In the middle of May, I decided to escape the cold weather of Melbourne for the extremely cold weather of Hobart. Being my first visit to Tasmania, I followed the tourist trail to Port Arthur and delved into Tasmania’s convict past for a day. Port Arthur was an incredible place to visit. The harsh life documented in my handy audio guide was contrasted with the incredible beauty of the area. My day trip included a visit to the Isle of the Dead, an eerie small island that was used as an early cemetery. On a complete coincidence, the day was Friday 13th, which appealed to my “love of all things horror” side.
Isle of the Dead, Creator: John Watt Beattie Date:[ca. 1904]
The Isle of the Dead is the resting place of many convicts, soldiers and free men and women of the Port Arthur area. The convicts are in unmarked graves, but many a beautiful headstone still exists of the non convict interments. A few memorial stones have been placed on the Isle to honour the final resting place of specific convicts. One in particular drew my interest, Australia’s first novelist Henry Savery. The memorial stone reads “Businessman, forger, convict and author.” – who can ask for a better life summary?
Henry was an interesting man. Convicted of forging fictitious checks, he was transported to Van Diemen’s Land on the Medway in 1825. He was later employed as a clerk in the Colonial Treasury. In hindsight an extremely odd choice for a man convicted of Forgery!
After gaining a conditional pardon, he ran into financial difficulties and was once again found to have forged fictitious bills. He was sent to Port Arthur in 1840 and died in February 1842. For those interested in Henry’s convict life, you can view his conduct record on the Archives Office of Tasmania website. The Colonial Times newspaper also documented the details of his trial.
According to the publication The Isle of the Dead, Port Arthur / by Richard Lord, the memorial stone was placed on the Isle to honour the 150th anniversary of his death. It was unveiled by the Fellowship of Australian Writers in February 1992.
Despite not having any convict ancestors and no Tasmanian connections, I found it incredibly easy to fall into family history mode during my visit. I suspect this is a common theme among family historians.
Holidays will never be the same again.
Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Archives Office of Tasmania, The Colonial Times (via Trove), The Isle of the Dead, Port Arthur / by Richard Lord