Australian Convict Sites more information

New South Wales

Old Government House and Domain

The site of Government House at Parramatta was a residence and offices of prominent governors from Governor Phillip in 1788 until Governor Denison in 1856. Convicts built the residence and its surrounding parklands. Government House was one of two important command posts of the convict system in NSW from the very early years of the colony until the last convicts served their sentences. All major decisions on the management of the system were made by governors, affecting all aspects of convicts' lives. Around 100 convicts lived in huts and worked there during the convict era. The site is a powerful symbol of the penal colony of NSW and is closely associated with efforts to reform and rehabilitate convicts during the Macquarie era.

Old Government House and Domain.

Old Government House and Domain.

Photo: Mark Mohell

The site is made up of five buildings and extensive archaeological remains set in 55 hectares of parkland (the Domain). Old Government House is a two-storey rendered brick building in Georgian style, restored to represent the Macquarie period. It contains an important collection of original colonial furniture including some from convict times. A Classical timber portico of c.1816 is attributed to convict architect Francis Greenway. The drawing room was the setting for important decisions about the colony and lives of individual convicts, while in the dining room Macquarie entertained ex-convicts to show his commitment to emancipation. Other buildings include officers' quarters, female convict servants' quarters, the governor's dairy and Governor Brisbane's bath house. Archaeological remains include the footings of the 1788 residence for the first Governor.

For more information visit: Parramatta Park  and National Trust of New South Wales 

Hyde Park Barracks

Hyde Park Barracks

Hyde Park Barracks.

Photo: Mark Mohell

Hyde Park Barracks was built by convicts and was the first convict barracks in Australia. In the early years of the colony, most convicts in NSW were housed in communal huts or had to find their own accommodation and food. Disorderly conduct, theft and an unproductive workforce became acute problems. Hyde Park Barracks was established in the heart of the colony in 1819 to house, manage and control convicts under regular surveillance. Convicts were placed in work gangs and returned to the barracks in the evening. After 1830, Hyde Park Barracks became a place of punishment for re-offending convicts and a depot for reassigning convicts, until 1848 when the last convict inmates were transferred to Cockatoo Island.

The barracks is a three storey building in the central business district of Sydney, surrounded by many prominent buildings, some built by convicts. It was designed by convict architect Francis Greenway who received a pardon on completion of the building. The Old Colonial Georgian style building has six large dormitories and six smaller rooms of simple internal design, with a central corridor and cross corridor breaking up the spaces into a series of large rooms. A large central clock on the front of the building was an important feature that ensured strict adherence to time management during the convict era. The site is an important example of the reform of convicts under Governor Macquarie.

For more information visit: Hyde Park Barracks Museum 

Cockatoo Island Convict Site

Cockatoo Island Convict Site

Cockatoo Island Convict Site.

Photo: Mark Mohell

Cockatoo Island was created as a penal settlement in 1839 for re-offending convicts. It was an ideal location for hard labour - isolated and secure, easy to provision, yet close to the heart of the colony's major population centre. Convicts quarried massive areas of sandstone, excavated and helped to build a dockyard (along with colonial prisoners) and constructed about 20 underground grain silos. Some were sentenced to solitary confinement in underground cells built into the sheer sandstone cliffs. After the abolition of transportation to NSW (1840), Cockatoo Island operated as a penal settlement for convicts completing their sentences and for ex-convict and other colonial prisoners.

The site includes convict-built buildings and structures surrounded by sheer cliffs that drop sharply down to the dockyard area. Buildings include convict barracks, a hospital, mess hall which also functioned as a chapel and schoolroom, grouped together under the surveillance of the nearby military guard house, solitary cells and military officers' quarters. Openings to underground rock silos can be seen at ground level and two and a half silos are exposed from prior quarrying. Together, the buildings tell the story of the harsh living conditions, hard labour of public work and efforts to reform in the convict era.

For more information visit: Cockatoo Island 

Old Great North Road

Old Great North Road

Old Great North Road.

Photo: Mark Mohell

The Great North Road was built from Sydney to the Hunter Valley by convicts between 1826 and 1836. It was part of an ambitious road building program to open up fertile farming land for free settlement and improve transport and overland communication in the colony. This also aimed to revive the fear of transportation. Many thousands of convicts worked on road gangs in NSW, enduring harsh conditions. Convicts worked in gangs on the Great North Road - some in leg irons - quarrying, excavating and building in laborious and tedious work that created a major engineering structure in the rugged landscape.

Old Great North Road is made up of a small portion of around seven and a half kilometres of the original 250 kilometre road. The site incorporates the Devine's Hill section (built 1829-32) and the Finch's Line section (built 1828 and subsequently abandoned). It is an impressive landscape that retains qualities of the physical environment in which the convict road builders laboured. You can still see the massive retaining walls of large sandstone blocks, quarried cliffs with triangular shaped marks from the hand-driven drill for blasting holes and stretches of chiselled gutters and remains of around 40 stone culverts. Convicts left their mark with graffiti, and some of this can still be seen on sandstone blocks today.

