DISCLAIMER, SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The intention of this publication is to make available, in one booklet, historical in-
formation regarding the Isle Of The Dead, Port Arthur. It is an update of a similar
publication published by Walter B. Pridmore (deceased), the copyright of which, is
now the property of the Publisher. It is in no way to be treated as an abstract or
used as an historical source.
Material used in this publication is readily zavailable on the public domain via in-
ternet search. Where sources are used they are acknowledged.
Joseph Kerr was a twenty-one-year old when he left his native place, Hollymount
County, Mayo, Ireland, to enlist in the British Army. Forsaking his trade as a shoe-
maker he joined the 63rd Regiment. Only six years later he was to be buried half
way around the world from his Emerald Isle.
When George Britton (alias Maurice Lyttleton) stole a watch in Middlesex, England,
he was unaware that his action was to start a chain of events that would ruin his
life and eventually claim it. George, still a teenager, when convicted of that theft,
survived “gaol fever” (typhus), brutal work and atrocious living conditions on the
Woolwich hulks for seven years.
On his release into the civil turmoil of the English Industrial Revolution, he under-
standably soon returned to crime. His conviction for the theft of clothing, in May
1832, earned him a one-way passage aboard the convict transport York to Van
Ada Harriet Huxtable, the daughter of schoolmaster Frederick, had no idea of her
circumstances when she died at the tender age of fourteen days in the early au-
tumn or 1862.
The man who officiated at the burial of little Ada Huxtable was the, larger than life,
Church of England Minister, The Reverend George Eastman. George was then the
father of several young children. When The Reverend himself succumbed to a chill
only eight years after Ada, he was to leave an ailing wife and ten children behind.
These people are only four of the more than 1000 buried on Port Arthur’s Isle of
the Dead. We may never know the names all those interred on this tiny little island
but in recent years a great deal of research has been done in that regard. We are
indebted to Richard Lord who had the foresight to record the names on the stones
as far back as 1976.
In 1995, Lynette Ross published her thesis Death and Burial at Port Arthur it ques-
tioned many of the long-held beliefs of the numbers and methods of burial on the
About the 2002 summer archaeological program, Greg Jackman of the Port Arthur
conservation department, worked with external scholars to learn more of the Island
and enhance the conservation methods used there.
Many questions remain to be answered about the Island. What is apparent howev-
er is that all classes, officials, soldiers, wives, children, Point Puer boys, paupers,
insane and even sailors are buried alongside hundreds of convicts.
Burial Ceremonies and Grounds
Worldwide, in the many and varied cultural and religious groups it contains, the
disposal of the dead has been practiced in diverse ways. The great pyramids of the
Egyptian Pharaohs are the most notable as to the expense and effort, a society will
go to dispose of its dead. At the other end of the scale, there are the macabre cus-
toms of the Callatians, who ate their own dead, or furzthermore, the Tibetans who
allowed their canines to feed upon the bodies1.
The ceremonies for the disposal of the dead by Aboriginals in Australia are amongst
the oldest in the world. Australia wide, it seems that there were some nine methods
employed. These included horizontal interment, placement of the unprotected body
on a raised platform and cremation.
Historian James Fenton2, in his 1884 book, A History of Tasmania, writes of the
ritual practiced in Tasmania saying:
“The dead were burned on a funeral pile, a custom which was observed when the French
visited the island in 1792. Again in 1802, Peron3 saw, at Maria Island, a cone which had
been erected over the ashes of the dead. The cone was built of poles and bark in the form of
a pyramid, which from the disposal of the poles and strips of bark, Peron pronounced to be
graceful, elegant, and picturesque. Backhouse relates a case of cremation at West Hunter’s
Island in 1832, when a woman died. “The men formed a small pile of logs and at sunset
placed the body of the woman upon it, supported by small wood, which concealed her, and
formed a pyramid ... At daybreak the pile was set on fire, and fresh wood added as any part
of the body became exposed, till the whole was consumed...”
George A. Robinson4, Protector of Aboriginals, wrote of a cremation by the Bruny
Island people saying:
“The other natives were sitting around, and some were employed in gathering grass. They
then bent the legs back against the thigh and bound them round with twisted grass. Each
arm was bent together, and bound round above the elbow. The funeral pile was made by
placing some dry wood at the bottom, on which they laid dry bark, then placed more dry
wood raising it about two foot six inches (75 cm.) from the ground. A quantity of dry bark
was then laid upon the logs, upon which they laid the corpse, arching the whole over with
dry wood, men and women assisting in kindling the fire, after which they went away, and
did not approach it any more that day. On the following day they collected any remains
and burnt them: finally they scraped the ashes together, and covered it over with grass and
Peron’s account of the cremation he witnessed on Maria Island is most likely the
way in which the indigenous people of the Tasman Peninsula disposed of their
They were believe to be the Moomairemener People, a section of the Oyster Bay
Nation of the south east of Tasmania, which included the people who seasonally
inhabited Maria Island.
1. Awofeso N. Burial rituals as noble lies. J. Mundane Behavior, 2003; 4: 37-53
2. James Fenton (1820-1901), pioneer, was born on 20 November 1820 at Dunlavin, Ireland, son of James Fenton, land-
owner. He was educated at a Protestant boarding school near the Vale of Avoca. In 1833 his father decided to migrate to Van
Diemen’s Land. James Fenton (1820-1901), pioneer, was born on 20 November 1820 at Dunlavin, Ireland, son of James
Fenton, landowner. He was educated at a Protestant boarding school near the Vale of Avoca. In 1833 his father decided to
migrate to Van Diemen’s Land. Source ADB
3. François Péron (1775-1810), naturalist, explorer and historian, was born on 22 August 1775 at Cérilly, Allier, France. In
1804 he was commissioned to write the official history of Baudin’s expedition. Nicolas Baudin was selected to lead an expe-
dition to complete the French cartographic survey of the coast of Australia and conduct other scientific investigations there.
4. George Augustus Robinson (1791-1866), protector of Aboriginals, was born on 22 March 1791 probably in London, He
died in Bath on 18 October 1866.
Since the colonization of Australia, we have adopted the burial rituals those set-
tlers brought with them from England. It is interesting to note however that at the
time of English settlement, England was itself modifying its burial practices and it
was not until 1850 that legislation to control cemeteries was enacted.
Right up to and until the mid 1600’s bodies had normally been buried in the local
churchyards. As these cemeteries filled, new ones were created on the outskirts of
urban areas. By around 1750 it became the custom for bodies to be encased in a
coffin for the burial ritual. The first public cemetery in London, created by private
enterprise, was opened in 1833. It was not until 1885, that cremation began to be
practiced in England.
The first Australian cremation was believed to take place in Adelaide in 1895 and
later, a purpose built crematorium was constructed at South Australia’s West Ter-
race in 1903. Statistics indicate that 70% of the dead are now cremated in the UK,
with 54% in Australia.
After English settlement in Sydney, the first cemetery was established where the
Sydney Town Hall now stands and in 1790, it was commonly called the Old Sydney
Burial Ground. The oldest remaining Australian cemetery is St John’s, also estab-
lished in 1790, at Parramatta, to the west of Sydney CBD.
The first burial ground in Van Diemen’s Land was selected by the first Lieutenant
Governor of the Colony, Lieutenant Colonel David Collins5 (Royal Marines) and
the settlement clergyman, the Anglican Minister, Reverend Robert Knopwood6, in
1804. This was situated in what is now known as St. David’s Park, only a short
distance from the centre of Hobart.
Lieutenant Colonel David Collins was himself buried, in the cemetery he selected,
when he died in office in 1810.
Australia’s largest cemetery is Rookwood in Western Sydney, established in 1868.
Today it is advertised as “Rookwood Necropolis” (necropolis being Greek for “city
of the dead”) and with over 900,000 interments at the time or writing. As at 31
December 2014, it is the largest at 700 hectares (1730 acres) in the southern hem-
In recent years some people have expressed their concern regarding the use of so
much land as burial grounds.
In May of 2005, it was reported that a Victorian company had received government
approval to establish a “Vertical Interment” cemetery at Derrinallum, 200 km. east
of Melbourne. Bodies, encased in body bags rather than coffins, are placed in 3
metre drilled holes, without monuments, and the area returned to grazing land.
With the millions of bodies having been disposed of in the last 10,000 years and
a growing population worldwide, this may well be the way of those interred in the
With the prospect of the demise of traditional burial grounds, historic sites such as
“The Isle of The Dead” must be preserved.
5. David Collins (1756-1810) Colonel. a British administrator of Britain’s first Australian colonies. In the first European set-
tlement of Australia in 1788, Collins was the founding Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of New South Wales. Source ADB
6. Robert Knopwood (1763–1838) was an early clergyman and diarist in Australia. Source ADB
Isle of the Dead 1833-1877
Port Arthur was first visited by Captain John Welsh7 in his 28 ton sloop Opossum
when in transit from Maria Island penal station to Hobart Town in 1827. When he
sought shelter in the inlet, then known as Stewart’s Harbour, he particularly noted
the excellent stands of trees around the shoreline.
On his return to Hobart Town, Welsh suggested to Lieutenant Governor George Ar-
thur8, that Stewart’s Harbour may well be an excellent site for a timber station. In
1828, Arthur ordered Welsh to return to the harbour and carry out a more detailed
survey. He found a safe anchorage with a fresh water creek and his positive opinion
of the timber resource was confirmed.
It was during this survey that the harbour was renamed in honour of the Lieuten-
ant Governor and the only small island within, Opossum, after his little sloop.
In 1833, only three years after the Port Arthur Penal settlement was established,
Reverend John Allen Manton9 selected and renamed Opossum Island, the Isle of
the Dead, as the burial ground for the settlement.
For the following 44 years that the Port was to remain convict settlement, adminis-
trators, soldiers, wives and children, as well as convicts and boys from Point Puer
were buried there. A small number of people from Tasman Peninsular outstations
and sailors were also interred.
When selecting the island as the cemetery, The Reverend Manton said that it would
“Secure and undisturbed resting place where the departed prisoners might lie together until
the morning of The Resurrection”
The island was probably selected as the burial ground for several reasons.
Firstly, it was away from the logging pursuits around the settlement, which its op-
erations may have obstructed.
Secondly, the island had no natural resources which could be exploited.
Thirdly, it was but a short trip in a whaleboat across the bay.
Fourthly, about this time in England, particularly large cities, such as London,
were experiencing water supply problems. Those cities had expanded dramatically
due to the industrialisation of the economy and without a proper sewage system,
the ground water supply, drawn from wells and pumps, was highly polluted and
spread disease. Whilst the connection was not understood until the great epide-
miologist, Dr. John Snow10, did his work in 1848, the location of cemeteries was
7. John Welsh (d.1832), master mariner. In January 1826 Welsh was appointed superintendent of government vessels. With
great energy he pursued bushrangers and runaway convicts as far afield as Kangaroo Island, conducted many boards of
inquiry, made surveys of D’Entrecasteaux Channel and harbours on Tasman Peninsula, planned a wharf at Sullivan Cove
and examined bridge sites on the Derwent and at Launceston. Source: Aust Dictionary of Biography.
