The Macquarie Harbour Penal Station was situated on Sarah Island was a place for special punishment. The Lt. Governor of Van Dieman’s Land had described it to Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst ‘in every sense of the word a place of the most severe punishment’. Unremitting labour was prescribed to both punish and reform. Escape was virtually impossible as the nearest other settlement was a hundred km. away through heavy forest and swamps which in many places was impenetrable.
The decision to settle Macquarie Harbour arose from Commissioner Bigge’s enquiry in 1819. In Hobart he questioned the discoverer of the Harbour, James Kelly, the surveyors Evans and Phillip King and merchant T W Birch on what resources might be exploited there. James Kelly had discovered the Harbour in December 1815 during a voyage around Tasmania in an open boat financed by Birch. He landed at Sarah on 29 December and named it after Birch’s wife. Kelly made another voyage in 1818 in the Sophia when Florence conducted a more detailed survey. Lt. Philip King charted the area in the Mermaid in 1819: the NSW Crown Surveyor Oxley further developed his work the next year. Birch had been granted exclusive rights to the trade in the area from July 1816. Prior to Birch’s monopoly Dennis McCarty brought out the first commercial cargo of pine and discovered coal.
From 1818 Lt. Gov. Sorell had pressed Governor Macquarie for approval to establish a settlement. The Governor planned to deal with locally convicted persons, absconding convicts and other "difficult and desperate men" by punishing them severely at a place from which escape would be nearly impossible due to its location and where their labour would in some way recompense the Government for the expense.
Following London’s approval Sorell sent Lt. John Cuthbertson of the 48th Reg. to found the Macquarie Harbour settlement. With James Kelly in command the vessel Sophia he left Hobart with Deputy Surveyor General Evans, Ass. Surgeon James Spence, James Lucas as Pilot and Harbourmaster, and a detachment of 17 troops from the 48th regiment and four wives and eleven children. In the Sophia and the accompanying Prince Leopold were 44 incorrigible male convicts eight female convicts and 23 other convicts in the roles of boat crew, mechanics, constables and a superintendent.
A total of 110 persons were sent to open the new penal station. There were 44 male convicts of "bad character and incorrigible conduct", 11 male convict tradesmen of good character, 11 male convicts of ''useful avocations" not under sentence. 8 female convicts and the military detachment... They were embarked in the Sophia and Prince Leopold from Hobart Town on 12th December 1821, but off South Cape they encountered a gale and were separated. The Sophia sheltered in Mussel Bay when she lost sight of the Prince Leopold. The former vessel arrived off Macquarie Harbour on 30th December, was unloaded, and the empty ship sailed over the bar and was reloaded on the following day. She arrived at Sarah Island on 3rd January 1822. All the sawyers in the party were on the Prince Leopold and this caused considerable difficulty in plans to build wooden huts for accommodation.
Upon entering the Harbour itself Cuthbertson and Evans decided to establish the settlement at Sarah Island. It was about 10 acres in area, thickly wooded and situated in its south eastern corner near the mouth of the Gordon and Birches Rivers. Evans was responsible for choosing the site and the original plan of the settlement. Kelly was to provide input on navigation, the location of timber and coal resources and the location of the pilot station. Lempriere was critical of the choice "it was at the time thickly wooded, no part appeared susceptible to cultivation, and worse than all, there was no water to be obtained". However conscious of his vulnerable position, his instructions and isolation, security was no doubt uppermost in his mind. Julen aptly describes them as like survivors from a shipwreck. Their resources were extremely limited and it would be nearly three months before more stores and (convicts) were to arrive. Evans set off to explore the surrounding country.
