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Chapter 12

I find a heaven that was once a hell, recall some bushrangers, inspect Australia's first railway, and then tell of the most comical war in history.

For interest and beauty combined I give Tasman Peninsula the palm. It has already passed through three eras and has entered on a fourth. First, it was the happy hunting ground of the blacks, next the man-made hell of convict days, then came the period of abandonment and neglect; finally it has become a Mecca for tourists.
Transportation of convicts ceased in 1853, but Port Arthur prison was not abandoned until 1877, and when the buildings began to decay they were either carted away piecemeal for the use of the bricks, or else left to tumble down. Then, when Henry Dobson drew attention to the fact that attracting tourists was a profitable proceeding it was discovered that holiday visitors would gladly pay to see the despised ruins, which became more valuable in decay than when in the heyday of their existence. Some of the prisons were even partly restored and official guides given jobs. You now pay a coin and go voluntarily through a turnstile where the convicts were driven with whips.
It was a sacrilege to use this corner of heaven for a prison. The reason for the choice was that nature had provided a door that could be easily locked-the neck of land known as Eaglehawk Neck. This neck is not many yards wide. It has a beach on either side, one sheltered by the mainland, the other open to the ocean. The lock was a line of savage dogs, plus a number of patrolling soldiers. It was impossible to pass this cordon and the few escapes were made by swimming the bay. There is a story that fierce sharks were encouraged to assist the authorities by being fed regularly in the bay: but this tale, like so many other fish stories, should be accepted with reserve.
The approach to the Neck from the mainland makes you gasp if you have any love for the beautiful. Motor cars may have added somewhat to the enjoyment of man-kind, but they have undoubtedly taken a great deal away. People nowadays "do" Eaglehawk Neck and Port Arthur in a day-trip. It ought not to be allowed. There are laws to protect people from themselves, and it should be made a punishable offence to examine a picture gallery in half an hour, to pass Niagara without stopping, or to make a day trip to Port Arthur under pretence of having seen it. If visitors do not enthuse over the place, then I am convinced that motors are to blame. You are tempted to speed down Eaglehawk Hill and have no time to absorb the glorious prospect. The coast puts out its headlands, the Hippolytes (on which more than one ship has met its doom) are awash, the bright beaches gleam and the tall trees wave in welcome. If you cannot spare time to walk, for heaven's sake slow down and use your eyes.
Just below the hotel is one of the wonders of the world the Tessellated Pavement. The master workman, Nature, has divided those blocks with marvellous symmetry, and many a writer has declared that the famous Giant's Cause-way of Ireland can scarcely be compared with Eaglehawk Neck. At the southern end of Pirates' Bay there are other peculiar natural features. A "blowhole" surges and spouts, there is a Devil's Kitchen of surprising design, and Tasman's Arch frames a seascape that is unique. Further along the coast a creek, tired of life, commits a sudden suicide by taking a header over the cliffs.
On the south side is an eminence known as Cash's Look-out. Martin Cash, a convict who became one of the island's best-known bushrangers, swam across the bay twice. On the first occasion he was caught by a party of constables about a mile short of East Bay Neck. Next time Martin and his mates Jones and Kavanagh got clean away. They lost their clothes during the swim and walked stark naked through the bush, finally securing some prisoners' clothing in a hut. It took them several days to get across East Bay Neck -where the canal now is-on account of the watch kept for them, but after hair-breadth escapes they slipped through and entered on their famous bushranging career.
As I journeyed from Taranna to Port Arthur I stepped aside now and then on to the nearly obliterated "permanent way" of Australia's first railway line.. This railway was not very much junior to the Liverpool-Manchester line which dates from 1830. But it was vastly different. Like Gilbert's cannibal hero who was cook and captain and crew, so might Commandant O'Hara Booth (who took up the reins on St Patrick's Day 1833) have claimed that he was the Stephenson and the Engineer of Works, editor of the Bradshaw and Traffic Inspector of Tasmania's railway system of the 'thirties. The total mileage was five, the rails were of timber, the "engine" was a gang of human beings with close-cropped hair and clad in the yellow and black garb that was the badge of degradation. This collection of misery constituted the motive power that drew up hill and down dale a truck loaded to half a ton, and sometimes the same crew did the double trip from Deep Bay to Taranna and back twice in a day, a total of twenty miles. The stoker's emblem of office was not a shovel, but a whip. Portions of this track of tears and sweat still remain. Taken by and large, the task of the convicts was probably easier than if they had had to transport the same weight over the bush track on sleds, and there was the variety of being harnessed to a truck as a change from acting as oxen to the wooden ploughs of the settlement. Our Commissioner of Railways would be quite jealous of the speed of this forerunner of his system, for on the return journey, about a mile and a half short of Deep Bay, the convicts hopped aboard the truck as it gathered way for its final burst, the speedometer of the day registering forty miles an hour.