8. George Arthur
9. John Allen Manton(1807-1864), Wesleyan minister, was born on 17 August 1807 at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England.
Manton’s first appointment was at Parramatta. Six months later he replaced Rev. William Schofield in the penal station at
Macquarie Harbour, Van Diemen’s Land, whence he sailed in January 1833 for the new penal settlement at Port Arthur to
become its first chaplain. Source: Aust Dictionary of Biography
10. John Snow (1813–1858) was an English physician and a leader in the adoption of anaesthesia and medical hygiene.
He is considered one of the fathers of modern epidemiology, in part because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera
outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854. His findings inspired fundamental changes in the water and waste systems of London,
which led to similar changes in other cities, and a significant improvement in general public health around the world.
questioned as part of the investigation. This resulted in burial grounds being es-
tablished on the outskirts of the population centres.
How many are buried on the island?
At the time of writing some controversy exists as to the number buried on the is-
land and the manner in which they were interred.
In 1976 Richard Lord, in writing his definitive book The Isle of The Dead Port Arthur,
began to look seriously at the island. Fortunately, Richard recorded the inscrip-
tions on the gravestones that still remained on the island and researched those to
whom they referred.
In the mid 1990’s the then Port Arthur Heritage Officer, Lynette Ross, began to
question the number buried on the island. At that time, depending to whom one
spoke, the number was either 1769 or more. Some said that there were 1769 con-
victs plus 180 free/military whilst others maintained the 1769 figure included the
When Lynette wrote her 1995 thesis, Death and Burial at Port Arthur, she identified
some 900 burials on the island. A search of the old death and burial records was
difficult due to multiplicity of records, the gaps in them (Ross could locate no Ro-
man Catholic Church burial records) and the paucity of the information contained
therein. Due to these problems Lynette’s final reasoned estimate was that between
1000 and 1100 bodies are buried on the island.
The first reference to the number buried on the island turned up came from a book
by Andrew Garran11.
In his 1886 publication Picturesque Atlas of Australasia12, Garran wrote:
“It [the island] covers the mortal remains of I700 persons bond and free - but all emancipated
It should be remembered that Garran’s work was a large three volume set and that
he was a transient author with little time for detailed research.
In 1892 the noted Tasmanian photographer, John W. Beattie13, published Port Ar-
thur. An Historical Survey. In this small volume he combined the words of David
Burn14 with his images.
“The number of bodies buried on the island is recorded as I769, 180 of which are free people”
It would seem that the often quoted 1769 plus 180 number of burials is an aber-
ration of Burns’ figure. Burn however did not reveal the source of his information.
How were they buried?
The Isle of the Dead is approximately 1 hectare (about 2.4 acres).
It is believed that some convicts were buried naked and in communal graves.
11. Andrew Garran (1825-1901), journalist and politician, was born on 15 November 1825 in London Source: Aust Diction-
ary of Biography
12. Pictureque Atlas of Australasia / edited by Andrew Garran ; Illustrated under the supervision of Frederic B. Schell.
13. John Watt Beattie (1859–1930) was an Australian photographer. Beattie was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. He was elected
as a fellow of the Royal Society of Tasmania in 1890. He was appointed Photographer to the Government of Tasmania on 21
December 1896. He did extensive photography around Tasmania
14. David Burn (c.1799 – 14 June 1875) was a Tasmanian pioneer and dramatist, author of the first Australian drama to be
performed on stage, The Bushrangers.
Adherents of the multiple burial theory tell us that a deep grave was dug. The first
naked convict body was then supposedly placed in the grave, covered with a layer
of lime and soil, and left open for the next felon’s body. They claim that six to eight
bodies were buried in a single grave.
However, there is virtually no evidence to support this theory.
The Port Arthur Management Authority conservation department has recently car-
ried out detailed surveys of the island using geophysical techniques but to date
have not been able to confirm multiple convict burials.
In his 1840’s booklet The Isle of the Dead, Reverend Manton reminisced on some of
the convicts he buried on the island. At one point he wrote:
“My mind ran back to the period when I first visited this gloomy spot. My eye fixed upon a
few well known graves: and such strange-mingled feelings took possession of my heart, as
could only find relief in tears”
In writing of the convict Dennis Collins, Manton says:
“At my feet was the grassy mount which covered the remains of Dennis Collins”
Later he writes:
“Near the grave of Dennis Collins was that of one who died under widely different circum-
stances: it was the quiet resting place of John MacNannie”
Also later, in the same vein, he writes:
“Contiguous to the grave of John MacNannie lies one whose hands have been stained with
Manton’s booklet shows his compassion for those whose burials he solemnized. His
writing does not indicate multiple burials and it is presumed that he would have
mentioned it had he interred in that manner.
Admittedly, at the time of Manton’s writings, convicts were being buried in commu-
nal graves in English prisons. Records exist of a dozen or so coffins being buried
communally within the confines of the gaols. As space was at a premium within
those prisons this is understandable - not so on the Isle of the Dead.
The theory of naked convict burial also bears questioning.
Why, particularly in a timber station, would they not provide a coffin for a convict
body? There would be minimal expense, at a station, where both timber and con-
vict labour were readily available and it was much easier to transport a body in a
It should also be noted that in England it had been an almost universal practice to
bury, in coffins, since around 1750.
This concept of naked burial may well have come from American transportee Linus
In his 1846 book, Notes of an Exile to Van Diemen’s Land, page347, he wrote of
his disgust at bodies being placed:
“ in a rough coffin in a state of perfect nudity”.
15. Linus Wilson Miller:-(1817-1880), A native of Delanti (now Stockton), New York, he was transported, via the Canton, to
In the 1870’s, a journalist George Gruncell, writing for The Clipper Magazine16,
wrote of a “convict coffin” being carried from the hospital to the church and later
being lowered into a grave on the Isle of the Dead.
Where were they buried?
Seen from the sea the island appears to be a rocky outcrop but there are some five
metres of loamy soil on the higher part.
During the early years, convicts and the free were segregated on the island. The
free were buried on the higher northern side of the island in defined rows whilst the
convicts were buried on the lower parts.
Prior to 1854, no convict had a stone placed in their memory. In his booklet, Man-
ton indicates that until at least the early 1840’s, it was not permitted to mark a
convict grave. After 1854, only a dozen convicts or ex-convicts had a memorial
erected for them. Some of these stones are in the “free area”.
One of the “free stones” marks a free communal grave. Buried there are three sail-
ors (never identified) from a schooner that foundered on the west coast of the Pen-
insula when outward bound from Hobart Town and “some bones of youth”. These
bones may have been either those of an Aboriginal child or, possibly, a boy who had
absconded from Point Puer and perished in the bush.
Family members were also interred in family graves e.g. the three Staveley children.
Condition of the headstones and graves.
Visitors to the island will note the delamination of the north-facing side of many of
the headstones. This damage may be attributed to the clear felling of the island’s
vegetation in the late 1930’s. In those days an A. E. Woodhead sought and gained
government permission, plus a grant, to create a memorial garden on the island.
Apparently, Mr Woodhead moved on and on returning to Tasmania for a visit in
1949, wrote a letter to the local newspaper, showing his concern for the condition
of the island.
The Mercury17 Tues 21 June 1949
VANDALISM ON ISLE OF
Gravestones on the Isle of the
Dead, Port Arthur, have been
over turned and broken by van-
dals, rabbits are stripping the
bark from the trees, and fern
has smothered a garden once
planted there, according to Mr.
A. E. Woodhead, who is revisit-
Van Diemen’s Land in January of 1840 where he underwent hard labour for the next four years. He attempted to escape,
soon after his arrival, in 1840, was caught and sent to Port Arthur. Receiving a Pardon in 1843, he became tutor to the fam-
ily of Thomas James Lempriere for the next two years. He sailed back to the United States in January of 1846.In 1850 he
married, had three children, living the rest of his life as a farmer. Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
16. The Clipper was a newspaper published in Hobart, Tasmania from 1893 to 1909. The title merged with the Daily Post
17. The Mercury:-Started in 1854 in Hobart, it was published twice weekly and known then as Hobarton Mercury. It became
a daily newspaper in 1858 and two years later, in 1860, the masthead was reduced to The Mercury.
Mr. Woodhead, who lived in
Hobart for many years before
the war, planted a garden on
the island with the approval of
the fate Mr. A. G. Ogilvie when
Premier. He believed that his
work would be carried on, but
has. found the is land covered
by fern and little sign of the
Besides trees, Mr. Woodhead
planted shrubs of all descrip-
tions and 1,000 each of daffo-
dils, gladioli, and hyacinths. Mr.
Woodhead also criticised the
roads at Port Arthur which, he
said, were in no shape to en-
This lead to a Government response, alleging “acts of vandalism” by Mr Woodhead
The Mercury Thursday, 23
June, 1949, page 11
uled For Isle Of The
IMPROVEMENTS to the Isle of
the Dead, at Port Ar-Port Arthur,
are on the schedule of works of
the Port Arthur Scenic Board.
THE Superintendent of Scenic
Reserves (Mr. M. S. R. Sharland)
said this yesterday when re-
ferring to complaints by Mr. A.
E. Woodhead of alleged acts of
vandalism on the island.
Mr. Sharland said the island
was overgrown with bracken
fern and scrub because of the
lack of labour and the need in
the past two or three years to
concentrate all available men
on urgent works at Port Arthur.
These included the preservation
of historic buildings and work
on dwellings, many of which
had been in a bad state of re-
pair. Attention would be given
to the Isle of the Dead as soon
as possible.One reason for the
work not having been done pre-
viously was that there were few
visitors to the island, as tourist
companies and others did not
allow sufficient time for day
visitors to make the trip. The
board, however, had erected a
new jetty there.
Mr. Sharland said he did not
think there” had been much
One serious act of vandal-
ism’, however, whether it was
official or otherwise, was the
felling of several well-grown
gum trees which had given
the Island an appropriate
These trees, said Mr, Sharland,
had been removed a few years
ago so that a “ garden could be
The Mercury Friday, 24
June,1949, page 22
FELLED GUM TREES ON
A. E. WOODHEAD said in Ho-
bart yesterday that he had
felled gum trees on the Isle of
the Dead, Port Arthur, on the
advice of the then Premier (the
late Mr. A. G. Ogilvie), the late
Mr. E. Dwyer-Gray, and the late
Mr. T. H. Davies.Mr. WOOD-
HEAD, who planted a garden
on the island, was replying to
a statement by the Superinten-
dent of Scenic Reserves (Mr. M.
S. R. Sharland) that the felling
of several well-grown gum trees
there was “serious ‘act of van-
dalism” Mr. Woodhead said:
“I would prefer to stand on the
advice of these men rather than
on Mr. Sharland’s definition of
the word vandalism.” He stated
that he maintained, that dese-
cration of graves on the island
was an act of vandalism. Ap-
parently Mr. Sharland has not
been there for many years,” he
added. Mr. Woodhead stressed
the need to preserve the golden
cyprus trees and other shrubs
planted on the island, rather
than to plant young gum trees.
“I have yet to see gum trees
planted in a cemetery to create
a decorative effect’ he added.
The clear felling exposed the stones to the elements and the constant wetting and
drying of the north face caused the damage over the years. A program of revegeta-
tion, repair and maintenance is now in place to minimize further damage.
