Transported to Australia

I think most of us after a hotel stay have souvenired one, or all of  the tiny bottles of bathroom mini toiletries. I don’t think we consider it as stealing and I think that most hotels plan on, and expect us to take the soap, shampoo, shower body gel, shower cap, sewing kit, notepads, and ballpoint pens. The hoteliers are happy that we took it; they count on us taking it and would be disappointed if we didn’t take it. Now I’m not suggesting that the unmanned housekeeper’s trolley in the hallway be set upon and plundered for purloined souvenirs.


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The Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart is housed in a row of renovated 1820’s waterfront warehouses, and the former IXL jam factory; it overlooks Franklin Wharf and is a short walk from Salamanca Place. It is the first dedicated art hotel in Australia and features a rotating display of original contemporary artworks by emerging and established Tasmanian artists. 400 pieces of art are exhibited throughout the hallways and public areas; and behind the closed doors of the rooms and suites. After checking in and riding the lift to the second floor I wandered the hallways searching for our room. The hallways held art work but no room numbers. And then I glanced down; the room numbers were glowing on the floor at the base of each door. I was going to be sleeping in an art gallery.



I sat at the window after returning from the room’s sumptuous stainless steel and frosted square of glass bathroom. I was clutching that mornings restocked tiny designer bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and bath gel; soon to add to the stash of the previous days riches. And I kept repeating to myself; they want me to have their designer toiletries. Grey rain clouds were soon causing the sky to darken; quickly the rain was softening Hobart’s waterfront and cityscape. The fishing boats in the harbour had become smudges on the dark water and the wind was pushing the last few walkers into the shelter of the restaurants and other shops. I peered through the rain washed window and all I could see was the charcoal sky. And through the silence of the storm I thought I heard the faint sound of barking dogs.



The darkness looked back at me and I saw Mr McDevitt’s Social Studies class at Williamstown Technical School. We always sat in alphabetical order, two to a desk, facing the front of the room; there were four rows of desks. Mr McDevitt’s room was at the end of the new addition to the school; the new wing ran alongside Kororoit Creek Road. I listened, and watched, and could hear Mr McDevitt’s voice rise above what sounded like the barking and baying of distant dogs. We sat quietly, at attention, with our eyes fixed on Mr McDevitt as he told us about the first sighting of Tasmania by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman; he sailed by the west coast in 1642 and named it Anthoonij van Diemenslandt. Mr McDevitt paced the front of the room and recited eloquently.

In the afternoon, about 4 o’clock…we saw…the first land we have met with in the south sea…very high…and not known to any european nation.

And he then told us how Van Diemen’s Land was next visited in the late 1700’s by both the French and British; and that later James Cook after sailing north along New Holland’s coastline, claimed the entire east coast that he had just explored as British territory. He called the land New Wales, but revised it to New South Wales. And we sat open mouthed and aghast as he told us in a slow and wavering voice about the First Fleet. He recounted that after the American Revolutionary War England could no longer use its North American colony as a dumping ground for its unwanted criminals and that the only way the English courts could overcome the overcrowding of the jails was to establish a penal colony in the southern land that Captain James Cook had claimed. The First Fleet set sail for New South Wales and we learned that Captain Phillip decided that Botany Bay was unsuitable for a settlement so he moved everyone to Sydney Cove. Mr McDevitt turned to the board and wrote in chalk.


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Mr McDevitt began again and we sat and listened. He described how England was afraid that France was going to claim Van Diemen’s Land so Governor Arthur Philip claimed it and Van Diemen’s Land became the location of a second English colony in Terra Australis; because of its isolation it began as a penal colony. The English courts saw transportation as an easy solution to populate and grow the new colony. The rain paused and the fishing boats in the harbour were diffuse shimmers of light. And the faint sound of the howling dogs had faded even further into the distance.



Over 70,000 men, women and children were transported to Van Diemens Land. Several convict settlements were built to house male and female convicts; including secondary prisons such as the harsh penal colonies at Port Arthur and Macquarie Harbour. The next morning we headed down the Tasman Highway, past the Hobart airport to Sorrell, and joined the Arthur Highway. The Port Arthur Historic Site is on the Tasman Peninsula which is connected to mainland Tasmania by a narrow isthmus known as the Neck; it is a thin strip of narrow land and the water seems to lap at both sides of the car as you cross the 450 yard long narrow entrance to the Peninsula. Back when, English soldiers and up to 18 half starved ferocious dogs were chained together to guard the Neck; their job was to prevent convicts escaping away from the notorious Port Arthur penal colony. And there were also dogs on platforms in the water. The smallest noise or movement would set the dogs barking and howling; alerting the guards of any would be escaping convicts.