In my travels I have seen no sweeter prospect unfolded than that from the side of Port Arthur's Mount Arthur. I employ the possessive because Governor Arthur's name was given to so many peaks in various localities. A rough track leads to the summit, but the view from halfway will satisfy the most exacting connoisseur. In the immediate foreground the bush, below that the crumbling walls and towers of the convict days, next the blue waters of the bay and in the near distance the hills that rise from the sea coast. It is a sight to linger over, yet not one tourist in a thousand takes the few strides that are necessary. As I gazed I thought again of the description and the prophecy of David Burn. His eulogy needs no alteration, though his forecast has miscarried. Said this visitor of I 84~ : -This domain is an enchanting spot, of which the pencil, not the pen, can convey adequate conception; wood, water, earth, sky, all contrive to gladden the eye and charm the sense. Here at some future perchance not very distant) day when penitentiary and penal settlements have ceased to exist, here in one of the most beautiful bays, with a shore of the purest sand, and waters of pellucid hue, here the Tasmanian steamers will flock with their joyous freightage of watering-place visitors, whilst the present settlement, an easy distance off, will eventually resolve itself into one of the finest and most important naval arsenals-a Plymouth of the South. The security and amplitude of the haven, the facility of equipment, and the super-abundance of choice building materials, all conducing to the certainty of such result.
For a time the steamers did flock with their "joyous" and seasick freightage; but the motor car has cut out that doubling of Cape Raoul. Port Arthur is not, and never will be, a naval arsenal. It is a fishing station and a tourist resort. Perhaps the day will come when both navy arsenals and penal settlements will be anachronisms. Even in the days of the Port Arthur horrors, visitors marvelled at the humane conditions in comparison with the bad old days behind them.
But this Port Arthur I am looking at from the mountain side will bear close inspection. Take a walk around. Here are the quarries where toiling convicts hewed the stone for their own prisons, now hidden by encroaching ferns and blackberries. In this church, with it ivied walls and spires, once "worshipped" hopeless felons guarded by soldiers with muskets. The service over, they marched down this leafy avenue back to jail. You walk across the "common", pay your fee at the turnstile, and are inside the walls where once a thousand captives fretted and fumed and plotted. Passing the circular towers of the powder magazine, you pause at the gate of the Commandant's residence, later a guest-house. Behind the magazine, on the hill, stood the soldiers' barracks, and in a line with them was that derelict building the hospital. Next, the guide allows you to tread the pavement of the Model Prison courtyard, and you are photographed in a solitary confinement cell. A century ago the man who stood where you do would have risked life and limb to obtain possession of the half cigarette you carelessly cast away.
A leafy lane leads to the building that contains a town clock which chimes sweetly, and has so chimed for near a century. This is the Town Hall and offices, and once also housed the school on weekdays and the church on Sun-days. Under the same roof is an octagonal room with a well-nigh perfect dance floor and in this building where now the youth and beauty of Port Arthur trip it to the lilt of the fiddle and piano, once paced strayed felons, driven to madness by the horrors of their lot. Not many years ago this was the Lunatic Asylum!