It was this clear felling which also caused the mounds above the convict graves to
be obliterated by wind and rain.
Prior Damage to the Island
The alleged vandalism of the Woodhead garden refurbishment in around 1938, was
preceded by an event in early February of 1912. Prior to responsibility of the island
being vested in the Tasman Municipality in 1925, the body corporate in charge of
the island seemed very undefined. The main complaint was about the damage done
by a councillor’s goats.
Daily Post18 Mon 26 Feb 1912
ISLE OF THE DEAD.
Sir, -Will you let me through
your widely read journal draw
attention to the Isle of the Dead
at Carnarvon. Some few years
ago Miss Woolnough collected
some money to have this old
burial ground cleared, and the
Government gave a small sum
towards it, and so did the local
Council. The Council was then
asked if it could have the work
done, and agreed to this. The
scrub was cut and burned, and
the isle was sown with grass
with a view to keep the rubbish
from growing again. Miss Wool-
nough and another lady then
planted flowers and scrubs on
the island, and most people
were pleased to see the change
that took place. But to our great
sur prise we found Councillor
Wellard has put his goats on the
island and they have eaten up
everything. Letters were sent to
the Council asking it to have the
goats removed, and the Warden
answered one letter saying that
the Council had no control of
over the island, and could not
have the goats removed -
18. Daily Post:-Printed in Hobart 1908 to 1918.
Daily Post Tue 27Feb1912
THE ISLE OF THE DEAD.
Writing In yesterday’s issue of
“The Dally Post,” a correspond-
ent complained of the neglected
condition of the Isle of the Dead,
at Carnarvon (Port Arthur}, and
pointed out that the local munic-
ipal council declined to interfere
In the matter. As the result of
inquiries made (by a reporter
from “The Daily Post” yester-
day, It was ascertained that the
Island comes under the jurisdic-
tion of the Lands department,
which is taking steps to Improve
the state of affairs referred to by
An irate ratepayer had the final say,
Daily Post Mon 8 Apr 1912
THE ISLE OF THE DEAD.
Sir,- Will you allow me to reply
to the statement by the Lands
department about goats on the
Isle of the Dead at Port Arthur.
The department says that the
Crown bailiff is responsible for
the report. Well, all I have to
say is that the Crown bailiff has
made a mistake as he did not
go on the island to see. I saw
the bailiff a few days ago, and
asked him. why he sent such
a report, and he told me that
he saw Councillor Wellard, and
asked him if there were goats
on the Island, and he said “No”.
So on the strength of the answer
he sent the report to the Lands
I think that this letter, and other
letters which have been pub-
lished, show that goats have
been allowed to run on the
island. The council’s minutes
which have been published in
“The Daily Post” show my report
to be quite correct. But who is
going to see to the damage that
has been done by those ani-
mals. The council says it has no
power in the matter, but accord-
ing to Miss Woollnough’s letter
it had power to spend £4 of our
rates in clearing the Island. It
does not seem good buslness to
spend our rates where it has no
control. Perhaps the Lands de-
partment will see to the damage
done by those goats.—Yours
Final closure of the site.
After the convict settlement closed, the Isle of the Dead was no longer used as a
burial ground (1877) and the present cemetery, at the highway entrance to the His-
toric Site, has been used since then.
The island was again forgotten and allowed to overgrow, and in 1976, the Tasman
Scenic Protection Board commenced a clearing policy in which most exotic trees
were removed and natives planted. The rhododendrons were however retained.
*Tropman Report 1984
Conservation of the site
Tourists and visitors were allowed onto the island from December 1976, the jetty
being rebuilt between September 1977 and April 1978. To prevent erosion and
provide all weather walking surface, paving and steps from the jetty area onto the
upper area was carried out.
The Port’s Management Authority now conducts guided tours on the Isle of the
Dead, and these are the only authorized landings on the island.
The Reverend John Allen Manton
John Allen Manton was born at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire and began his training
tor the ministry in 1822. He arrived in New South Wales per Surry in 1831 and was
appointed to the Parramatta district. He was transferred to the Sarah Island Penal
Settlement, in Macquarie Harbour, Van Diemen’s Land in 1832. In 1833 he was
transferred to Port Arthur to become its first Chaplain. There he organized literacy
and numeracy classes for both adult and boy convicts as well as carrying out his
pastoral duties. One or his first duties was the selection of a burial ground tor the
settlement. He chose and named the Isle of the Dead for this purpose.
In 1834 Manton was transferred to Launceston and he also worked in other are-
as of the colony before returning to Port Arthur in 1841. The Parsonage, in Civil
Officers Row, was built to accommodate him during his tenure. He then moved to
When in central Van Diemen’s Land, he joined with a retired seaman, Captain
Samuel Horton19, and became the first principal of Horton Boys College, which was
financed by the Captain, about 5km south of the beautiful colonial village of Ross.
Ill health however forced him to resign after two years and he returned to Sydney.
In 1863, as President of the Wesleyan Conference, he suggested a boy’s college be
Newington College was opened in 1863 with Manton as Principal.
Manton, a frail man, died only 15 months after his appointment in September of
1864. He was survived by his wife, Anne Green, of Spilsby, Lincolnshire and sev-
His obituary in The Tasmanian Messenger20 said of him:
“He was a man of sound judgement and enlightened mind, a good preacher, a strict dis-
ciplinarian, a thorough Wesleyan... Faultless he was not but about him there was such a
combination of tenderness and firmness, of sympathy and manliness of Christian liberality
and consistency, that his enemies were few and his friends many.”
Below is a reproduction of the most Reverend Manton’s pamphlet on the Isle of the
Dead. It was written by Manton and is also believed it to be the only writing in exist-
ence, done by a Chaplain who served at Port Arthur, regarding the burial ground.
To make ease of reading, some of the religious discourse has been deleted, whilst
retaining Manton’s thoughts on some of the convicts he buried and other relevant
Religion was considered to be vital to the reform of convicts in these times and
Chaplains, in general, held a very senior position among the administrative offi-
cials. At times Chaplains, although not in overall command of stations, received a
larger salary than the Commandant.
19. Samuel Horton (1796 – 1867), was an important figure in the history of Ross, both as settler and staunch Wesleyan.
Horton was granted 100 acres of land near the Ross Bridge in addition to the 1640 pounds in goods and cash he had brought
him. In 1828 he received an additional 800 acres and he added to this with his own purchases. Horton called his property
Somercotes after the area he had come from in Lincolnshire. He married in 1833, was a recognised philanthropist and ben-
efactor and was appointed, in 1858, as Justice of the Peace, also being one of the first members of Ross Municipal Council.
20. The Tasmanian Messenger: a religious journal for the family, the Sabbath school and the church. Hobart] : Printed for
the Proprietors by Josiah Courtney Pratt, 1859-1868.
THE ISLE OF THE DEAD
THE BURIAL-PLACE AT PORT ARTHUR,
PUBLISHED BY JOHN MASON, 14 CITY-ROAD
AND SOLD AT 66, PATERNOSTER-ROW
On the 28th April 1770, Captain Cook cast anchor in a beautiful bay on the coast
of New Holland. Sir Joseph Banks, with his scientific companions, went on shore;
and, on observing a great number of wild flowers growing in rich profusion on its
gentle slopes gave it the appropriate name of Botany Bay. At that time, neither
the gallant Commander nor his enterprising friends could possibly have formed
the most remote idea that, in the course of a few years, that pleasing name would
become terrible to thousands. But where is the individual who has not heard of
the far-famed Botany Bay, as being the land of the banished offender? Frequently
has the mention of this spot caused the deepest melancholy to fall upon the spirit
of the aged, care-worn father, and wrung with anguish the heart of the widowed
mother; whilst it has reminded each of the beloved though disobedient children,
whose crimes have exiled them to shores distant, far from their land of birth, more
than half the circumference of the globe. In 1787 the first convicts were sent to
Botany Bay. From that period, to 1803, all the expatriated were sent to New South
Wales, when Van Diemen’s Land was taken up as a penal colony. In the year 1840
it was determined that all prisoners of the British Crown should be sent to Tasma-
nia; so that the dreaded Botany Bay exists no more as a land of banishment. It is
a subject which will excite no surprise, that belonging to the convict colonies there
should be established penal settlements, to which those who violate colonial laws
should be sent, for severer punishment than that which they received under their
original sentence at such a settlement, for Van Diemen’s Land was formed at Port
Arthur, about twelve years ago. At first only twenty-five prisoners were sent; but
their numbers increased considerably; so that, at present time, upward of sixteen
hundred convicts are there located under the sentence of the law. During the above
period, many thousands have been removed to other stations, having finished their
probation [sentence] in this place.
It fell to my lot to be the first minister of the Gospel appointed to preach the word
of life to those degraded outcasts. With what success that word has been declared
by the ministers of the Wesleyan Connection, who have laboured among them from
year to year, the great day alone will unfold. Disease and death soon made their
inroads amongst us; so it was necessary that some suitable spot be selected, where
to deposit the earthly remains of the departed. In the spacious bay, on the verge
of which the settlement is situated, at the distance of a mile, stands a lovely little
island, about half a mile in circumference at the water’s edge. This, it appeared to
me, would be a secure and undisturbed resting place, where the departed prison-
ers might lie together until the morning of the resurrection. It was accordingly fixed
upon, and called, “The Isle of the Dead”. Since that time, many a sad and melan-
choly walk have I taken on this island; but, perhaps never more so than yesterday,
when I went to perform the funeral ceremony over one who, three days before, had
been most barbarously murdered by one of his fellow prisoners. No sooner had I
set my foot upon the path which winds along among the humble graves, than the
beautiful words of the afflicted Job struck my mind with peculiar force; “There the
wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest”. Here the prisoners
rest together, - they hear not the voice of the oppressor. I enquired how far these
delightful lines were applicable to the circumstances of those whose ashes reposed
in solemn silence around me. If Job referred only to the grave, they were literally
so. The dead had all been in bondage to men; they had followed courses which, at
length, threw them into constant contact with whose hearts were fully set in them
to do evil, so that they became a source of trouble and annoyance to each other and
at last life itself became weariness unto them.
My mind ran back to the period when I first visited this gloomy spot. My eye fixed
upon a few well known graves; and such strangely mingled feelings took posses-
sion of my as could only find relief in tears. At my feet was the grassy mount which
covered the remains of Dennis Collins. He had belonged to a man-of-war, and for
many years had served his King, and often fought for his country; but like many
thousands of British sailors, he had lived utterly regardless or God. He had baffled
the storm, had engaged the enemy, kept his accustomed watch, sung the mer-
ry song, laughed and joked his years away; but regarded not the world to come.
At length in an engagement he lost a leg; and, being thus disabled, he was dis-
charged, and found an asylum in Greenwich Hospital, where he might have spent
the evening of his days in peace and comfort; but having been long accustomed to
do evil, he found that it was not an easy task to learn to do well: he violated the
regulations of the Establishment and was dismissed in disgrace. He applied for a
pension, but was unsuccessful. He attended the races at Ascot, in the year 1832,
evidently for the specific purpose of embracing an opportunity of manifesting his
malicious feelings upon his Sovereign for as soon as William IV and Queen Ade-
laide presented themselves at the window of the royal stand, he threw a stone at
the King, which struck his hat with such violence as to cause a deep indentation.
