Tasman Background – Life in the Penal Colony
Port Arthur’s convicts lived in barracks and were sent out to work various jobs: quarrying stone to build roads, working for settlers, digging coal, and harvesting trees for further development and for export. Many worked in centipede gangs carrying immense logs while wearing leg irons. A few earned privileges and worked for the commander and the military as scribes.
The military managed the island. Soldiers maintained tight control and punishments were often severe: 10 lashes for stealing a potato, 50 lashes for taking a shovel, 100 lashes or execution for attempting an escape. After all, how can a prisoner truly escape when he or she is on an island?
The cost to return home to England was prohibitive so convicts who’d completed their sentences stayed on and made a home in or near Port Arthur.
Non-convict settlers booked passage to Tasmania in search of a new life. They found the day-to-day life to be difficult, but better than what they left behind. Being so far south they had a short growing season so many branched out into new endeavors to survive: shops, services and eventually becoming part of the governing groups once the island was established as a British outpost.