Uncovering Convict History at Kerry Lodge

A third season of archaeological excavations at the site of the Kerry Lodge Probation Station has revealed more information on the convicts who lived and worked at the site.

Located one kilometre past Franklin House, south of Launceston, the most visible remaining sign of the probation station is the convict-built Strathroy Bridge, visible whilst driving in to Launceston along the Midland Highway.

The convict bridge party began working on the bridge in 1834 to 1835, while living in the nearby Probation Station. The Probation Station buildings were erected in 1844 for a road party of up to 60 men. By the end of that year 34 convicts, an overseer, and a visiting magistrate were recorded on site.

The Convict Probation System in Van Diemen's Land was introduced in 1839 in response to growing perceptions that assigning convicts to private individuals was ineffective either as a deterrent to crime or as a means of reforming criminals. The changes also responded to the growing strength of the anti-slavery movement in Britain, and the perception that assignment was itself a form of slavery.

Each convict arriving under the Probation System passed through successive stages, dependent on their conduct. In the first stage, convicts worked in gangs without wages or allowances; in the second stage, they could labour on public works for wages and allowances; and in the third, or 'pass-holder' stage, they could labour for private employers on a wage basis. Having passed through each of these stages, convicts could hope to attain a ticket-of-leave, and eventually perhaps a conditional pardon.

The Bridge and Probation Station at Kerry Lodge are entered on the Tasmanian Heritage Register as a landscape that demonstrates the use of convict labour in the development of civil infrastructure and communications across Tasmania during the first half of the nineteenth century. While some structural remains are clearly evident above ground, the potential to reveal more below ground provides an important opportunity to understand more about the life of those living and working on the site during the convict period. The recent archaeological excavations at the site are helping to fill this knowledge gap.

Professor Eleanor Casella from Manchester University, led a team of volunteers from the Launceston Historical Society Archaeology Group and the University of Tasmania on the most recent three week “dig".

 

The ruins of a cottage was excavated and a number of finds dating from the 1830s confirmed that the building was most likely built as the house for the overseer in charge of the convict bridge party. The finds included a spoon, comb, gun flint, marbles, spoons, nails, china and glass. Some 1830s china and the chain and hook from over a fireplace were also found at the cottage.

Professor Casella and Dr Karen Hall (from UTAS) will be giving an illustrated public lecture on the findings from the dig on Sunday 13 May 2018 at 2pm at the Sir Raymond Ferrall Centre at the Newnham University campus.


Thank you to John Dent from the Launceston Historical Society.

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