clear, the colours are vivid and you certainly need quality time to take it all in. Stroll through the vast fields or rest under the old oak trees of Bridestowe Estate. The 130 acres delivers world class lavender oils, so take a tour of the oil-processing factory and check out the great gift shop too. Lavender cheese, chocolates, soaps, creams, oils and much more.

Ticket to Freedom

Medal to commemorate the cessation of transportation of convicts to Tasmania in 1853.

Finally, Van Dieman's Land was transformed, from a place of punishment, pain, fear and fatalities, to a lovely island renamed Tasmania, which yearly welcomes thousands of tourists , who marvel at its beauty and its bounty and ponder the penal remnants of a brutal time for countless souls, lost to the world and those they loved.


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