Heritage Tasmania was recently presented an opportunity to visit one of the earliest, yet hardest to access and poorly understood probation stations - Sloping Island.
Remains of the stone prison cell (photo credit: P Rigozzi - PWS)
Sloping Island is located approximately 1.5km off the north-west tip of the Tasman Peninsula. The island itself is less than 2km in length. A probation station was operated on the island from late 1841, representing one of the first examples of the Probation System. Prisoner numbers peaked at 176 in July 1844, just months before the station was abandoned, mainly due to a shortage of fresh water. Although the main station was closed, a semaphore station was operated on the island until 1873 and the island was at times used to house boat crews and visiting officials during this period.
The visit to the island was made possible through the Hamish Saunders Memorial Trust (HMST), which offers the opportunity for conservation science students to visit a Tasmanian Island and partake in a range of surveys under the guidance of local scientists.
This is the first time that Heritage Tasmania has been involved in the annual surveys, representing an opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of the new Natural and Cultural Heritage Division (NCH) of DPIPWE – created by the recent merging of the Resource Management and Conservation Division, Heritage Tasmanian and Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania (AHT). Staff from NCH and the Parks and Wildlife Service conducted a thorough survey of the natural and cultural heritage values of the island.
The survey enabled DPIPWE to test a full suite of spatial science technology for recording historic sites. A Remote Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), more commonly known as a Drone, from AHT was used to take high resolution aerial photography of the island. These photos were processed and analysed using desktop GIS systems to identify targets that could be investigated by a site visit. A Differential GPS system, from the Geospatial Infrastructure Branch of DPIPWE, was used to record these ground features to an accuracy of a few cm.
Stone remains identified in a high resolution aerial photo recorded by the Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania RPAS system (photo credit: H Treeby – AHT).
This technology was used to record the remains of a stone cell block, other accommodation and storage buildings, a sandstone quarry, semaphore station, water well and other water catchment infrastructure. Many of these features had been identified previously, while some new features were also identified. The use of new technologies has allowed accurate location information for these features to be assigned the first time. The final Sloping Island Natural and Cultural Values Survey Report will aid the Parks and Wildlife Service in their ongoing management and conservation of the site.
It is hoped that this demonstration of the technical capabilities of DPIPWE to conduct accurate and detailed surveys of historic sites in a short time span is just the start of many more projects that will record these significant sites, leading to a better understanding of the convict system and long-term conservation outcomes.
The Sloping Island Probation Station is currently not entered on the Tasmanian Heritage Register, and it is hoped that the information collated in this survey will support a future listing of this significant site.
If you are interested in exploring more information on the story of the Sloping Island Probation Station, search for a copy of John Thompson's book Probation in Paradise: The Story of Convict Probationers on Tasman's and Forestier's Peninsulas, Van Diemen's Land, 1841-1857 (published 2007).