The King, in surprise of the moment, exclaimed that he had been hit- thinking a
bullet had been discharged at him. Collins was seized, tried for high treason and
received the dreadful sentence of death, which was afterwards commuted to trans-
portation for life- a considerable part of which was to be passed at Port Arthur. He
arrived here in the early part of the year 1833. The day on which he landed, he
was clothed in yellow (the ordinary dress of the prisoners on their arrival) and was
required to do some light work, his age and general decrepitude exempting him
from the more severely worked gangs. Collins, however, declared his determination
not to go through even the form of labour saying, that he had worked for the King
long enough; and that he would neither perform the King’s tasks nor eat the King’s
food any longer. He was sent to a cell, where he remained fourteen days obstinate-
ly refusing either to eat or work. He was reasoned with on the impropriety of his
conduct, and urged to abandon his sinful resolution; but he exhibited a degree of
steadfastness of purpose almost unparalleled. At the end of this period, being in
a state or great exhaustion from his long abstinence, he was taken to the hospi-
tal, where every medical comfort which that establishment afforded was set before
him; he lingered for seven days longer, and then died, miserably perishing in his
sin. He was a bigoted Roman Catholic, and did not request my visits; nevertheless
I saw him placed in his grave, after a lapse of ten years, my mind was and sensibly
affected by the recollection or the words of Solomon:
“The perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them”.
Near the grave of Dennis Collins was that of one who died under widely different
circumstances: it was the quiet resting place of John McNannie, a native of GIas-
gow. In youth he received good instruction; but he commenced in early life a course
or folly, which continued until he was seized with his last Illness. When he arrived
at a man’s estate, he enlisted as a soldier, and fought his country’s battles on the
plains of Waterloo; in which contest he lost an arm. On his restoration to health he
received a discharge, and returned to his native land. Having risen to the highest
rank of non- commissioned officers, he was entitled to a pension that enabled him
to live respectably. After a short time he met a young woman, for whom he began
to entertain an ardent affection: proposals of marriage were made, and accepted;
and in due time they were united. Thinking that it was necessary that he should in-
crease his means of subsistence by an attention to some business, he was induced
to become the landlord of an ale-house. This was a fatal step; as he was soon sur-
rounded by those whose hearts were depraved and whose actions were flagitious
[criminal]. He became addicted to the nefarious practice or receiving stolen proper-
ty which soon terminated in his ruin. He was apprehended, found guilty, and was
banished for the term of his natural life from his country and his friends.
For several years he pursued a course of dissipation amongst his fellow prisoners in
this colony. At length, for some misdemeanour, he was sent to the penal settlement
at Port Arthur. Here also he continued the careless and abandoned sinner, living
without God and without hope. Yet all this time the Holy Spirit was striving with
him. In his very best and brightest days he was not happy; and when surrounded
by men of the worst character (his actions, alas! too nearly resembling theirs) he
was thoroughly miserable. While he was passing through his probation at this last
place of human banishment, his health forsook him and it was decreed that
“The rose on his deserted cheek
Should never bloom again”
He was admitted to the hospital, where many wearisome days and nights were ap-
pointed him. His complaint was pronounced to be pulmonary consumption. Laid
aside from the activities of life, and from his old associates in sin, and passing
through the lingering stages of a wasting disease, with the realities of an eternal
world before him, he began seriously to consider the necessity or an attention to
those things which concerned the salvation of his soul. Divine light began to dawn
upon his mind: and those convictions which were experienced in early life were
revived and deepened. Under these circumstances I visited him frequently, and
conversed with him freely on the affairs of eternity. [page deleted]
On the Isle of the Dead no stone marks whereabouts he slumbers, as no tombstone
or other mark is allowed to be placed at the head of the graves,-an act of kindness
which would sometimes be performed by the surviving prisoners. As I passed his
grave yesterday, I thought how many would consider themselves degraded, were
they to be informed, that in a short time, they must sleep by his side on the Isle of
the Dead.; but who would (if my hopes concerning him are eventually realized) be
happy indeed to stand in his lot in the decisive day, when the Judge eternal shall
pronounce to all that love and fear him, “Come, ye blessed children of my Father,
receive the kingdom prepared for you for the foundation of the world”.[page deleted]
Contiguous to the grave of John McNannie lies one whose hands have been stained
with blood. His life was so wicked and his death so awful, that the fearful disclo-
sures must be left for a future day. Could they now be written, they would furnish a
striking warning to young transgressors. The day on which we conveyed him to the
Isle of the Dead was in perfect keeping with the state of his mind in his last hours:
the fury of the blast, the teeming of the rain, the roaring of the surges upon the iron
stone rocks which bound the little isle, with the dying groans and sad exclama-
tions of the departed yet fresh the memory, combined to render it one of the most
solemn hours of my existence. I trust the word of warning, advice, and invitation
then given to the few who attended on such occasions, was not forgotten: from my
remembrance the circumstances will not soon pass away. Peculiar as were my feel-
ings on the l6 of April, 1834, when at the grave of John McNannie,- they were not
less so (though of a different character) on the 31st of January,1843, while I reflect-
ed among the graves on the Isle of the Dead. Many of the prisoners there resting
together I have personally known; had visited them in their afflictions; and have
pointed them to that Saviour who came to proclaim liberty to the captive, opening
of the prison to them that are bound, and to declare the acceptable year of the Lord.
Though truth demands the admission, that all did not furnish the sounds of hope
which the case of the Glasgow Sunday-school afforded, yet with adoring gratitude
would I record it, that he was not the only one of whose hopes are entertained, that
when this spot on earth, at the sound of the archangel’s trumpet, shall give up its
hundreds, he shall come forth to the resurrection of life everlasting.
JOHN A. MANTON
Price 3s. per 100. Considerable allowance will be made to Tract-Societies, Sun-
day-Schools, and Booksellers
London: R. Needham, Printer, Paternoster-Row
Science in a Cemetery
Much of what we know of early Port Arthur and its environs naturally comes from
the educated officials who worked at the establishment and those who visited in
official capacity. There are of course exceptions such as the convict mentioned pre-
viously, Linus Miller.
Foremost amongst those writers was Thomas James Lempriere21.
Lempriere arrived at the Port as the Senior Stores Clerk in 1833 and departed 15
years later, as Assistant Commissary General.
He was a man of many and varied interests.
In his book, The Penal Settlements of Early Van Diemen’s Land (1839), he wrote not
only of the buildings and lifestyle he found but also of the geography, geology, flora
and fauna. Another of his interests, whilst at the Port was climatology, including
the measurement of tides.
It is uncertain in which year Lempriere began his meteorological observations, but
it may well have been in 1837. One of his diaries records that in his Commissariat
(stores) office, he stored his collection of animal, vegetable and mineral samples.
This long-gone storehouse was a little to the east (seaward) of the Watchman’s
Quarters section of the Penitentiary.
In Chapter 11 of his 1839 dissertation and detailed descriptions of Port Arthur,
Lempriere states that in his Commissariat Office were stored also “the meteoro-
logical registers..., they contain the height of the barometer, attached and external
thermometers, direction and force of the wind, weather, also a tide guage (sic) and
pluviometer”. The use of the word “pluviometer” instead of “rain gauge” probably
demonstrates his bilingual ability as he was fluent in both speaking and writing
He noted that readings from them were taken, with the exception of the tide and
rain gauges, regularly, at 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The “tide gauge”, mentioned above, should not be confused with the “Tide Mark”
(referred to in the following passage). The tide gauge was most probably a marked
pole in the water, not far from the shore, from which the rise and fall of the tide
could be read.
Some people, who have studied Lempriere’s work believe that his meteorological
instruments were situated on the Isle of the Dead. This assumption is probably due
to his being involved in cutting the Tide Mark on the island, the height at which
his barometer was situated and the latitude and longitude he gave as the position
of his instruments.
Recent accurate positioning of his location puts it approximately half way between
the settlement and the island. This was an amazingly accurate reading for a man
untrained in the field - especially in the 1840’s.
However, now it is believed that Lempriere had his instruments with him in the
settlement, not on the island. This assumption is based on the actual problem of
having to row an open whaleboat a nautical mile across the harbour, “thrice a day”
particularly in inclement weather, that makes this conclusion seem more than
21. Thomas James Lempiere: (1796–1852), commissariat officer. Source Companion to Tasmanian History : Alexander
The Tide Mark
Between the years of 1839-1843, a British Naval explorer, Captain Sir James Clark
Ross22, R.N., commanded a voyage to the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic and
wrote about his expedition in his book23 published, in two volumes, in 1847.
Ross’ voyages were scientific expeditions to the Antarctic, in his two ships, Erebus
and Terror, and according to his journal, were in Hobart for about three months
departing on 7th July, 1841.
He noted that Baron Von Humboldt24 in his letter to the Earl of Minto, First Lord of
the Admiralty and under who’s auspices his expedition was under, had suggested
“The fixing of solid and well secured marks for the purpose of showing mean sea level of the
ocean at a given epoch”
be attached at strategic points around the world. This would have made it easier
to calibrate the relative changes of mean sea level between land and sea. He, Ross,
also laments that he received this information, after his departure and states:
“I did not receive any account until our return from the antarctic seas, which is the reason of
my not having established a similar mark on the rocks of Kerguelen Island, or some shores
of Victoria Land”.
Luckily, coincidence would have it on two fronts. The then Lt. Governor of Tasma-
nia, was a friend and fellow explorer, Sir John Franklin25. Franklin told him that an
amateur scientist and official of the settlement at Port Arthur, Thomas Lempiere,
had been keeping tidal records, amongst other meteorological observations, since
1837 or thereabouts. Franklin said he had his full support.
Ross was enthused and in May 1841, in the accompaniment of the Governor, went
to Port Arthur to meet Thomas Lempiere.
“My principal object in visiting Port Arthur was to afford a comparison of our standard ba-
rometer with that which had been employed for several years by Mr. Lempriere, the Deputy
Assistant Commissary General, in accordance with my instructions, and also to establish a
permanent mark at the zero point, or general mean level of the sea as determined by the tidal
observations which Mr. Lempriere had conducted with perseverance and exactness for some
time: by which means any secular variation in the relative level of the land and sea, which
is known to occur on some coasts, might at any future period be detected, and its amount
determined. The point chosen for this purpose was the perpendicular cliff of the small islet
off Point Puer, which, being near to the tide register, rendered the operation more simple and
exact; the Governor, whom I had accompanied on an official visit to the settlement, gave di-
rections to afford Mr. Lempriere every assistance of labourers he required, to have the mark
cut deeply in the rock in the exact spot which his tidal observations indicated as the mean
level of the ocean.”
He went on to say :
“I can only hope that some individual with like zeal for science with Mr. Lempiere, and time
at his disposal may yet accomplish this desideratum. I may here observe, that it is not essen-
tial that the mark be made exactly at the mean level of the ocean, indeed it is more desirable
22. Captain Sir James Clark Ross: (1800–1862) was a British naval officer and explorer remembered today for his explora-
tion of the Arctic with his uncle Sir John Ross and Sir William Parry and, in particular, his own expedition to Antarctica.