Macquarie Harbour was chosen as a penal settlement in the early part of the nineteenth century because it was so isolated: it was abandoned because it was too isolated. Port Arthur was selected because it seemed to be the happy medium - though one scarcely likes to employ such an adjective when speaking of the penal system. After two years of government, Colonel Arthur foreshadowed the abandonment of Macquarie Harbour November 1826), and on September 1830 the station called after him was founded. Three years later the withdrawal from the west coast began. Governor Arthur was a born organiser and took a meticulous interest in the organization of the penal settlement. In his despatches to his prison Commandants he first laid down principles, then followed them with instructions for procedure. He even drew up the menu and set out how many ounces of bread the prisoners were to have at each meal, and as a postscript included an instruction to grow enough potatoes to be able to supply one with the breakfast. "The reformation of character," wrote Arthur to a Commandant, "I hope you will always consider a grand object." His ideas of arriving at this reformation were two. One was to make the prison life such a hell that the convicts should dread the very thought of being sent ?here; the other was to supply "pious missionaries" equipped with a sufficiency of bibles.
The David Burn before mentioned waxed enthusiastic over the provender, pronouncing the soup "excellent". "Such a meal," he declared, "as would rejoice the heart and gladden the eyes of many an honest, hard working, hungry Briton." Martin Cash, a different class of "visitor", in a dis-gusted paragraph gives a description of the making of the soup that took Mr Burn's fancy. Says Cash: "The salt pork when boiled is taken from the copper, which being again nearly filled with water, the allotted quantity of Swedish turnips and cabbages are then cut up and placed in the copper, and when nearly cooked one or two pieces of pork are again returned to the copper with a view of giving it a flavour. Each prisoner was allowed one pint of this compound for dinner." The instruction to make the con-victs dread the very thought of being sent there was evi-dently carried out only too well in Cash's case, for it led him to risk death in escaping. Cash describes being put into his cell soaking wet after a day's work in the rain and having to put on his drenched garments again in the morning. Governor Arthur forwarded a strong remonstrance to Commandant Lord, at Maria Island, on the point that the confinement was being made so comfortable that released prisoners were committing crimes in order to be sent back there. It did not say much for the employers to whose homes they had been drafted!
They could have done with a paper pulping establishment in those days, for many tons of paper must have been used merely in recording the punishments of all the prisoners. Three printed pages are not sufficient to contain the record of a typically lively inmate.
John Blank, No.1782, transported for seven years for larceny, has a grim record, containing thirty-nine punishments including solitary confinements on bread and water for a week at a time, twenty-five stripes on the breech, and three months' labour in chains, the misdemeanours comprising telling lies, smoking and insolence. On one occasion John earned fourteen days' solitary confinement for losing a blanket. No. 1089 earned twenty-five stripes for his vanity in wearing a 'made-up' waistcoat. Another served six months' hard labour for having coffee in his possession. Having tobacco cost him merely ten days' solitary confinement. This number's downfall was his penchant for potatoes, for the crime of stealing them appears four times in his record. The total number of the misdemeanours entered against him was fifty four.
Peeping through the records of the ladies, who were housed at the Cascades, quite near Hobart, I was interested to note that the majority of the fair ones got into trouble for talking. But there was a seemingly endless variety of misdemeanours. Hannah gave an onion away and was kept at the washtub and all credit stopped as a reward for her burst of generosity. Ann got a week at the tub for wearing her shoes down at heel. Dirty Margaret refused to wash her face, and got ten days' solitary confinement. Another Margaret asked a constable for a smoke, but got nothing except three days on bread and water. Ellen sang at work-out of tune presumably-and for her lack of harmony enjoyed bread and water for three days. Mary was admonished for combing her hair, and another Mary was the cause of the dreadful entry: "Going to Protestant prayers, being a Catholic." Poor Mary! The road her parents had set her on not leading to bliss, she was reprimanded for trying another. Jane was punished for being so frivolous as to dance, and so was Honora. Ellen's lapse was "having a pocket", Ann's was starching her cap, Bridget's "spinning a "yarn"-trout fishermen please note. Sarah was punished for talking, and Jane for not talking; so it was apparently impossible to please.