For more information visit: The Old Great North Road 

Norfolk Island

Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area.

Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area.

Photo: Mark Mohell

Kingston and Arthur's Vale Historic Area (KAVHA)

Norfolk Island was first established as a penal settlement in 1788 for its remote location to deter escapes and resources for ship building and food production. KAVHA later became infamous as a 'hell on earth' with 'no hope of return'. Convicts were subjected to hard labour such as land clearance, farming, logging and construction of roads and buildings. The punishment, living and working conditions were extremely harsh and brutal. Many convicts endured excessive floggings and several major convict rebellions broke out on the island. There was an exceptional phase of penal reform to rehabilitate convicts under Commandant Maconochie between 1840 and 1844. His penal regime had an impact far beyond the shores of Norfolk Island, with elements of it adopted in Fremantle Prison, Britain and America.

KAVHA includes more than 40 buildings, groups of buildings, ruins and archaeological remains within 225 hectares of relatively undisturbed land. All structures were built by convicts from limestone quarried on the island or with local timber. There are military compounds, offices, cottages, a Commissariat Store and a cemetery. There are also two prisoner compounds and industrial structures where convicts were incarcerated, worked and were sometimes executed. It is a rich landscape that evokes the severe punishment of convicts as well as a short-lived era of reform under Commandant Maconochie. The site is also associated with global developments in the punishment of crime during the 19th century including Maconochie's 'mark system'.

For more information visit: www.kavha.com 

Tasmania

Port Arthur Historic Site

Port Arthur Historic Site

Port Arthur Historic Site.

Photo: Mark Mohell

Port Arthur was a notorious destination for re-offending convicts where they experienced physical and mental subjugation. It was a place of severe labour where convicts were given jobs like timber getting and quarrying. They were also given more skilled occupations such as brick making, carpentry and shoemaking. In 1848 corporal punishment ceased and a separate prison was built, focusing on subjugation of the mind rather than the body. A rigid discipline regime of separation and silence was established for convicts. They were forced to labour industriously in silence and were housed in individual cells. An estimated 3,000 juvenile convicts were housed at a special establishment at Port Puer. There convict boys worked on various labouring gangs, learned a trade and were given schooling and religious instruction.

Port Arthur Historic Site is made up of more than 30 buildings, ruins and homes set in 40 hectares of landscaped grounds. Buildings and structures that remain standing or as ruins include the penitentiary, separate prison, commandant's house, hospital, officers row, dockyards, church, hospital and a cemetery on the Isle of the Dead. The site provides valuable and tangible evidence of the physical form of the penal system in Australia as well as an extensive body of documentary sources and archaeological materials. The gardens, grounds and the waterfront provide a picturesque setting for the buildings and ruins of the penal settlement, contrasting to the alien and inhospitable reality of the convict era.

For more information visit: Port Arthur Historic Site 

Cascades Female Factory

Cascades Female Factory

Cascades Female Factory

Photo: Mark Mohell

Cascades Female Factory was opened in 1828 and became the pivotal centre for the management and control of female convicts in Van Diemen's Land. It operated as a prison and place of punishment for re-offending female convicts, a female labour hiring depot, a hospital, a nursery, place for pregnant convicts and a workplace. Female convicts worked on various tasks at the factory such as laundry, spinning, needlework and manufacturing blankets. They endured hardships and punishments such as severe overcrowding, exposure to extreme temperatures, the forced weaning of babies and head shaving. Many hundreds of babies died at the factory. The site is a testimony to the place of female convicts in empire-building and an example of the establishment of purpose-built female prisons.

The site originally included five adjoining compounds in a relatively remote and sunken valley around three kilometres from Hobart. Buildings within the yards included cell blocks, solitary apartments, laundries, cook houses, medical quarters, guards' apartments, latrines, a church and assorted workshops. Today the site is made up of three yards, sandstone rubble perimeter walls, a matron's cottage and archaeological materials including sandstone footings for the nursery apartments, solitary cells and many other structures.

For more information visit: http://www.femalefactory.com.au

Darlington Probation Station

Darlington Probation Station

Darlington Probation Station.

Photo: Mark Mohell

Darlington Probation Station was established as a convict station between 1825 and 1832 and operated as a probation station between 1842 and 1850. Its isolated location on Maria Island made it an ideal choice for a probation station. The probation system was a major phase of the control and reform of convicts in Australia. Convicts were classified into three classes and this determined their treatment and conditions including their labour, sleeping and eating arrangements and privileges. A regime of moral redemption through education and religious instruction was an important feature of the new system.