23. A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions during years 1839-43 ..., Volume 2 Chapter
1 Page 22-24 By Sir James Clark Ross
24. Baron Von Humboldt Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander: 14 September 1769 – 6 May 1859) was a Prussian poly-
math, geographer, naturalist, explorer, and influential proponent of Romantic philosophy and science. Source Wikipedia
25. Sir John Franklin (1786-1847), rear admiral, Arctic explorer and lieutenant-governor, was born on 16 April 1786 at
Spilsby, Lincolnshire, England
that it should be rather above the reach of the highest tide: it is, however, important that it be
made of some part of a solid cliff, not liable to rapid disintegration , and the exact distance
above the mean sea level…recorded on a plate of copper, well protected from the weather, by
placing a flat stone with cement between, upon the plane surface or platform which should
constitute the mark from which the level of the mean tide should be measured.”
As a result, he visited the Port and on July 1, 1841, the mark was cut into the rock
face on the north west side of the Isle or the Dead.
The benchmark they established is still there and in perfect condition.
To every historical event, there always seems to be a touch of irony.
Firstly, Ross, later in 1848, was sent on one of the three expeditions to find Sir
In 1843, after his term of office as Governor had finished, Franklin disappeared
on his last expedition, attempting to chart and navigate a section of the Northwest
Passage in the Canadian Arctic. The icebound ships were abandoned and the en-
tire crew died of starvation, hypothermia, tuberculosis, lead poisoning, and scurvy.
Secondly, Lempiere, had been sending data back to London, which had been unfor-
tunately lost but over 150 years later, it was found in the Royal Archives in London,
The benchmark at mean tide
A plaque, denoting when it was cut, was then fastened to the rock. Unfortunate-
ly, around 1913, the plaque disappeared. This is probably the oldest mark in the
southern hemisphere and possibly the second oldest in the world.
The 1888 Height Measurement and controversy.
In a discussion paper Tasmanian Sea Levels: The Isle of the Dead Revisited and
posted in the public domain, the late John Daly, a well published climate expert,
had the following to say:
Captain J. Shortt R.N.26 was the government meteorologist of the day. He published gov-
ernment notices regularly in the local press and was a contributor of scientific papers to the
Royal Society of Tasmania, the state’s premier scientific body.
During the early 1880s, and immediately in the wake of the mammoth eruption of Krakatoa
(Kakatau), in August 1883, an island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra., Tas-
mania was subjected to over a thousand earth tremors, mostly on the eastern half of the is-
land, and Shortt published an analysis of these in 1885. These tremors were unprecedented
in number or scale either before or since. Three years later, Shortt published his paper on the
Ross-Lempriere benchmark, and explained that it was because of the possible vertical move-
ment of land following such tremors that he decided to measure the height of the benchmark
26. Captain J. Shortt R.N : Trove Ref The Tasmanian Sat 28 Nov 1885
so that future vertical movements of the land, if any, could be accurately tracked.
Someone, probably Lempriere, had a small stone tablet mounted near the bench-
mark to explain its purpose. The tablet went missing early in the 20th century so
what was written on it, is impossible to confirm today.
The controversary surrounds the wording on the stone, as it was quoted to Capt.
Shortt with a time different to that transcribed by a sailor in 1891, some three
years later. The difference is the time of the setting of the benchmark, some 2
hours, which would effect the calculation of Mean Sea Level.
This benchmark, irrespective of the dispute over the original time recorded, was
of no future use unless it could be calibrated against some of the original data of
Lempiere and that was lost.
Then, serendipity played its part, and, in late 1995, in the archives of the Royal
Society in London, his data for 1841 and 1842 was discovered by Pugh et al re-
searching “Sea Level at Port Arthur, from 1841 to Present ,”.
Furthermore in mid-1998 the data for December 1839 and February 1840–Janu-
ary 1841 was found in the National Archives of Australia.
Irrespective of any controversy, just the fact of having this original data and such
an early benchmark in the Southern Hemisphere, is of great scientific and histor-
Sources and Acknowledgements
Hunter, Coleman & Pugh 2003 The Sea Level at Port Arthur, Tasmania, from 1841
to the present
John L. Daly Feb 2003 Tasmanian Sea Levels: The Isle of the Dead
Case Study: 2006 State of the Environment Tasmania
The Lempriere tide log between June and July 1841
Thomas James Lempriere
Writer, Amateur Scientist, Commissary Officer
Apart from his involvement with the island tide mark, Thomas James Lempiere had
a memory of the island which he undoubtedly took with him to his own grave.
He was known by all as a devoted family man and it would have been with deep
sorrow that he buried his son, John Everad Lempiere, aged 25 months, on the Isle
of the Dead.
No memorial stone for this child is apparent.
Knowing his strong family ties and religious beliefs, it is unlikely that he did not
place a stone for his son, who died on February 21, 1845, so the question of its
whereabouts goes unanswered.
Thomas James Lempiere arrived in Hobart town, per Regalia, in 1822 after his
service in France and the West Indies with the British Army. He had been born to
Thomas (senior), a merchant banker, and Harriet whilst they were in Hamburg,
Germany, in 1796.
He arrived in Hobart town as a free settler and became a businessman. Thomas
James met Charlotte Jones on the voyage to Van Diemen’s Land and they married
Charlotte bore 12 children, 11 of whom reached adulthood. Thomas senior and his
wife came also to V.D.L in 1825 and father and son became merchant bankers,
trading as Lempriere & Co.
When the business failed, Thomas James joined the government commissary
branch and was posted to Maria Island as a storekeeper in 1826.
Shortly after, he was transferred to the notorious Sarah Island, in Macquarie Har-
bour, where he worked for the next 5 years.
He returned to Hobart in 1831 before moving to Port Arthur as Senior Clerk in
He was to remain at the Port until 1848, during which he was promoted to Assis-
tant Commissary General in 1844 and coroner for Tasmania in 1846.
He was recalled to England in 1849 for immediate transfer as assistant Commis-
sary-General in Hong Kong . After only a brief service there, he was invalided home
in 1851 but contracted dysentery on the voyage and died at sea in January of 1852.
He was buried, in Aden, with military honours.
Charlotte and the children had remained in Hobart when Thomas went to Hong
Kong and, when he died, she was left in difficult circumstances, still with four
She spent her later years at the home of her daughter Emily, in Bellerive.
Emily, born at Port Arthur in 1842, died in 1934 at the age of 92 years. She became
a social activist and was married to Henry Dobson, a well-known and respected
lawyer and later Tasmanian premier (1892 to 1894), who shared her philanthropic
Their sons established the well-known Lempriere Wool Brokerage company in Mel-
Thomas James Lempriere was a dedicated family man, scientist, musician, writer
and diarist and spoke several languages.
The Island Artisans
Convicts Pickering and Sanders
Both these men served sentences at the Port and undoubtedly their paths crossed
there. As neither of their records indicate they were involved in stone quarrying or
cutting prior to transportation, it is reasonable to assume they acquired their skills
in masonry during their periods of incarceration.
He was a 20 year-old single Protestant, literate, when given 10 years transporta-
tion for theft in London, January 1842.
He arrived in Hobart Town per Moffat, in November of that year. Over the years
Pickering had numerous other convictions and spent some 4 years on Norfolk Is-
During the years of 1856-1864 at the Port, he cut at least 20 headstones for the
From stones known to be cut by him, twelve bear a particular rope design.
He received a Colonial Conditional Pardon on the 9th of February 1864, just after
his departure for Sydney.
A native of Northampton, literate, single, Protestant and nineteen years old, Sand-
ers was transported, per Sir Robert Peel, under a seven year sentence for house-
breaking, in 1844. He also had numerous further convictions during his life in Van
Diemen’s Land, including three terms at the Port, twice forfeiting his Ticket-Of-
During the years of 1853 to 1859, at the Port, he cut at least seven stones for the
island. The last entry on his convict record, his Pardon, was granted in the summer
Source: Richard Lord: Isle of the Dead: Port Arthur
A Lonely Abode
Convicts John Barron and Mark Jeffrey
An integral part of the burial ritual is, of course, the grave.
Towards the closure of Port Arthur, we know of two convict grave diggers who lived
on the Isle of the Dead, but we know nothing of those who performed this melan-
choly task in earlier days. Considering the number of trades practiced at, and the
expansion and productivity of the settlement over the first twenty years, it is rea-
sonable to assume that no convict was allowed the comparative idleness of being a
resident grave digger, especially in those times.
John Barron (-1892)
It is from the English author, Anthony Trollope, who visited Tasmania in 1872, and
his consequent visit to Port Arthur, that we learn of John Barron.
Barron, of County Limerick, Ireland, was transported for 7 years for receiving sto-
len goods and arrived in Hobart, per Rodney, in 1853. His Conditional Pardon, of
1854, was forfeited when he was convicted of assault in Hobart in 1856 and given
a life sentence.
He was sent to Port Arthur.
Trollope, in writing on Barron, whom he found living on the Isle of the Dead as the
grave digger, wrote:
“...Barron, who lived in a little island all alone; and to all the modes of life into such a man
might fall, surely his was the most wonderful.”
“To the extent of the island he was no prisoner at all, but might wander wither he liked, go
to bed when he pleased... and was in truth monarch of all he surveyed”.
Whether Barron had actually been on the island for ten years, as Trollope reported
he claimed, is not known, but how Trollope could write in such glowing terms of
making a man live for that length of time, in almost solitary confinement in a burial
ground, is almost unbelievable..
Also, just living on the island for a few days, with a force eight gale blowing in from
the south-east, in the middle of winter, would not have been pleasant.
John Barron spent 18 years at the Port and was released in the summer of 1874.
He died whilst living in a Hobart charitable institution in 1892, aged 72 years,
without realizing his dream or starting a new life in America.
Mark Jeffrey (1825-1894)
The other rather colourful convict who it is understood to have been a resident
grave digger was Mark Jeffrey.
He was charged with attempted murder whilst serving time in the convict hulk,
Warrior, at Woolwich, for assault and burglary.
In 1850 he was transported, per Elisa, to Norfolk Island penal settlement.
He was then sent to the Separate Prison in Van Diemen’s Land for six months after
a controversy over provisions.
After arriving in 1852, he spent his first of several terms at Port Arthur.
In the book, A Burglar’s Life, originally published in 1893, about him and undoubt-
edly ghost-written in the first person, Mark Jeffrey devotes only a few lines of his
time living on this isolated burial ground.
In later years, other writers have published anecdotes regarding his time on the
island. Whether there is any truth in these stories is questionable. In one of them,
it was reported that, whilst living on the Island, Jeffrey despaired at ever leaving
that place, and as a consequence, dug his own grave. He supposedly took great
care with the task and ensured it was well dug and devoid of any worms, which
may feast upon his remains.
His other recollection was of being visited by the Devil (or “His Satanic Majesty” as
Jeffery referred to him) during the night; an event which disturbed him so much it
caused him to request that he be removed from the island.
He was sent to the Hobart Gaol in 1877, and after completion of his time there, was
then sent, in 1890, to an Invalid Station in Launceston as a ticket-of-leave man.
