Hobart and districts, which sprawl up the shoreline of the Derwent River, hold a wonderful history and is one of the major draws to visiting Tasmania. It is a history that the Government tried to loose back in 1856 when they renamed the southern Island of Australia, Tasmania.
Australia’s convict history is something for which many people now hold pride, myself included. I am proud of the struggle my ancestors overcame, proud of their ingenuity and their ability to survive the early convict era of our beautiful country. The early convicts often faced more hardships than the aboriginal population did in those very early days and they overcame this, as did many of the native tribes people who lived near the colonial settlements. Murder, mayhem and mystery is the legacy of both these early Aussie populations and both of these people, as victimized and as brutal as their lives often were, did overcome their struggles even if so many died doing so. The Aboriginal struggle, though, has a much longer history of conflict, one that stretches out to touch us even today.
The convicts left their vilification behind quite early in our history, as it was something that was easier to hide. Many buried it soundly until it became popular to have descended from convicts in the late 1980’s, as it is now becoming popular to be descended from the Aboriginal tribes.
It is a struggle through adversity. Though the struggle many of the tribal descendants feel still goes on in many places, I have no doubt though that they too will triumph in the end, as did so many Aussies before them.
Our convict history was some 70-80 years long but rather than get into the semantics of it… lets look at the realities and visit the lives of a few Tassie convicts. Included in the convict histories that I know most intimately, are two brothers, young teenagers who were exiled to Van Diemans Land for trivial crimes of poverty, as were so many of our convicts. Too young to work, too young to live independently, they were sent to Point Puer at Port Arthur penitentiary for incorrigible men in the 1830’s.
Port Arthur was a penal settlement for 2nd timer offenders mostly, or political prisoner’s who offended the Government of Great Britain or the Upper Social strata in general and it was a place of dread and brutal punishment. Point Puer was sanctioned as the very first delinquent boys home, in an attempt to separate the supposed hardened felon from the numerous young lads and children being sent out from Britain for what were petty crimes. They simply didn’t know what to do with these boys. Girls were easy to deal with, they were servants, or indentured slaves and in demand largely, but the boys were another matter.
If you come to Tasmania, then Port Arthur is a must to visit and is only a few short hours drive from Hobart. The whole peninsula was in fact the prison and it has a brutal history. Being banished from your country was the convict’s punishment, and to be bound into servitude meant you worked at what ever the Governor decreed until such time as you were granted your Ticket of Leave or freedom, be that by deed or servitude.
Our two youngsters lived at Port Arthurs ‘boys home’ for a number of years. They caused as much trouble as many young teens do, and the made lots of infamous friends no doubt. You see… it was mostly the men from Port Arthur who went on to become the Bushrangers of the day, something that is poorly acknowledged. Our Bushrangers ranged all throughout the Heritage stretch in Tasmania, from Hobart to Launceston. They were men such as Matthew Brady, or the Gentleman Bushranger, who preferred the district closer to Launceston. He was eventually hung for murder in Hobart, but murder can read as defence when someone is shooting at you.
Bushranging was a very tenuous affair and the men who ranged through the bush where mostly simply trying to survive. Once you took to the ways of the outlaw and actually told others to ‘stand and deliver’ at the point of a gun, you knew your days were numbered and you also knew that if you offended your victims, or actually shot a Redcoat or police officer, then you would likely hang.
Martin Cash explains reality in his memoirs. It was a simple fact, one readily accepted by the men who found the only freedom they could in the bush.
It was in the same decade that Martin Cash ranged around Hobart hills and surrounding district that our own two teenagers took to the bush once they were granted their Tickets of Leave in 1843. Young men now, they knew little about how to survive in town so once they had worked out that getting drunk held little attraction, they hired themselves out around Hobart and Richmond as labourers, this for a time while work was to be had. When there was little work, they took to the bush to survive, as did so many others. This involved a spot of thievery, a spot of trouble and more mischief than they preferred to take credit for. In town, and somewhat drunk you ran the risk of being seconded by choice or chance to a life on the seas as a whaler, sealer or sailor, amongst other considerable town hazards. In town you lived under the watchful eye of a penal settlement and the chances of offending someone were pretty good.
Like Martin Cash & Co, our two young men ended up convicted yet again. Our two bothers were caught for sheep stealing from Richmond and there in the gaol on a shutter you can find a bit of graffiti they left behind to mark their passage as 2nd offenders. This time they were sent to Norfolk Island, under the sadistic control of a Major Childs and there they remained, with Martin Cash, Jacky Jacky and so many more until the riot that shut the penal settlement down.
Martin Cash, who knew well how to range through the bush around Hobart, settled there at Glenorchy and was one of the few ‘bushrangers’ who was tried for shooting at a Redcoat, to die of old age. Our brothers too, died of old age, one in Sydney Town and the other still in Tasmania and their lives read like a page of history now, one that I often revisit.
Their descendants are still ranging through the much loved Aussie bush, we don’t get up to the same antics but the bush we range through, is still the same bush. Time moves on… season’s changes as does the world around us.
Jan is a author and traveller and you can discover more of her blogs under the Oldies at Large Tab