There are 16 convict structures and remains in a bushland setting of over 360 hectares. The landscape has survived largely unchanged since the convict era. Most of the buildings are Old Colonial Georgian style and are simple and functional with plain, whitewashed brick walls and very little decoration. There are officers' accommodation quarters, a chapel, a mess hall (also used as a school room and chapel), convict barracks, solitary cells, convict barn, miller's cottage and limn kiln. Together they chronicle an important period of our convict past in a remote marine setting.

For more information visit: Guide to Tasmania's Historic Places - Maria Island  

Coal Mines Historic Site

Coal Mines Historic Site.

Coal Mines Historic Site.

Photo: Mark Mohell

The Coal Mines was established in 1833 as a punishment station for re-offending convicts and was operated as an outstation of the Port Arthur penal settlement. In 1840 it was turned into a probation station. Colonial authorities promoted coal mining as the most severe form of punishment for the worst offenders in the colony. The site was one of the most harsh places of punishment due to the conditions of mine work. Convicts often worked in gangs in hot, cramped conditions with little ventilation.

The site is made up of ruined structures and archaeological features from the convict era within 214 hectares of open forest and bushland. It includes the remains of a prison complex, solitary underground isolation cells, hospital, military buildings, wharves, tramways, quarries, garden plots, constable station, semaphore station and cemetery. There is extensive physical evidence of the site's use as a coal mine. The sites of the main shafts and numerous minor shafts, together with the alignments of roads and tramways used to transport coal and associated spoil dumps and coal stockpiles from the convict period can still be seen.

For more information visit: Guide to Tasmania's Historic Places - Coal Mines  

Brickendon-Woolmers Estates

Brickendon-Woolmers Estates are two adjoining rural properties that show the lives of male and female convicts under the assignment system. Convicts were placed with free settler 'masters' to perform compulsory work. In 1817 Thomas Archer was granted land (Woolmers Estate) in the Longford district and in 1824 his brother, William Archer, acquired adjacent land (Brickendon Estate). The properties operated as separate pastoral and agricultural stations and a large number of convicts were 'assigned' to the stations. Male convicts worked as blacksmiths, tanners, bricklayers and agricultural hands while female convicts worked mainly as domestic servants but also occasionally worked alongside the men.

Woolmers Estate

Woolmers Estate.

Photo: Mark Mohell

Woolmer's Estate is a little over 13 hectares situated on a high bank overlooking Macquarie River, four kilometres from Longford. Woolmer's Cottage was the residence of Thomas Archer and is an exceptional example of Old Colonial Georgian architecture. The estate includes a large number of buildings and structures built by convicts. These include family houses, workers' cottages, shearing sheds, a chapel, blacksmith's shop, stables, bakehouse, pump house and gardener's cottage. The estate has been continuously associated with the Archer family since 1817.

For more information on Woolmers Estate visit: Woolmers Estate 

Brickendon Estate is an outstanding rural property on the opposite side of Macquarie River on 620 hectares of land. The main residence, a two storey brick Old Colonial Georgian building, was constructed by convict labour in 1829-30. This was later partially destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in 1881. The estate contains extensive buildings and other structures built by convicts including cottages, a chapel, barns, stables, blacksmiths, granaries and coach house. The estate has been continuously owned and managed by six generations of the Archer family.

For more information on Brickendon Estate visit: Brickendon Estate 

Western Australia

Fremantle Prison

The colony of Western Australia was established and developed as a free settlement without convicts from 1829 until 1850. Construction on Fremantle Prison began in 1852 using convict labour. It operated as a central depot for receiving and housing male convicts and provided imprisonment and punishment for re-offenders. During the day, most convicts worked outside, building roads, bridges, jetties, buildings and other public works. Some convicts learned trades such as tailoring, printing and boot making to help equip them as workers when they won their freedom. Conditions and the treatment of convicts at Fremantle Prison were more humane than other penal prisons like Port Arthur and Norfolk Island. The site shows the important role of convict labour in empire-building.

Fremantle Prison

Fremantle Prison.

Photo: Mark Mohell

Fremantle Prison includes 16 intact convict-built structures surrounded by a six-metre high limestone perimeter wall. The prison is one of the largest surviving convict establishments in the world. Its design was partially based on the Pentonville Prison in Britain. The original design of four radiating wings and a central surveillance point was modified for economic reasons in the colony. The complex is made up of a main cell block, a chapel, wards, gate house, prison officer residences, yards and refractory cells, two chapels, service buildings, a hospital, workshops and warder's cottages. The main cell block is 145 metres long and four-storeys high. It held 570 men: 240 in dormitory rooms and 330 in separate cells of 2.1 metres by 1.2 metres. Illicit artwork by a convict sentenced to transportation for forgery has survived in one of the cells.

For more information visit: Fremantle Prison