Until recently, it was believed he died and was buried in Launceston, but it seems
that his final resting place, according to Southern Cemeteries records, is in Hobart
Cornelian Bay Cemetery Site No. 516.
His record of death in the Deaths of the District of Hobart lists him as:
No 1216 Died 17th July 1984 in Newtown aged 68 years, Pauper, Of Peritonitis,
Tumour of the Heart
He, thus, thankfully avoided being buried in the grave he had made for himself on
the Island of the Dead (it remained open and unfilled for years after his death).
DEATH OF MARK JEFFREY.
Mark Jeffrey, who was well
known as one of the most frac-
tious of the Imperial prisoners,
died in the Invalid Depot yester-
day. He had reached the ad-
vanced age of 68 years.
[Mark Jeffrey was born at
Wood Ditton, near Newmarket,
Cambridgeshire, on August
31, 1825. When a young man
he was transported for fifteen
years for burglary and attempt-
ed murder, and spent many
years at Norfolk Island and Port
Arthur. Recently he published
a history of his experiences,
which were of a remarkable
character, Mark having brought
upon himself every kind of
punishment inflicted upon
refractory prisoners. His great
enemy was his temper, which
was of the most violent charac-
ter, and when aroused he was
exceedingly dangerous. He was
essentially an egotist-physically
and mentally strong-but with-
out balance, his animal nature
dominating all that was good in
him. He desired death, for his
life had been a failure, and his
sufferings during the past two
years were very acute. Before
he left England he was injured
in the chest by a kick during a
fight. Some time ago a swelling
appeared in his chest, and the
growth increased day by day
until his death. He regarded the
swelling as his “death warrant,”
and his favourite ex pression
was, “I have given my life ; read
it and see how I have suffered.”]
Launceston Examiner 19 July 1894 Page 6
Because of his little book mentioned above A Burglar’s Life, we learn of a man who
fought the criminal system for almost 30 years.
Mark Jeffrey Death Notice from the examiner
Buildings on the Island
The adjacent watercolour is taken from an old photograph, probably a Beattie im-
age, of the grave diggers hut. It is not known when this building was erected, al-
though if John Barron’s story is accurate it may have been in the mid1860’s. When
it was demolished, or weathered away, is also unknown but it does not appear in a
1939 image of the island when cleared to become memorial garden.
The only other recorded structure on the island was evidently a shelter for use by
funeral parties. As with the grave digger’s cottage, it is not known when it was built
When the importance of Port Arthur as a historic site was recognized in 1916 it was
placed under the protection of a Government Department – The Scenery Preser-
vation Board. In the early 1970’s this department became the National Parks and
Wildlife Service. The Isle of the Dead is an integral part of the Historic Site.
Where was Private Kerr buried?
Port Arthur was established as a convict timber station on September 20, 1830.
Private Joseph Kerr, (63rd Regiment) of County Mayo, Ireland, died at the Port on
May I3, 1831 at the age of 27 years.
He is believed to be the first to die there.
It was not until January of 1833 that the Reverend John A. Manton arrived to
become the first Chaplain at Port Arthur and select Opossum Island as its burial
Kerr’s tombstone, located on the northerly side of the island, states that his re-
mains were removed “from their original place of interment to the penal side to this
Where was the penal side?
The settlement was originally established on the southern side of Mason Cove,
which, in those days extended inland to where the line of oaks now stands on
Tarleton Street. To construct the buildings needed, it seems reasonable to assume
they logged the trees in the immediate vicinity. As none of the old maps of the set-
tlement show any buildings east of the Commandant’s House, one could believe
that this may have been Joseph’s initial burial site and is “the penal side” referred
to on his memorial stone.
What appears to be a grave below the Commandant’s House, is in fact a memorial
to Charles O’Hara Booth and was placed there, relocated from St. John’s Cemetery,
Hobart, in 1962.
The Man Who Threw a Stone at the King
Dennis Collins (1825 to 1863)
Manton tells the story, in his pamphlet, of Dennis Collins. Because of the sad and
desperate nature of the tale, it deserves further mention.
He was an ex-naval man who had lost his leg during an engagement and, being
thus disabled, he was discharged, and found an asylum in Greenwich Hospital. He
violated the regulations of the Establishment and was dismissed in disgrace. He
applied for a pension, but was unsuccessful.
On attending the races at Ascot, in the 1832, he threw a stone at the King, which
struck his hat with such violence as to cause a deep indentation. The King, in sur-
prise of the moment, exclaimed that he had been hit, thinking a bullet had been
discharged at him. Collins was seized, tried for high treason and received the sen-
tence of death by drawing and quartering, in obedience to ancient and long-existing
practice. As that sentence carried to full effect was so severe and his only crime
appeared to be insanity, he received a respite and was afterwards commuted to
transportation for life. He arrived at Port Arthur in the early part of the year 1833.
He was required to do some light work, as his age and disability exempted him from
the more severely worked gangs. Collins, however, declared not to do any form of
labour, saying, that he had worked for the King long enough and that he would nei-
ther perform the King’s tasks nor eat the King’s food. He was sent to a cell, where
he remained fourteen days, obstinately, refusing either to eat or work. When he
became exhausted, he was transferred to the hospital where he still refused to eat
and consequently died some seven days later.
Manton goes on to summarise his end:
“He was a bigoted Roman Catholic, and did not request my visits; nevertheless I saw him
placed in his grave, after a lapse of ten years, my mind was and sensibly affected by the rec-
ollection or the words of Solomon: ”The perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them”.
Everything relating to the life of a convict in Van Diemen’s Land was meticulously
recorded and much of this material survives today in the Tasmanian Archives. All
of the entries were handwritten in COPPERPLATE script. Dennis Collins was pris-
oner number 1545.
NUMBER NAME TRADE ASSIGNMENT
1545 Collins Dennis Labourer/Cripple Port Arthur
Height, Without shoes 5-3
Eyebrows Light brown
Eyes Light Grey
Mouth M.W. (Probably medium wide)
(Probably medium short) Author.
Remarks Lost left leg.
Conduct record. Collins Dennis, Emperor Alexander, 12th Aug.1833, Berks. Assiz-
es, 16th July, 1832, Life. Transported for High Treason in throwing at and hitting the
King with a stone.
Gaol Report. Very discontented as regards the rules of the prison.
Hulk report. Vicious and irritable temper. Single.
Stated the offence, High Treason, throwing a stone at the King, ‘I was sentenced
to be drawn on a hurdle and hanged, then to be beheaded and quartered,. The rea-
son I threw the stone at the King was that I petitioned the King to restore my pension
and he refused’ : Single.
Surgeons report. Conduct for the first 6 weeks, most disorderly, insubordinate, re-
fractory and that of a madman. Subsequently quiet, tractable and submissive
Surgeons special report. Though this man has been troublesome, insubordinate
and even refractory for a time, his conduct at this time and particularly subsequently
has been better.
October 3rd 1833. Disobedience of orders and repeatedly refusing to work, 7 days
solitary confinement on bread and water.
October 11th 1833. Refusing to go to work, 7 days solitary confinement on bread
and water, Port Arthur.
There is just one more line on the conduct sheet of Dennis Collins which states:
Died, 1st November, 1833, Vide Port Arthur return, 22nd Nov.1834
Convict. A person serving a prison sentence/period of transportation.
Felon. A person convicted or a crime more serious than a misdemeanour. When
Van Diemen’s Land was settled most crimes were felonious. The courts were able
to award the death sentence for property crimes when the value of the theft exceed-
ed one shilling - although this varied over time. At the time of settlement over 200
crimes were punishable by death.
Ticket of Leave/Pass-holder. A convict, still under sentence, who, as a result of
good conduct, was given documentation which allowed them to live in a certain
area and work for a wage. Authority to move from one police district to another was
needed. Their “Ticket” could be revoked for bad behaviour.
Conditional Pardon. When “Ticket of leave” holders had proven themselves, for
a period of time, they were granted a Conditional Pardon. This allowed them un-
restricted movement and employment opportunities. This status could also be re-
voked for misbehaviour.
Free Pardon. The ultimate step of emancipation. This made convict a free man.
Emancipist. A convict who had received a Free Pardon.
Pauper. A person who, because of mental or physical disabilities, was unable to
sustain himself and was cared for by the government. These persons were often
convicts or ex-convicts.
Assignment System. This system of convict employment, which operated in Van
Diemen’s Land from settlement until the early 1840’s. It was not strictly legal until
government ratification in 1824. The convict either worked for the government on
roads, bridge building or other Government projects or as a servant/labourer for
officials or free settlers.
Probation System. The Probation System was an experiment in penal discipline
unique to Van Diemen’s Land. Introduced in 1839, it was modified several times
from 1846 until it was abandoned altogether following the abolition of transporta-
tion to the colony in 1853. This was a system of convict employment, devised by the
Colonial Office, who had little knowledge of local conditions and only ever operated
within this colony. On arrival the convicts were required to work for the Govern-
ment for between one and two years before being made a Pass holder.
All convicts were to be subjected to successive stages of punishment, commenc-
ing with a period of confinement and labour in gangs at a penal settlement for
life-sentenced prisoners, or at a probation station for all others. If they progressed
satisfactorily through several stages of decreasing severity, they received a pro-
bation pass and became available for hire to the settlers. Gangs of passholders
awaiting employment remained at the stations and continued to labour on public
works. Sustained good conduct eventually led to a ticket-of-leave or a pardon. More
than eighty probation stations operated in various locations, for varying periods,
throughout the settled districts. Often hastily and poorly built, few remain, and
most of those in ruins.
Source: Companion to Tasmanian History.
Change at Port Arthur
Over the years, the Port changed as did both the number and status of its residents
and this is reflected in the old death records of those who are buried on the island.
During the first 20 years it was a busy industrial settlement with many buildings
constructed. When convicts ceased to be transported to New South Wales in 1840
the numbers to V.D.L increased.
By 1850, Point Puer had been closed and free settlers were advocating that trans-
portation to the colony cease. The Probation Stations on Tasman Peninsula were
becoming Invalid Stations for the ageing convict population. In 1857 the Port be-
came home to these invalids, who lived in the original Prisoners Barracks.
In 1863 the last British soldiers were withdrawn from Port Arthur and travelled
across the Tasman to the Maori Wars in New Zealand.
The Paupers Mess was built to cater for the still increasing number of disabled
convicts in 1864 and the Lunatic Asylum in 1868. When the Port closed in 1877 it
was more of a charitable institution for aged and infirm convicts and ex-convicts
than a prison.
Myth of The Broad Arrow
Many convict images show convict clothing emblazoned with the Broad Arrow.
This indicated that the clothing and its contents, was the property of the Crown.
Clothing was not marked in that fashion in Van Diemen’s Land. The Broad Arrow
(or variant of the Pheon) mark represents the metal head of a spear. It was the
Heraldic symbol of Henry Sidney, Earl of Romney, who was Master of Ordnance to
King William between 1693 and 1702, and used it to identify and inhibit the theft
of government property.
(Broad Arrow Here)
Brief Convict Biographies
Businessman, Forger and Author
Henry is probably the best known, certainly to the literary community, of those
convicts buried on the island.
