If you have been following my steps around the convict ruins at Tasmania’s Port Arthur, you’ll appreciate my efforts to gain some insight into what it meant to be a convict there, especially as Geoff’s 3rd Great Grandfather was a prisoner there.
While researching the Chapel in my previous post, I stumbled across this newspaper story covering a talk given by Rev. Rowland Hayward recounting his experience as Chaplain of the Port Arthur Settlement during 1870-77.
Preacher at Port Arthur.
“At the Church of England Institute on Wednesday night the Rev. Rowland Hayward recounted his experience as Chaplain of the Port Arthur Settlement during 1870-77.
The Rev. F. S. Poole was in the chair, and the attendance was large. The lecturer prefaced his remarks by a review of the earlier history of the location of the prisoners at Macquarie, which, owing to its inhospitable character and difficulties of communication, was abandoned in favour of Port Arthur in 1835. In a little time this place became the most systematized of all British convict settlements.
Convict Leg Irons on Display at the Chaplain’s Cottage.
Mr. Hayward was on the spot when the appointment was offered to him, having gone there for the sake of his health. With the duties of Chaplain, however, he combined Magisterial functions, but the dual capacity was embarrassing, as in his character of Chaplain he had often to soothe the wounds which he was bound to inflict as Magistrate. The manner in which he exercised the obligations of the latter, however, won over the convicts, who frequently refused to be tried by any other official than the Chaplain, as they had grown to fear the severity of the local officers, whom years of familiarity with the men and the conditions of their life had necessarily robbed of leniency or sympathy.
The natural beauties of the harbour and the station were painted by the lecturer, whose description, the audience were assured, was truthful, and opposed to the gloomy picture of both drawn by Marcus Clarke. The penitentiary was described, and although designed to accommodate as many as 600 prisoners during Mr. Hayward’s incumbency, the number of its inmates never exceeded 300.
A particular account of the institution was given, as also of the separate prison for refractory prisoners, who underwent in former days the refined cruelty of solitary imprisonment for an unlimited period. Here every prisoner immediately on his transportation suffered solitary confinement a month for each year of his term. Barbarous Mr. Hayward regarded this mode of punishment, although it was in substitution of the more brutal flogging, which was often administered in plenty for the most trivial offences.
At the same time, Mr. Hayward believed that in some cases a ” schoolboy flogging” would have rescued some unfortunate lads in the penitentiary from more serious mental and physical injury which were traceable to solitary confinement.
Referring to “The Term of His Natural Life,” the lecturer did not regard the work as exaggerated, but the horrors portrayed by it were rather an accumulation of all the atrocities that might have happened in connection with criminal life in Australia than a faithful account of the ordinary life at Port Arthur.
The lecture was freely interlarded with anecdotes, chiefly concerning two truculent ruffians named Mark Jeffries and Pat O’Hearn, who were a source of great trouble to the prison authorities.
The prison discipline was described, with its comprehensive system of supervision, including the plan of keeping dogs at Eaglehawk Neck to prevent the escape of the prisoners.
Altogether Mr. Hayward considered that provisions made for the bodily wants of the convicts were very generous, they being at least better cared for than the honest poor of the island. The lecturer spoke of his connection with Port Arthur as one of the happiest periods of his life. When asked his opinion by the Government as to the advisability of abolishing Port Arthur he was strongly opposed to the proposal, believing that the settlement offered to convicts the best opportunities of reformation. During the lecture, which lasted for two hours, there was an intermission devoted to music.
Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 – 1912) Tuesday 6 July 1886 p 3 Article