Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sarah Island – Island hides its penal past.

Today the cruise boats on Macquarie Harbour stop for about an hour at Sarah Island and tourists are given a conducted tour of a portion of the old convict settlement. The commentary is light-hearted and the few ruins which remain give a basic outline of the layout of the buildings dated to around 1820.
I had come to Sarah Island as part of my research into Tasmanian bushranger Matthew Brady so after doing the conventional conducted tour I wanted to visit the other parts of the island and see it for my self – so I returned a few days later.
It’s hard to imagine that the island of 15 acres (the size of my block in Bakers Hill, Western Australia) accommodated several hundred prisoners; that it was devoid of vegetation as it had been clear by the convicts; that it had numerous stone buildings and high wooden fences and that it was a place of incredible hardship, and severe punishment.

Wearing plenty of insulated clothing, I was cold in the wind even though it was a sunny day.
Goodness knows how the men could survive on limited rations, with no heating, no beds, often saturated from head to foot and no change of clothes or extra clothing. And apart from that, any complaint resulted in the prisoner receiving up to 100 lashes from the cat’o’nine tails. Few convicts managed to escape from the island and survive to tell the tale.
Matthew Brady managed to escape in a whaleboat with several other convicts.
It is the story of this 'gentleman' bushranger of Van Diemen's Land that I am proposing to write into a fictionalized novel.
Pics: Sarah Island (centre) and tiny Grummet Island in Macquarie Harbour and the ruins of the Old penitentiary

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