David Burn*, a well-known diarist of the time wrote of Savery:
“Knowing as I did at Bristol, some of Savery’s wealthy, dashing, gay associates,
I could not contemplate the miserable felon before me without sentiments of the
deepest compassion mingled with horror and awe. There he lay - a sad and solemn
Burn penned those words, shortly before Henry’s death at Port Arthur, in February
Henry was born in August 1791, at Buscombe, Somerset, to John Savery, a Bristol
banker, and was well educated. He married Eliza Oliver in 1815 and their only son,
Henry Oliver, was born the following year.
Whilst engaged in a sugar refining business he forged bills which caused his part-
ner to take legal action against him. Arrested, when trying to escape overseas, he
pleaded guilty to the charge and his initial sentence of death was commuted to
transportation for life.
Henry arrived, per Medway, in Hobart Town in 1825. Due to his education and
writing skills he was employed as a Government clerk. It did not take Henry long
to get himself into debt once again and his wife, who had followed him to Van
Diemen’s Land, returned with his son to England. These problems made Henry
attempt suicide. He was once again incarcerated for debt in 1829.
During his first few years in Hobart he wrote a series of essays which were pub-
lished under the title The Hermit in Van Diemen’s Land. In 1830 he published his
novel, Australia’s first, Quintus Servinton.
The novel was based on his own life and the name of the principal character, Serv-
inton, was an aberration of his maternal family name Servington.
After five years of farming from, 1833 to 1838, he was granted a conditional pardon
but once again debt forced him to return to his nefarious ways. In 1840 he received
his second life sentence for forgery and was sent to Port Arthur.
Some say his death was due to a stroke, whilst others insist it was suicide by cut-
ting his own throat. As it seems he lingered on for some time in the Port hospital,
it may have been due to septicaemia from the throat-cutting attempt.
We know not where Henry was buried on Isle of the Dead after his death in February
of 1842. The memorial stone which now commemorates Henry is the only non-orig-
inal convict stone on the island. It was placed there, on the sesquicentenary of his
death, by the Fellowship of Tasmanian Writers and The Mercury Newspaper.
*David Burn (c.1799 – 14 June 1875) was a Tasmanian pioneer and dramatist, author of the first
Australian drama to be performed on stage, The Bushrangers.
James, a youth in his late teens, arrived in V.D.L., per Asia, and was sent to the
Port in 1836. Little is known of the youth other than his occupation was a labour-
er. Whilst working in a convict chain gang, breaking stones, he was murdered by
fellow convict Patrick Minnighan (Minahan), with a stone breaking hammer.
He was buried, by John Manton, in an unmarked grave on the island, on May 29,
1841, aged 22.
Minnighan was tried tor the murder in Hobart Town and hanged there.
It should be noted that no convict was ever hanged at the Port. If a capital offence
was brought against a convict he was tried, and if found guilty, executed, in Hobart.
The following was how it was reported in The Hobart Town Courier and Van Die-
men’s Land Gazette Friday June 11, 1841 Source: Trove
SUPREME COURT-CRIMINAL SIT-
Friday, 4th June.
Patrick Minnighan, who was arraigned
for the murder of James Travis, at Port
Arthur, on the 27th of April last, was
placed at the bar to take his trial for
that crime. The circumstances of this
case, as borne out by the evidence, are
as follows :
A gang of fifteen men, the very worst
characters on the settlement, are
chained to an iron cable, and employed
during the day in breaking stones in a
long and narrow yard, not far from the
penitentiary ; in this gang worked also
the deceased Travis and the prisoner
Minnighan. Some of the most desperate
of these men had formed a plan to es-
cape, and for this purpose one of them
had obtained a file, with which to cut
their irons. This was discovered and
the plot frustrated, when a suspicion of
having made known the circumstance
fell upon the deceased, a mere lad. On
the morning of the day when the lad
was struck the prisoner had used sev-
eral threats against him, saying that
he had got something for him, which he
might consider as certain; he asked the
lad also how long he had to serve, and
on being answered above two years,
the prisoner said he would be in Little
Island long before that, meaning in the
place where the prisoners who die are
buried ; it was shown also that sever-
al quarrels had taken place between
the prisoner and the deceased. On the
day mentioned in the indictment, as
the men, after being unlocked from the
chain, were drawing towards the gate-
way of the yard on their return to the
penitentiary, the prisoner was seen to
go towards Travis with a stone-ham-
mer in his hand, with which he
knocked him down. An overseer named
Simcock immediately ran towards
him and said, “ Paddy, you shouldnot
have done that.” He replied, “ there lies
one b---y dog, stiff enough.” On being
asked how he came to do this, he said
he was tired of his life, and that the
deceased deserved it, as he had de-
prived him, or men, (and witness did
not know which) of liberty. Witness
said he was sorry that the prisoner
should barter his existence in such a
fray; the lad was lying senseless on
the floor, and bleeding profusely from
wounds on the head ; the prisoner was
taken into custody, and the lad Travis
removed into the hospital.
Murdered Point Puer Boy
A little after Christmas of 1841 a young convict by the name of Henry Belfield re-
ported to his overseer that his companion in a carrying party, Thomas Boardman
had escaped from their gang.
Thomas was only 17 years at the time but had a record of absconding in the 18
months he had been in Van Diemen’s Land. His record is very sketchy but his na-
tive place was most likely Sydney, New South Wales, where, at the tender age of 15
he was convicted of forgery and given a life sentence.
On his arrival in V.D.L. Boardman was sent to a road gang to serve his two years of
probation. Whilst with the gang his record tells of his misconduct, refusal to work,
idleness and absconding, resulting in his removal to Port Arthur.
At the Port, Boardman and Belfield worked in the same gang. Belfield, believing
that Boardman had informed on him, developed an intense hatred of his slightly
Boardman was found, viciously beaten around the head and close to death, a cou-
ple of days after Belfield had reported him missing. When taken to the hospital
Boardman named Belfield as his attacker before dying of his injuries.
Belfield, who did not deny the charge, was taken to Hobart Town tried for the mur-
der and hanged. The Reverend John Manton buried Boardman in an unmarked
grave on the island on January 4, 1842.
The following was how it was reported in The Hobart Town Courier and Van Die-
men’s Land Gazette Friday February 4, 1842 Source: Trove
EXECUTION OF HENRY BELFIELD.
HENRY Belfield, convicted on the 20th ultimo
of the murder of Thomas Boardman, at Port
Arthur, and executed on Tuesday last, was
of low stature, not exceeding five feet and an
inch, of a ruddy complexion, with dark hair
and eyebrows. The expression of his physiog-
nomy was that of thoughtfulness; though, on
attention being roused, his eye could assume
a certain degree of fire ; indeed, the ensem-
ble of the face had a near resemblance to the
exhibited prints of Jack Sheppard. According
to his own statement, this ill-fated youth was
an illegitimate son of a surgeon, residing in
Macclesfield, Cheshire. During his infancy,
his mother being alive, a scanty pittance was
allowed for their support; but even this was
withdrawn on her death, which took place
whilst Belfield was still in childhood. Friend-
less and unprotected, with a view to satisfy
his urgent wants, he resorted to the commis-
sion of a burglary, for which, on conviction
before the Criminal Court of Chester, on the
29th June, 1835, at the age of only fifteen, he
was sentenced to fourteen years’ transpor-
tation, and landed in this colony on the 10th
December in the same year. From that moment
up to the hour of his death, his life has been an
uninterrupted stream of misery; and, whether
actuated by a naturally vicious temperament,
or contaminated by association with men of
maturer years and hearts hardened in crime,
and whose practice it is to applaud the perpe-
tration of the most heinous deeds as the true
criterion of merit amongst themselves, certain
it is that his progress towards the scaffold
was not the less marked for being gradual and
cautious, as may be seen by the numerous
sentences which he underwent in this colony.
He was convicted of a second burglary shortly
after his arrival in the colony. He absconded
four times, and was on the different occasions
condemned to—twenty lashes—six months’
hard labour—sentence extended two years—
and one week’s solitary confinement. He also
underwent six months’ solitary confinement
for disobedience of orders—three months’ hard
labour for intoxication—two years in chains for
insubordination—and at last, besides several
other minor derelictions which we have passed
unnoticed, the inexplicable and atrocious
murder tor which he was brought to so tragical
and untimely an end.
HENRY BELFIELD, AGED 22, AS TAKEN IN
From the moment of his condemnation, Belf-
ield relinquished all hopes of a respite, and
listened with avidity to the religious instruc-
tions bestowed on him by the Rev. Mr. Bed-
ford, who attended him in his last moments.
To that gentleman he made a full disclosure of
his guilt, and explained the manner in which
he accomplished the deed, though he seemed
unable to assign any motive as a prompter. He
said, in opposition to the decision of the jury,
that the knife blow had been inflicted before
resort was made to the use of the sticks which
so mutilated the head of his victim. It is, how-
ever, difficult to reconcile this statement with
what fell from Boardman’s lips a few hours
before he died, and when in the full possession
of his faculties, and in the immediate presence
of his assassin, “ that the sticks were used in
such a manner as to deprive him of sensibility,
and that it was not until several hours after
that, becoming conscious of his position, he
endeavoured to place a log of wood under his
head, and in doing so felt something, which
he had not perceived before, protruding from
the back of his neck, and which he at the time
fancied was the point of a nail, but which, on
subsequent extraction, was found to be the
butt end of the knife blade which was buried
in the neck.” So steady was the prisoner in his
attention to the precepts of his religious advis-
er, that his mind seemed to those who had an
opportunity of observing him, to be endowed
with fresh energy and acuteness. On Tuesday
morning last he ascended the scaffold at five
minutes past eight, with a firm step ; and, even
at that trying moment, the flush of youth had
not receded from his check. The rope was ad-
justed to his neck, and the cap drawn over his
eyes, when, without uttering a word, Belfield
loosened his hold of a world which had, from
his cradle, reflected on him only misery and
degradation, and was followed by the sighs of
many of the multitude, who, while they detest-
ed the horrible deed for which be thus prema-
turely and ignominiously died, felt a sympathy
for the youth of the sufferer.
Seaman Convict and The Cyprus Mutiny
William Swallow was born in the North Country seaside town of Sunderland, Coun-
ty Dorham, England, circa 1790. Some say his birth name was Walker but his con-
vict record says his alias was Brown.
Of all those, bond or free, buried on the Isle of the Dead, his is probably the most
In 1804, after receiving a good education, he was apprenticed aboard a coastal/
north sea collier where he learnt his trade as a seaman. When he completed the
training he was “conscripted”( which means “press ganged”, as this was during the
Napoleonic Wars) into the Royal Navy. Upon discharge from the Navy he became
one of the destitute seamen, abandoned by their government, in the depression
following the end of the war (1815). As with many of his shipmates he turned to
crime to sustain himself. William was arrested and charged for stealing blankets
and tea from a ship and in 1820 sentenced to 7 years transportation. He arrived
in Sydney, probably in early 1821, and sometime later was convicted for trying to
steal a vessel. His punishment was being removed to Van Diemen’s Land for the
remainder of his sentence.
When aboard the Deveron, in transit to Hobart Town, he performed an act of great
courage by going aloft during a storm and cutting away some disabled rigging.