The island was very thickly timbered and this had to be cleared before buildings could be erected. From the start, it was decided to use the adjoining small island. Grummet Island, as a ''place of punishment for misbehaviour, as the system of solitary confinement might be here most effectively adopted". Deputy Surveyor Evans explored all round the harbour and concluded "what escape by land is next to impossible". The Prince Leopold had been blown north. She had to call at Port Dalrymple on the Tamar for provisions and left again for Macquarie Harbour on 10th February 1822. It was the first of many prolonged voyages from Hobart Town to the new penal settlement. A further 30 male and female convicts went to Macquarie Harbour late February. All the ships brought back Huon pine on their return voyages. A further 35 male and 2 female prisoners went there in early March and it is clear that the Government was sending convicts without waiting to see that accommodation was available. The convicts were clearly having to fell timber for the Government and build their own and the officers' accommodation as fast as they could. By July most of the officers' quarters, a military barracks, store, hospital, and a prisoners' barracks were up. Land had been cleared and some potatoes and wheat were sown. Sickness had broken out, mainly dysentery with some scurvy. The coal, on which the authorities were relying as all coal at that time had to be freighted from Sydney, seemed easy to mine. Large amounts were found on the surface, but it was found to be of very poor quality. Efforts were made over a long period, to mine the deposits at Coal Head on the northern shore of the Harbour but without success. There seemed to be nobody at the settlement with the requisite knowledge of mining.
Sarah Is looking west and view from the site of Captain Wright’s residence (looking north)
Supporting the Commandant on Sarah Island were a cast of very interesting characters.
From a respectable Scottish family in Wigtown. Employed in a sedentary position in the timber business since ca 1810. Convicted in Edinburgh 20 November 1820 and transported for 7 years on the Princess Harcourt.
Commandant’s Clerk. Superintendent from March 1824 to June 1824. Granted replacement due to ill health.
Returned to Hobart on the Waterloo that left Sarah Island on 7th July but did not clear the Heads until 29th. Reappointed to position of Commandant’s Clerk at Macquarie Harbour. While waiting to embark absconded from Prisoners Barracks and away from 26 Jan 1825 to 21 March 1825. Returned voluntarily and not punished.
Neil Miller DOUGLAS
Born 1796. Worked in King’s Printing Office. Convicted in London 23 Oct 1822 for obtaining money by false pretences. Had been imprisoned previously. ‘Orderly but could be troublesome without a constant check to keep him in his place’ (Hulk report). Single. Transported on Commodore Hayes and initially assigned to the Commissariat Office. Charged with neglect of duty in October 1823 and reassigned to Macquarie Harbour.
Arrived with Wright as Clerk. The post drew a salary of a shilling a day and a supply of tea and sugar. After leaving Macquarie Harbour he was found to be drunk and disorderly in the Police Office whilst going to Clyde River with a pass (Sept. 1826) and severely reprimanded. In October 1828 for improperly drinking. He married Sarah Jolley aged 18, at Hobart on 10 Feb. 1842 and died on 21 Nov. 1845 aged 49.
Robert Stocker GARRETT
The settlement’s medical officer and second most senior official. Robert Stocker Garrett [was born in Galloway Scotland in 1798 and arrived in Hobart 14 April 1822 from Bengal on the Medway to take up a post as Second Assistant Colonial Surgeon. In May he was sent to take up his post at Pittwater.] On 6 December 1823, by way of special licence Dr. Garrett, then 24, married Martha Charlotte Bowen, 18, at St David’s Church Hobart. (Coincidentally Wright arrived in Hobart on the same day.) Both the Commandant and the doctor received a salary of £43.13.1 a year. The newly weds left for Macquarie Harbour seven weeks later.
Thomas William WARTON.
A native of Dorset and the only son a ‘respectable clergyman of Winchester’ formerly an officer in the 48th Regiment. ‘Extremely well educated’ (Robinson) family friendly with Lord Sidmouth. Born in 1792 he was very tall, over six feet, with dark hair and dark hazel eyes.
Estranged from his parents, wife apparently dead, two daughters Eliza and Catherine.
Left Tasmania 15 Dec. 1828 as the only passenger on the 70 ton schooner Fly bound for Isle of France. (Mauritius)
James LUCAS - The Pilot stationed at Hell’s Gates. Explorer, whaler and entrepreneur for the settlement.
