03/07/2012, Macquarie Harbour Tasmania
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service maintains the ruins on Sarah Island in a way that allows visitors to have a safe and instructive time during their time on the island.
Sarah Island has actually been known by three different names in recorded history.
The original Aboriginal name for the island was Langerounerene. It was thought to have been a meeting place for women when various tribes met in Macquarie Harbour to gather swan eggs.
James Kelly convinced Dr. Birch, a prominent citizen of Hobart town, to finance a exploratory expedition to Macquarie Harbour for the purpose of finding a source of suitable timber for shipbuilding in Hobart. Like many early explorers, Kelly named places after his patron and his patron's family members. Birch's Inlet carries Dr. Birch's surname and Sarah Island was named after Dr. Birch's wife.
Sarah was the a first generation Australian. Her parents were transported to Australia in two separate fleets and were on Norfolk Island when Sarah was born. The family eventually migrated to Hobart and became wealthy and Sarah ended up marrying a prominent citizen.
The Island was known as Settlement Island during the time it served as a prison (1822-1833).
Like many small islands that were settled in the those days it did not take the settlers long to strip the island on all its native trees. During the time the island served as a prison it was necessary to build a barrier wall on the windward side of the island to provide some protection from strong NW winds in the winter.
Over the years locally made bricks were used to build masonry buildings in the prison settlement and to build a community oven where the prisoners and their keepers could turn their daily ration of flour into bread.
In addition to housing for the officers and soldiers a brick penitentiary was built to replace the original timber building.
Only fragments of these buildings remain because the early settlers that came after the prison was closed used the Sarah Island buildings as a source of building materials for a couple of small towns that no longer exist. The photo at the top of this blog entry shows the remains of the penitentiary building.
The parks department provides very nicely constructed walkways around the ruins and provides informative signs.
When we were there a couple of large tourist boats came in and unloaded a couple of hundred people each. Groups of between 50 and 100 tourists wandered around with guides that told them about life in the prison. Most of the presentations we eavesdropped on were more funny than informative. Reading "The Fatal Shore" was much better preparation for what we saw that anything we heard from the guides.
The prison at Sarah Island was intended for the worst of the worst among the convicts transported to Australia. Most of the convicts were poor people who were convicted of petty crimes like stealing a loaf of bread or ribbons. A few were violent offenders who got in trouble again quickly after arriving in Australia. These recidivists were sent to Sarah Island or Norfolk Island where sadistic commanders brutalized them with barbaric floggings, starvation, solitary confinement and whatever other unpleasant things they could think up. Sarah Island had its own special version of the cat of nine tails that was made up of multiple cats such as the ones used on ships to discipline sailors. In 12 years 1335 men were sentenced to 53,700 lashes. In the last four years the frequency of lashings decreased significantly (85% reduction) In the final year only 1 flogging per month was recorded.
One of the more interesting characters on the island was not a convict but a ship builder named David Hoy. Using the abundant lumber and convict labor, Hoy built 96 ships and boats while he was running his shipbuilding operation at Sarah Island. This made his little shipyard on Sarah Island the most productive in Australia in those times. He had learned his shipbuilding profession in Dundee Scotland and in Boston. He died in Hobart a wealthy man.
One of Hoy's ships, The Fredrick, was seized by convicts and sailed 10,000 miles to Chile but the convict/sailors were eventually turned over to British war ships visiting Chile and returned to Hobart for trial as pirates. They got off on a technicality. Since they did not seize the ship on the high seas their crime was theft, not piracy. Piracy would have carried a death penalty but theft was treated differently and the men ended up free before they died.
There are lots of stories about the inmates and keepers at Sarah Island. Some of the stories come from prisoner accounts that are thought to have been exaggerations intended to provide ammunition for the anti- transportation activists of the time. Other details come from prison records and commercial records for the provisions shipped to the island and for tools are materials used in Hoy's shipbuilding operation. There are references to be found on web sources like Wikipedia.
Its always a challenge for the caretakers of an historical site like this to strike the right balance between being informative and letting the visitors process their own observations. We thought the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife service did a good job at Sarah Island.
03/05/2012, Warner's Landing, Gordon River, Tasmania
After a very peaceful night anchored on the Gordon river we took a dingy ride up the river for about a mile.
We stopped to chat with some folks from a trailer sailboat club from Adelaide. They were in a group of 14 boats that had towed their boats from Adelaide to Tasmania (on the ferry) and have been spending time touring Tasmania.
They told us that the wharf at Warner's landing was originally intended to be the staging site for dam construction but that environmental protesters had successfully blocked the project.
Upstream from the landing was a well maintained floating dock that is used by seaplanes who bring people up the river to see Sir John's falls. We tied our dingy up at the floating dock and took the elevated walk way back from the river bank to see the falls. The waterfall is not spectacular, as waterfalls go, but the setting is beautiful with the falls barely poking out from the surrounding rainforest growth. Ill put a couple of pics in our Gordon River album.