On arrival in Hobart the crew of the Deveron, in appreciation of his seamanship,
smuggled him back onto the ship which then sailed for Rio de Janeiro.
In that city he came to the notice of British officials and was arrested. Once more
he escaped and took a berth on a London bound ship. After reaching England, he
was reunited with his family but again fell foul of the Law, when arrested for house
breaking in Surrey.
He was convicted and given a sentence, this time, of transportation for life.
Swallow returned to Hobart in early 1829 and shortly after was found hidden
aboard the Georgiana, whilst attempting yet another escape.
Swallow was not only an escapologist but also a serial offender so it was decided to
send him to Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour. He was embarked, along with 31
other recalcitrant convicts, on the brig Cyprus for the voyage.
South bound out of Hobart, inclement weather caused the Cyprus to seek refuge
in Recherché Bay.
A number of the desperate felons mutinied and the crew of the ship, along with the
convicts who had not joined the mutiny, were put ashore.
Cyprus, with her new crew of desperados, well victualled with six months provi-
sions meant for the Sarah Island settlement, then set forth on an amazing voyage.
There is little doubt that Swallow was the ringleader/navigator of the seventeen
Swallow set Cyprus on an easterly course and made IandfalI, in New Zealand, with
the vessel’s identity disguised.
On leaving there, they laid in a course for Tahiti. Again, the weather turned against
Cyprus and the hijackers found themselves in The Friendly Isles (Tonga), where
seven of their number decided to remain.
Departing the Friendly Isles, they set course for the islands of Japan where they
were denied entry. Sailing toward China, another two convicts left the ship on
a Chinese island, Ladrones, and Cyprus continued her voyage toward Whampoa
Outside the port, the last eight convicts scuttled their ship and took a longboat
ashore, where they claimed to be shipwrecked mariners. Three of the men then took
passage in a Danish vessel bound for New Orleans, whilst another four, including
Swallow, found working berths on an English East Indiaman Charles Grant, which
was homeward bound.
The eighth convict, George Davis, caused another English captain to become sus-
picious, and, because of that, had him ironed and returned him to England on
suspicion of being a criminal. On arrival, in England, Davis confessed his crimes
and the police awaited the arrival of the ship carrying SwaIlow.
When Charles Grant berthed the elusive Swallow managed to escape once again.
He travelled to his wife’s home only to find that she had remarried during his ab-
sence. The new husband informed on him and he was arrested.
When the mutineers were tried for their crimes, Swallow managed to convince the
court he had had no option but to join his fellow hijackers. Two of the three of Swal-
low’s companions met their end on the gallows, at Execution Dock on 16 December
They were the last men hanged for piracy in Britain.
Swallow and another conspirator were returned to Hobart.
On arrival, his companion was hanged and he was sent to Sarah Island. When that
establishment closed in 1833, Swallow was transferred to Port Arthur. Swallow
was in very poor health when landed and died of consumption shortly after, on May
He was buried in an unmarked grave on the island by Reverend Manton.
Patrick Howard, one of the few convicts to have a memorial stone on the island, was
a native of County Kildare, Ireland, and arrived in Hobart Town, per Lord Auck-
land, in 1846.
His sentence of 7 years transportation was a result of his second offence for the
theft of coats.
After becoming a Pass-holder in 1847 he was convicted of larceny and spent his
six-month sentence on Maria Island.
He received a Free Pardon in 1853.
Nothing is known of Patrick prior to his death at the Port on December 2, 1870,
when he was listed as a Free Pauper.
His record tells us that he was of the Roman Catholic faith, was illiterate, and was
married with two children prior to his transportation.
His cause of death was given as stomach disease. At 82 he is the oldest ex-convict
to be buried on the island having a tombstone.
Who paid for the stone, cut by convict stonemason Thomas Sanders, is unknown.
As there were 30 convicts by the name of John Dean transported to the colony, this
particular man is hard to identify. We do know that he was buried by Reverend
George Eastman and that he died, as an Invalid Pauper at the Impression Bay (now
Premaydena) Probation Station in June of 1855. It is thought he was buried on the
Isle of the Dead and at 98 years is most likely the oldest person buried there.
George Britton alias Maurice Lyttleton
George Britton had an atrocious convict record and must have been a very tough
man. When convicted in the Middlesex Court, for the theft of clothing, in May of
1832, he received a sentence of seven years transportation. He arrived in Hobart
Town per York in December of that year and began a life of incarceration and bru-
tality which few men could have survived.
This man was in and out of the criminal system for almost 29 years. During his
time in Van Diemen’s Land he was even sent to the dreaded Norfolk Island before
being then returned to the colony.
Over the years, Britton served six sentences at Port Arthur, totalling 18 years and
two months and during which he had his Pass revoked on three occasions.
Amazingly, he survived over 16 years at hard labour in chains, 20 months in soli-
tary confinement and at least 766 strokes with the hideous cat o’ nine tails.
If he was not psychologically impaired when he entered the system, he most likely
was by the time of his death.
Britton died in a Port Arthur stone quarry, whilst working as a “powder monkey” on
28th March,1861. For many years a story has been told that when George lit the
gunpowder charge which caused his death, he merely stood there and waited for
his release from a life of brutality and misery.
George Britton was laid to rest by Reverend George Eastman on the Isle of the Dead
and an unknown benefactor placed a stone to his memory.
Brief Biographies of the Port Arthur Free
Reverend George Eastman
Church of England Convict Chaplain
The Reverend George is one of the best remembered of the officials to have worked
at Port Arthur.
When he died at the Port, on April 25, 1870, the medical officer, George Dinham,
diagnosed the cause of death as anthrax-pyraemia. Anthrax is a contagious bac-
terial disease, and as no other person was afflicted, the diagnosis was probably
incorrect. It should be remembered that, at the time, medical science was in its
infancy. Other reports say that that he contracted a fatal “chill”, when arising from
his sick bed, to visit an unwell convict.
Eastman was born to John and Harriette (nee Bye) in the Portsea suburb of South-
sea, Hampshire in July 1818. He sailed as The Catechist (religious instructor) on
the convict transport London and arrived in Hobart Town in July of 1844. For a
time, he served as a catechist at Lymington, Jericho (where he met his wife to be),
and also at Cygnet. Before he overcame problems with Bishop Nixon, he was or-
dained a Deacon in 1848.
In May of 1845 he married Louisa McLeod, daughter of the Jericho Probation Sta-
There were to be eleven children from the union.
As an example of the importance placed on religion by the authorities and although
he was only a Catechist, George was paid 200 pounds per annum. This is far in
excess of his Superintendent father-in-law, who only received 120 pounds.
Ordained Priest in 1850, his duties then took George to Ross, and the convict
station-turned-female factory, until 1855. He spent time as a chaplain in Hobart
before being appointed to the Tasman Peninsular, ministering to the Impression
Bay (Premaydena), Saltwater River and Cascades (Koonya) convict stations. In the
winter of 1857 he was appointed as Chaplain to Port Arthur, where he was to end
his days, aged only 51.
One of the best known images of Port Arthur is of a big man standing in the pulpit
of the church. This is believed to be Eastman. Who made the image is unknown but
it is believed to be a Hobart photographer named Thomas Nevin.
Old records indicate that a number of the Reverend’s sons, as well as George him-
self, at times caused some concern at The Port but generally, most thought well of
The Reverend Dr. Parsons, of All Saint’s Church, Hobart, officiated at the burial of
George Eastman on the Isle of the Dead. He was laid to rest, three days after his
death, on April 28th, 1870.
On George’s raised vault are chiselled the words
“For 26 Years the faithful chaplain on Tasman’s Peninsula”
George spent 15 years on the Peninsula… 26 years in Van Diemen’s Land.
Captain Edward Payne
Master of Royal William
How Captain Payne came to be buried on the island is unknown.
It seems reasonable to assume he died when his vessel was delivering mail and
supplies to the Port.
He was master of a 43 ton brig, by the name of Royal William, which was built by
her Master/owner William Wisbey, at Kangaroo Point (now Bellerive), in 1833.
In later years this vessel often engaged in racing regattas on the Derwent and
proved to be the fastest on numerous occasions.
The Port burial records indicate that Payne was aged 49 years when buried by
Chaplain John R. Gurney (Chaplain of Cascades - now called Koonya) on March
19, 1851. His burial place is unmarked.
John Edward Aspinall
Commandant James Boyd, when reporting on this apparent suicide, said that the
boy had strangled himself with rope fastened to the rafters of a cowshed attached
to his father’s house.
What caused this 14 year-old-boy to take his life is not recorded.
His father was a private soldier of the 99th Regiment.
His burial place on the island is marked with a head and footstone, cut by convict
stonemason Thomas Sanders.
Eliza Caroline Aylett
Wife and Mother
Eliza’s death record gives her cause of death as “Phthisis and Diarrhoea”. Phthisis
is described as being atrophy or wasting of the body.
She died at the Port on March 19,1869, at the relatively young age of 38 years.
Her husband James, Keeper of The Separate Prison, undoubtedly placed her fine
The Aylett family of Middlesex was obviously very close.
Eliza, with 8 year old son James, and husband, arrived in Van Diemen’s Land, per
Hooghly, in December of 1859.
They were accompanied by her sister-in-law, Caroline, and mother-in-law, Harriet.
They came to the colony to be reunited with her husband’s father, also James, after
he had been transported for the theft of a piano.
Following the death of Eliza, her husband was able to return the remaining family
to England, a place from which his father had been absent some 34 years.
Marguerite Annabelle Wilkie
The youngest burial
This baby, the daughter of Lieutenant John Lunan Wilkie (12th Regiment), and his
wife Marguerite Turner (nee MacLahlan), had her cause of death listed as Debility
(feebleness of health).
She was only 6 hours old when she died. Her little body was laid to rest the follow-
ing day, on August 4, 1858.
The Staveley Children
Three Youthful Deaths
The death of these three children reflects the rate of infant and youth mortality of
It also shows that infant death was more likely amongst the lower ranks of officials.
Consider this family, whose father was eventually an assistant, to that of Thomas
As a senior member of the administration, Lempriere at times had a tutor for his
children and an assigned female convict servant. His larger salary also allowed his
family better nutrition and they would have received preferential medical treat-
ment. As a presumed result, Thomas lost only 1 of his 12 children in infancy.
Overseer Francis Stavely, and his wife spent at least 25 years at the Port and it
must have been with great sorrow they left 3 of their offspring on the island when
John Thomas Staveley was drowned in a Port Arthur well in October 1846 aged 30
Julia Staveley, cause of death unknown, was only 5 months, when she was buried
on the island in February of 1851.
George Staveley was recorded as being totally blind when he died of bronchitis in
July of 1870 and laid to rest with his siblings at age 18 years 8 months.
William Doodie was 54 years of age when he drowned at the Sounds (now Murdun-
na) on the Forestier Peninsula whilst carrying mail. His death, on March 18, 1863,
left his wife to care for their two small children.
William was either 21 or 23 years old (memorial stone and burial records disagree)
when he died at Port Arthur on January 7, 1841, of unknown causes.
He was a Private soldier in the famous 51st King’s Own Light Infantry Regiment.
As With most of the military stones on the island it is believed to have been erected
by his fellow soldiers.