Thursday, June 9, 2016

Closing Hell's Gates: the death of a convict station

In December 1815 James Kelly named a small island in Macquarie Harbour Sarah Island after Sarah Birch, the wife of the sponsor of his exploritory exhibition, Thomas William Birch. For eleven years between 1822 and 1833 Sarah Island, also known at the time as Settlement Island, was used as a convict station. The penal settlement was situated in a remote environment with no nearby habitation. To get to the island the boats had to travel through the narrow entrance to Macquarie Harbour referred to as 'the Gates of Hell'. The island was windswept especially when partly cleared to construct building for the settlement. Hamish Maxwell-Stewart has written a detailed study of the establishement of the penal settlment on Sarah Island and the challenges faced by the convicts unfortunate enought to be sent there.

Another book on this area has been written by Kerry Pink. Through Hell's Gates: a history of Strahan and Macquarie Harbour provides a brief history of the area from the exploration and discovery of Macquarie Harbour in 1815 to more recent times. The first European settlers in the area were there to gather Huon pine growing on the shores of the Harbour. Thomas William Birch and James Kelly had exclusive licence for cutting the timber for twelve months before others timber cutters were allowed into the area. The penal settlement is covered in one section of the book. In later years there was a mineral boom in the area, initially gold mining followed by the mining of copper from the Mt Lyell Mine. A railway from Strahan connnected to the mine. The 1980s saw environmental movements to save the Franklin River. The area is now a tourist area.                                               

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