After visiting the falls we went up river for about a quarter of a mile but decided that it was just more of the same rain forest so we turned around and went back to visit the hut that the park service provides for kayakers and other camping oriented visitors to the area. We will put some pictures of the hut in a Gordon River album in our galleries. It was a nicely appointed, if rustic, cabin with bunks and a table and chairs.
Our friend Marcie had told us that they had seen some tiger (Notechis scutatus) snakes on a piece of corrugated roofing material that was visible from one of the windows in the hut.
Sure enough, there was a snake out there sunning himself or herself (if that is possible on such and overcast day). The snake was coiled up and looked to be asleep. I unlatched the window so I could open it a little and get my auto focus camera outside the glass and the snake came to life instantly and assumed a defensive posture.
Tiger snakes are one of the many things that can kill you in Australia. They are rear fanged snakes (opisthoglyphous) and are not equipped to inject venom from fangs in the front of their mouths like rattlesnakes. So they are not quite as dangerous as the front fanged snakes but you end up just as dead if they do succeed is delivering their venom.
The rear fanged condition is considered., by many herpetologists, to be the more primitive condition with the hypodermic type fangs being something that evolved later. The coral snakes that occur where I grew up in Florida are another example of rear fanged snakes. The deaths that occurred back when I was a kid in Miami were mostly women who were in their back yard, in bare feet, hanging clothes on the line. The coral snakes could get an effective bite on the webbed skin between the toes.
The picture of the snake at the top of this blog entry is of a tiger snake that was taken by someone who was either braver than I am or had a longer lens on his camera. I copied it off the web site on the snakes of Tasmania. Ill post some of my snake pictures in our Gordon River Album.
When the fake shutter noise of my camera scared the first snake away a second one climbed onto the corrugated steel sunning platform. I guess the second snake was farther down on the pecking order, if that term can be used for snakes.
The tiger snakes of Tasmania are almost black whereas those on mainland Australia have a striped pattern that was probably how these snakes got their common name.
After seeing our first tiger snake slither off into the woods we decided to take a pass on the hiking trail back down to see the waterfall from another angle.
The parks department says there have been no recorded human deaths from snake bites in Tasmania for many years.
After our brief tour of the highlights of the Gordon River we pulled up the anchor and started back down stream. We were going almost two kts faster than the trip up stream. When we pulled the anchor clear of the tea colored river water there was a hunk of waterlogged wood stuck between the blades of our Bruce anchor. We assume that is what held us all night.
For the trip down river we just retraced our track from the trip up river so we were not nearly as worried about seeking out the deep spots since we knew that our previous track had kept us from hitting the bottom on the way up. There appeared to be virtually no tidal effect until we were very close to the mouth of the river.
We left the mouth of the river and headed over to Birch's inlet for the night. Based on advice from Dave and Marcie and on a web site called mysailing.com we decided to anchor in a place called Hawk's nest cove. That turned out to be one of those incredibly nice anchorages where the white caps on the inlet were a few yards away but where we were so well sheltered that there was not enough wind to run the wind generator.
After sunset the winds died down anyway and we settled down to watch a couple episodes of "Sons of Anarchy".
Tomorrow we will head over to Sarah Island which is the site of one of the most brutal prison colonies in Australia.
03/05/2012, Warner's Landing, Gordon River, Tasmania
This morning we could see slivers of blue sky scattered around the horizon and the forecast said that we would have less rain and lighter winds than the past two days. So we decided to head up the Gordon river and have a look at the rain forest in greater detail.
It's 17 miles from the mouth to the highest point we decided to reach. The current was against us so it was a slow trip which was fine with us since our nautical chart of the river stopped after the first 2 miles. for the rest of the trip we had to rely on some mud maps produced locally but lacking detail in latitude and longitude and with fairly sparse depth soundings. But navigating the river was not that difficult. Years ago, when I went canoeing on the rivers in Florida, I learned how to seek the deep water in the outside of the bends and avoid the inside of curves where silting occurs. The large flows of the Gordon river have caused the river to cut some very deep areas when the river arrows through gorges. It was not unusual to see depths in excess of 100 feet in the narrow places where the river cut through rock walls.
For the first couple of miles we saw all the traffic we were to see for the day. The big tourist catamarans run up the river a few miles to a place called Heritage landing where the passengers disembark and wander around on a trail on shore. That adventure must not take very long because the cat that passed us on our way up the river passed us again on its way out quite a while before we got to the landing.
After the tourist landing we saw only two other boats over several hours. But when we got to Warner's landing there was quite a crowd of boats tied to the wharf and also beached on the opposite side of the river. The whole thing looked like an Aussie party under development and since we had made the trip up the river to experience the isolation of the environment, we turned around and went back downstream for a quarter of a mile and anchored. We do enjoy Aussie parties but tihs did not seem like the place for that.
We had quite a bit of rain coming up the river and even used the radar a couple of times to make sure we knew where the banks of the river were.
It looks like my latest batch of beer is ready to bottle so Ill get that done after dinner tonight.
Tomorrow we will head back down the river and probably go see the sights on Sarah Island. There are plenty of snug anchorages near there for tomorrow night and then we will back up to Strahan to provision for out trip to Port Davey and the real wilderness of the Tasmanian coast.