During an introductory guided walking tour of the Site an experienced tour guide provides an overview of Port Arthur’s convict history. He tells how it began life in 1830 as a small timber station but became a brutal penal colony and was home for many of Australia’s early convicts. As you stroll the landscaped Victorian gardens and walk amongst the memories of a long gone prison it’s hard to imagine that you are walking through and around what was once a reviled prison that held 1,100 convicts. Many transported and re-offending convicts spent their days living through this sprawling mix of beauty and horror; the landscape of the Peninsula forming the bars of their confinement. We were told that in 1848 a new, gentler, approach to imprisonment was introduced at Port Arthur; psychological punishment replaced floggings. In the 80 cell Separate Prison, prisoners were forced to wear hoods when in the company of other people, spend their days in solitary confinement cells, be identified by numbers instead of names, and to remain silent at all times except when singing in church. This treatment gave them an opportunity to reflect on what they did wrong. Many of the convicts suffered mental illness because of this new, gentler, approach to imprisonment and in 1864 an asylum was built to house them.


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Across the harbour the Island of the Dead was the destination for all the convicts, soldiers and civilians who died inside the prison. Of the 1,646 buried on cemetery island the convicts are mostly buried in unmarked graves on the low southern end, and the soldier and civilian burials are marked by headstones on the high northern end. Also across from Port Arthur is Point Puer; the first separate boys prison in the British Empire. And the tour guide relates that between 1834 and 1849, three thousand boys were sentenced to transportation to the prison; the youngest just turning nine. Point Puer was renowned for it’s stern discipline and harsh punishment. In 1856 transportation to Van Diemen’s Land was abolished. In an effort to escape the stigma of its horrendous penal reputation, Van Diemen’s Land renamed itself Tasmania; after Abel Janszoon Tasman.


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Back when I was in second form and sitting in Mr McDevitt’s Social Studies class at Williamstown Tech our Australian history only touched on the first settlement in Sydney Cove and the hardships endured in establishing the colony; it was more about Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson finding a way across the Blue Mountains, the heroic but tragic journey of Burke and Wills, the expedition of Hume and Hovell, and the journeys of inland explorers Mitchell and Eyre, and how Australia grew as a farming and agriculture country. Being a descendant of transported convicts was a source of shame.

By the end of all transportation in 1868, around 162,000 convicts were sent to the colonies of New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land and Western Australia. An estimated one in five Australians has convict ancestry. I am a third great great grandson of the transported convict Thomas Raines. I am a descendant of Australian Royalty.

In 1842, 44 year old Thomas Raines was convicted of stealing sheep from Henry Hilton of Salridge and was sentenced to 15 years transportation. Convict records at the State Library of Tasmania in Hobart verify that Thomas Raines was 5’6” tall, with a large nose that inclined to the right; and that he had a rather long head, dark brown hair and whiskers, hazel eyes, black eyebrows, a medium sized mouth and chin, a medium high forehead and an oval shaped face. He was confined for over a year in the prison hulk Fortitude, moored off Chatham, England, before being moved by the authorities to the Forfarshire at Spithead for transportation. He was one of 240 convicts transported on the Forfarshire on the 24th June 1843, and he arrived 12th October, 1843 at Van Diemen’s Land.


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There was no record of Thomas being sent to Port Arthur; he was a ploughman and farm labourer by trade so was most likely assigned to various Van Diemen’s Land farmers for the term of his imprisonment. He didn’t serve the entire 15 year sentence; it’s unclear exactly when he received his Ticket of Leave. On 11 Mar 1865 Thomas was issued a Certificate of Freedom; finally a completely free man with all the rights and privileges of free Australian settlers. And with his wife he crossed the Tasman Sea to the state of Victoria. He bought the farm on 27th June 1872.

Before the tide of nationalism that flowed in the seventies some Australians had already begun to see the English courts and transportation as a symbol of the ruling class unjustly persecuting the working class and political protesters. The tide of nationalism caused some of us to take pride in our ancestry and independence; and we argued that the reason many were transported to Australia was because of their struggles for political freedom or for trivial offences and they were sent only to colonise new and dangerous shores on the other side of the world.

Stealing was a crime that led to transportation to Australia and included.

Stealing lead, iron or copper
Stealing ore from black lead mines
Stealing from furnished lodgings
Stealing letters
Stealing fish from a pond or river
Stealing growing cabbages, turnips, trees, and plants
Stealing string
Stealing a handkerchief

I wonder if you would be convicted and transported for taking a hotel’s tiny bottles of soap, shampoo, shower body gel, the bathroom shower cap, and the room’s sewing kit, notepads, and ballpoint pens.


Port Arthur Historic Site

The Henry Jones Art Hotel

Australian History