Darlington Probation Station in its natural setting and isolated location made it an ideal choice for a probation station. It was away from free settlements, boasted an abundance of natural resources that could be exploited through convict labour and, as it was an island, was a difficult place from which to escape. Of at the 78 probation stations established throughout Tasmania, Darlington remains the most outstanding representative example. The intactness of the buildings and structures within the precinct and their relationship with each other uniquely demonstrates the philosophy behind the probation system. Situated on Maria Island off the east coast of Tasmania, Darlington lies within the Maria Island National Park.
A shift in convict management
The probation system was the last major phase of convict management in eastern Australia. It was implemented following the abolishment of the highly criticised assignment system. The British Parliament's Select Committee on Transportation, led by Sir William Molesworth, condemned the assignment system then in force in the Australian colonies and recommended the extension of the penitentiary system of imprisonment, especially the use of the separate prison system. It also recommended the establishment of new convict colonies abroad in remote places where convicts would build their own temporary accommodation that could later be replaced by permanent structures.
The probation system
In Tasmania, Governor John Franklin was instructed to consider a replacement for assignment, and proposed a system of probationary gangs. Implemented as an experiment in 1839 and unique to Tasmania, the probation system was an important shift in the management of convicts in Australia. The philosophy behind a probation station was to use classification, segregation, education, religious instruction and stages of punishment to reform and manage convicts. The system depended on the separation of convicts into three distinct classes and stipulated that the physical layout of the stations had to enforce the principal aim of classification.
An ideal location for a penal settlement
Darlington first opened as a penal settlement in 1825. An island, its good anchorage, accessible foreshore, fresh water and shelter made it an ideal location for a place of secondary punishment for convicts who committed offences in the colony. Those who committed more serious crimes were sent to the notorious Macquarie Harbour. The penal settlement was closed in 1832 and the prisoners moved to the recently established prison at Port Arthur and the land given over to pastoral leases.
Designing a probation station
With the introduction of the probation system, Darlington was re-opened as a probation station in 1842. Along with the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart, it was one of the first of a group of such stations to be established. Some buildings from the original convict period were re-used for the probation station and a major building program was initiated.
Darlington conformed to the classificatory ideals of the probation system, both in management and architecturally. Probation stations employed architecture and topography to create a physical landscape that embodied 19th century reform principles and the extensive buildings remaining at Darlington demonstrate this in a way no other probation station can.
The regulations required that convicts be separated into three distinct classes and that the physical layout of the stations had to enforce the principal aim of classification. This is demonstrated at Darlington by the location of the first class yard at the top of the slope and the third class yard at the bottom. The chapel and superintendent's quarters flank the entrance to remind prisoners that adherence to regulation and religious instruction were the key to reform. The prisoner's barracks and ruins of the separate apartments also demonstrate the system - well-behaved convicts lived together in dormitories while the worst class was housed in separate apartments. Other structures included solitary punishment cells, a barn and hop kilns.
A short-lived system
The design of probation stations for males in the first half of the 1840s was intended to be uniform and in accord with a prescribed system of discipline. Darlington operated as probation station for eight of the 13 years the system was in existence, reaching its peak convict population of 492 in 1846. It closed in 1850 after a decision was made to confine all convicts still undergoing probation to the stations on the Tasman Peninsula.
In later years Darlington, renamed San Diego in 1888, was the site of a number of industrial enterprises associated with the Italian entrepreneur Diego Bernacchi.
Maria Island was proclaimed a National Park on 14 June 1972 and in 1991 a Marine Reserve was declared protecting marine life in the waters surrounding the northern part of the island. Darlington is administered by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.
Sir John Franklin
Darlington Precinct is also important for its association with the governorship of Sir John Franklin (of Arctic exploration fame) who, as Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania from 1837-1843, was responsible for implementing the probation system to replace the assignment system. His appointment as Lieutenant Governor occurred at a critical time in Australia's convict history, following the departure of Colonel Arthur, and the Molesworth Inquiry into transportation. Implementing the probation system required a complete reorganisation of the system of convict administration in Tasmania at a time when transportation to NSW ceased (1840) and an increasing number of convicts were arriving in Tasmania. Given inadequate funds for implementing the reorganisation, Governor Franklin modified the assignment system in several ways including the use of convict probationary gangs labouring on public works.
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