Charles PARSONS - Storekeeper
George Wray ELDRIDGE - Dispenser of medicines.
Joseph MOLLOY - Constable
Richard RAY - Superintendent and constable until end of March 1824; salary £25 pa. Arrived with Cuthbertson on indulgence. Returned with Butler to replace Warton.
Peter KEEFE - Shoemaker
REEVES - Carpenter
John KNIGHT - Sawyer
John GREGORY - Commissariat Clerk Macquarie Harbour. Blessed with marvellous handwriting
George NESBIT - Convict given bedding by Warton.
James WILKINSON - Constable
George CRAGG - Watchman given shoes from Flynn.
John FLYNN - Convict given hat by Warton.
A.W.H.HUMPHREYS - Superintendent of Police for Buckingham
John BISDEE - Gaoler at Hobart
Capt. KINGHORN - Master of Waterloo
Charles TAW - Master of Duke of York
Sergeant FOSTER - 3rd Reg. The senior NCO.
Sergeant Waddie - 48th Reg. The senior NCO to Cuthbertson.
L/Corporal BAGSHAW - 3rd Reg. Commandant’s servant
Private BILLETT - 3rd Reg. Commandant’s servant
William SYLVESTER. Commandant’s convict gardener.
As the above shows society was overwhelmingly male. Only four of the initial group of eight women convicts had remained. Margaret Keefe, an Irish-woman transported for shoplifting, lived with the Pilot James Hunt Lucas and bore him two sons while Wright was commandant. (Lucas was born on Norfolk Island - the son of an army Lieutenant and a convict woman.) Lucas and Keefe married at Sarah Island in 1829 and had two more sons there after Wright left. Beside these two, Mary Ann Furze, and Elizabeth Gould (alias Botheroid), were there in November 1824 and probably slept on Grommet Island, a small island about a mile offshore, in a hut with a male overseer. Furze was a Londoner and at this time was in her thirties. Gould, another Londoner but a few years younger had married John Boothsryde in Launceston had two infant girls at this time. A fifth female convict arrived early in 1825. Wright never married but some of his soldiers were accompanied by their wives. [Margaret Graham, Sarah Hammond, Mary Revlett, Elizabeth Slater, Isabella Hammill, were probably at Sarah Island at the beginning of 1824 but was sent back to Hobart soon after.]
Jane Davis was the wife of William Davis. William and Jane Davis were transported to Macquarie Harbour for stealing sheep at Broadmash in 1824. William and Jane had two children Eliza and Thomas, Eliza was placed in the Children's Orphanage, It is not known where Thomas was during this time. Their third child Amelia was born at Macquarie Harbour on 25 May 1825. After Wright left Jane was sentenced to wash 40 prisoner's shirts weekly, for sending an improper letter to the assistant Surgeon Mr Barnes.
On 12 February 1824 the Waterloo two more women one of whom was Dr. Garrett’s wife Charlotte. The two were inseparable and Garrett (and others) referred to them as sisters. Charlotte was the younger of two daughters of Martha Hayes and Lt. John Bowen RN founder of the Risdon settlement. Martha was pregnant with Henrietta when she arrived with Bowen to found the first settlement in Tasmania settlement in August 1803. She and her sister carried their father’s name and when Bowen left Rev Knopwood acted as a guardian to the girls. It was he who introduced Garrett to the girls. Their position in society was further assured when Governor Collins became their godfather. But according to Robert Knopwood, The elder Miss Bowen, Henrietta, died in his presence in 14 June 1823 almost a year before Dr. and Mrs Garrett arrived at Sarah Island. As Knopwood had known the girls all their life, he was present when Martha was born and maintained a close friendship their mother surely he was not in error. So who was Martha Garrett’s companion?
It might have been Mary Whitehead the daughter of Martha Hayes and Andrew Whitehead but Charlotte’s half-sister was then only twelve years old. Whatever their relationship this menage a trois at Sarah Island was somewhat incongruous.