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Friday, May 17, 2013

Sarah Island

Sarah Island is situated in the Macquarie Harbour and was a penal settlement before Port Arthur. It was established about 1820 and was where repeat offenders were taken. Surrounded by water it made for the ideal "stockade" but really, WHAT were they thinking!!?

There was no fresh water source on the island so it all had to be brought to the island and one of the first things they did was cut all the trees down. Literally cleared the entire island leaving it exposed to the winds we call the Roaring 40s. There are lots of recorded tales and stories about the utter misery these prisoners were subjected to and it is no wonder people tried to escape the floggings, solitary confinement and the poor food and freezing wet conditions. 

The photo in the top right is taken from on the island. The high mountain peak that you can see that looks a bit like a shark fin is called Frenchman's Cap and was used as a visible navigation mark by many escapees but the terrain was tough and the bush dense to impassable in most places. The small island that you see beyond the jetty is another smaller island that they would put prisoners on. At first it was where they housed the women but they then used it for particularly unruly chaps. There was no shelter just a 5m cave.
Can you imagine working all day waist deep in water building ships, with only one set of clothes, no fire or good meal to go home to.... miserable doesn't begin to describe the conditions.

I have to also congratulate our guide Janelle who really brought the island and the times to life with her in-character story telling of the people of the settlement until it was abandoned and everyone packed off the newly built and much larger settlement of Port Arthur in about 1832. In the last few years of the island Huon Pine was being brought out of the Gordon River and boat building took on a frantic pace of 96 boats in 4yrs.  There is not much left now, just a few ruins and the island has naturally re-vegetated but I have to wonder if there aren't a few ghosts still from the past hanging around?

Further reading may include;
Alexander Pearce, Sarah Island's most notorious escapee (three times!) who survived by cannibalising his fellow escapees.
Franklin Manor, where we stayed 2 nights in Strahan. A beautiful historic house tastefully restored and very well hosted. Lovely warm fires, games and books in the library and nothing was too much trouble. We particularly enjoyed the fresh cut fruit salad every morning (disappointingly, a lot of B&B's offer tinned fruit!)


  1. Sounds like you're having a wonderful time Tanya......
    Tassie certainly has an interesting history and one I wouldn't want
    to have been part of.
    You'd have to have been a very strong person to survive it I think.

    Claire x

  2. I have never been to that side of our island - I really must go!!


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