I covered a good many miles on the Peninsula, and made a launch journey to the Isle of the Dead and to Point Puer where once were 8oo wretched boys undergoing sen-tences from seven to fourteen years, some of them not more than ten years of age, and few over eighteen. These banished "Artful Dodgers" and "Charlie Bateses" enjoyed themselves breaking stones, cooking, tailoring and gardening, with a few hours' schooling per day, a swim on Satur-days and church on Sundays. An occasional variation was solitary confinement in the underground cells. There is no record of any boy having escaped. I had a look over Suicide Cliff, where Marcus Clarke's little couple met a fictional death, locked in each other's arms. As a matter of fact the real method of committing suicide was to murder some-body, so as to earn the hangman's rope. A youth named Travers tried to get himself hanged in preference to being moved to Noffolk Island, and knocked a friend on the head with a hammer; but he was disappointed by being transported for life. With commendable persistence, how-ever, Travers committed a few more murders in his new home and finally succeeded in his determination to try the noose as a means of release.
There cannot be a prettier graveyard in the world than the Isle of the Dead, its little beaches washed by the limpid waters of the bay, and distant mountains forming a back-ground. Death, the great leveller, has laid gaolbird and gaoler side by side, the only difference being that the free-men have headstones and the convicts none. Looking at the number of inscriptions I was struck by the compara-tively early deaths of the various employees and soldiers. Doubtless the environment played upon them equally with their charges, for the business of superintending masses of miserable humanity must have been, to say the least, depressing. Had I been a warder perhaps the brandy bottle would have claimed me as a victim, for assurediy some sort of diversion was necessary, and so few were available.
O'Hara Booth was the most celebrated of Port Arthur's commandants. It cannot have been the easiest way of earning 500 a year. A gaoler's job today is a gentleman's occupation by comparison. What an edifying spectacle those eternal floggings must have been! Martin Cash has not a good word for Booth, but he may be forgiven for being prejudiced. O'Hara had a difficult and unpalatable task and he performed it well. He cannot be blamed for being rough on escapees, for he was there to maintain dis-cipline. When "Bolter" Stevens was caught just as he was entering the water at the Neck, Booth was on the spot in an hour, ordered a fiagellator, doctors and others to attend, and the Norfolk Bay gang to assemble to witness the per-forinance that was to be staged next morning. The sentence was one hundred lashes. Half-way through Stevens begged for mercy and promised obedience, but the other fifty were laid on and what was left of the culprit was taken back under guard to the Port.
Captain Booth nearly met his death by being lost in the bush on the Peninsula in 1838, but he escaped that ending and his hones lie in St John's churchyard, Hobart.

