New display highlights second period of convict settlement on Maria Island

Well known as one of the convict serial-listed World Heritage sites, Maria Island now has stories of the convict probation period on display.

Visitors can now become immersed in a fascinating, new display in Darlington’s convict administration building depicting records, plans, artefacts and, above all, accounts of the colourful characters who “did time” at the Maria Island probation station.

Parks and Wildlife Service historic heritage officer Jenni Burdon said details from the second period of convict settlement were limited, requiring considerable archival research to find information.

“When the Hobart Penitentiary Chapel was due to close in 1963, many convict records were sent to the State Archives,” Jenni said.

However, as the closure date neared, staff were ordered to pile up remaining books in the courtyard and burn them. History tells that several wardens ‘rescued’ books from the edges of the fire.”

Brian Rieusset, who recently managed the Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, was a huge help in sifting through archival files.

“He has tremendous knowledge of the convict times, knows his way around the archives and assisted with translations of acronyms and terms,” Jenni said.

“We managed to find the names of convicts who were based on the island during these years which was really exciting. Previously, we only had the names of convicts from the first period in the 1830s.”

Colourful characters included James White the woodcutter who was transported for stealing a pan, Isaac Willis the 17 year old transported for counterfeiting coins, Joseph Edwards the 21 year old labourer who’d stolen a horse cloth, and William Calderwood the 24 year old weaver who received 12 months hard labour in chains for ‘larceny’ (theft under £5).

Jennie said artefacts from this period were limited to a few nails.

However the buildings themselves spoke volumes about the materials available and the techniques of the times.

“Plans were often generic and drawn up off site and then were adapted to suit the location and available materials,” Jenni said.

“Copying plans was not easy. Oiled paper was used and it was a time consuming and tedious business.

“We have various architectural plans for Darlington buildings, however the existing buildings don’t match the plans.”

Brian Rieusset was able to shed light on this. He explained that final plans would have been used on the building site in all kinds of weather, and often would not have survived the construction process.”

A $240,000 Protecting National Historic Sites Grant plus $60,000 from the PWS enabled the Parks and Wildlife Service to complete interpretation work and stabilisation of many convict buildings constructed between 1842 and 1850 around Darlington.

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