James Grant in writing his novel The Romance of War chose what is in Europe known as "The Peninsula" as his setting. Were I to write a book on The Humour of War I too would choose a Peninsula-Tasman Peninsula-for the area I am now recalling was deliberately selected to be the ground for the final stages of Tasmania 5 historic Black War, the campaign of 1830.
Preparations occupied nearly a year, and Governor Arthur presided at many a Council of War. Though the conflicting forces-some 3,000 civilians and soldiers on the one side and a few hundred natives on the other-were the smallest on record, the battleground was nearly the biggest, for it extended from St Patrick's Head in the north-east right across the island to Lake Echo. Arthur's forces were armed with guns, powder and ball; the natives had spears and waddies. The plan that had been conceived by the colonists was gradually to draw in their extended line and to converge on the bottle-neck at East Bay, driving the fleeing enemy before them on to Tasman's Peninsula where they could be bloodlessly captured.
The organization was thorough. There were 119 leaders of parties, each with an experienced guide attached, and Arthur in the field in person as Commander-in-Chief. The busiest divisions must have been the commissariat and clerical, for scouring the Tasmanian bush is hungry work, and the clerical contingent, with tons of quills, ink and paper, wrote and received, says Melville, "despatches equal in number to those forwarded by the allied armies during the great European War".
Major S. Douglas was in command in the field. There were twenty-six depots for food and clothing, and at Oatlands were collected a thousand stand of arms, 30,000 rounds of cartridges and 300 handcuffs. Three pairs of the latter would have been more than enough. Forced marches were a feature of the campaign, and the 350 vali-ant Launcestonians under Captain Donaldson earned the issue of a special Camp Bulletin praising their feats of locomotion. There were no fortified walls to scale, but there were the ramparts of the Western Tiers; no barbed wire entanglements impeded them, but there was the tangle of the bush in the days before the axe and fire of the settler had thinned it. "Trench feet" were not a part of the war, but there were blue noses and shivering bodies, for the October weather is capricious, and there were bivouacs on bleak mountain sides, marches across boggy plateaux and drenching contact with the undergrowth of scrub. Colonel Arthur kept touch with all divisions. It is not stated how many horses he wore out, but fifty miles a day was nothing to him. Once he was lost for three days in a paradise that has no apple in it to satisfy the cravings of hunger. Arthur's efforts were worthy of the field of Waterloo.
The signal to commence was given on 7 October, and the march began. In about a week the first real excitement came. One night Mr Walpole's party observed a camp fire. Creeping up, they seized a sleeping native and a boy by the legs and captured them. Two others were shot and one escaped. This happening saved the white army from the indignity of taking part in a shotless war, for it was the only occasion for using guns except perhaps on kangaroo.
In a fortnight the lines converged till they connected from Sorell to the sea, with a space of forty-five yards between each man. At night a line of fires was lit between each post, and next morning the line moved on towards Eaglehawk Neck. Bets were made as to how many fish would be in the human net, capturing parties were selected and instructed, and excitement ran high. The 'war was drawing to a close and the participants would soon be able to return to their farms and their families to boast of their exploits, their exertions, dangers and their ultimate success. The great force, still numbering a couple of thousand in spite of desertions, was at last on the Peninsula with the cowering enemy before it. The Peninsula was combed, but witchcraft seemed to have been at work, for not one aborigine was seen! They had seemingly melted into thin air; but the fact was that the human net had holes in it big enough for the slippery enemy to squeeze through.
The cost of the war was estimated to be 60,000. Mr Walpole's prisoners had the distinction of being the most expensive captures on record at the figure of 30,000 apiece!

Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, Tasmania's fourth Governor, has had no pile of stones erected and inscribed to his memory, though more lasting monuments exist in the shape of several mountains and other geographical features. Sir John Franklin was perhaps the most illustrious of all, but I name Arthur as the one who has left the most permanent impress upon the island where he held the reins of government for the record term-over twelve years. With most historians blame of Arthur has outweighed the praise, but I am inclined to choose the role of apologist; and the parlour of the Hotel Arthur, at Port Arthur, is as good a place as any for me to sit and put down my impressions for what they are worth.
Colonel Arthur is said to have been unpopular from the start, but this was inevitable. The second Governor, Davy, was profligate, undignified and lax; Sorell was dignified, urbane, loose as to morals, and of the type that finds the word "no" the hardest in the language to pronounce. Both were recalled, their public careers ended. Arthur, chosen with wisdom for this particular job, was at the time of his appointment Commandant of Honduras and a distinguished soldier. He stepped into one of the roughest and toughest positions then available in the whole world. That he was at bottom a humane man is shown by his active endeavours in the cause of slave liberation, his opinions and advice being sought by Bishop Wilberforce. Hostility to his rule in Tasmania began even before his arrival, and his reception was icy in the extreme.
Writers have castigated Arthur for his unbending and autocratic attitude to Attorney-General Gellibrand and his attempted coercion of the local press, but in both instances there is much excuse for his actions. Before Arthur left England he was warned about Gellibrand and he was expressly recommended by Under-Secretary Hortin to "show him up". The main count on which he suspended Gellibrand was for accepting law fees from both sides-taking fees from a plaintiff and then appearing officially against him in court. A Commission of Enquiry (Messrs Thomas Pedder and Humphrey) took Arthur's view, and though the practice existed amongst English lawyers, Arthur insisted on the dismissal of his Attorney-General. Behind the official reason were many others, including the close intimacy of Gellibrand with Robert Lathrop Murray, who was wont to sit beside the Attorney-General in court and advise him. Arthur had offended Murray by declining to accede to what he described as "a most nefarious land job", and quite early in his term Arthur fell foul of the troublesome couple.
Andrew Bent, proprietor of the Hobart Town Gazette, began criticizing Arthur's methods, and unwisely allowed Murray, a man with a grievance, to contribute articles under a nom de plume. Bent was convicted for libel and sent to gaol. Arthur then pirated the title of Bent's paper and had it produced for the government by George Terry Howe and the illustrious James Ross LL.D. In 1827 Arthur had an Act passed which made carrying on a newspaper subject to the will of the Governor, and later when Bent gave his paper over to Gellibrand a licence was refused for it. The Act was disallowed by the Secretary of State and the press set free, Murray continuing his vituperation, backed by other disaffected individuals. A paper called The True Colonist was established expressly that its proprietor, Gilbert Robertson, should vent his spleen upon the Governor and various officials. Robertson was convicted for libel three or four times and imprisoned. Henry Melville, editor of The Colonial Times was also fined 200 and gaoled for a year. Not a shadow of evidence supported the accusations of dishonesty hurled against the pilloried Governor, who was subjected to a bitter persecution for trying to do his duty in performing a difficult-really an impossible-task. He was in the position of a strict school-master suddenly placed in charge of a mob of insubordinate scholars, or of a captain appointed to straighten out a mutinous crew. He could not be popular, and he could be only partly successful. Arthur was scrupulously honest, unflinchingly courageous, possessed of a high sense of honour and loyalty to his employers, but distressingly devoid of tact. He neither sought nor obtained popularity. It is recorded that he was Patron of Bible and Benevolent Societies, but not of Turf Clubs.
Arthur's character is better judged from his official despatches than in the tirades of his enemies. To select extracts is extremely difficult, for he wrote ream upon ream; but I commend for perusal his despatch of 23 September 1827, to Under-Secretary Hay. In this dignified explanation of his actions Arthur candidly admits that later experience has caused him to view his earlier decisions in a different light; but sets down that he sees no occasion to change his general policy "which has led to such results as the most sanguine friends of the Government could scarcely have anticipated". "I am not," he says, "pressing for a continuance in office, for the duties of this Colony are of too anxious a nature to induce any man to be eager to discharge them."
Arthur's term showed an extraordinary improvement in the state of the colony. The population grew from 13,000 to 40,000, imports from 62,000 to 584,000, and exports from 14,500 to 120,000. He practically suppressed both bushranging and the aboriginal menace, and he took the field personally in both campaigns. His departure was the signal for a bitter attack from his enemies among the news-paper editors, but the members of the Legislature and the more respectable units of the local society of the day gathered to pronounce a fitting farewell, during which the Governor broke down, overcome by his feelings when attempting to read his reply.
When this "unpopular" Governor reach England he was raised to the Baronetcy and appointed Governor of Upper Canada; his last nomination was as Governor-General of India, an honour he was unable to accept through ill-health.

Chapter Thirteen

 

 

 

Tasmania by Road and Track - by E T Emmett was originally published by Melbourne University Press.
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