Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Port Arthur Shipyard

Throughout colonial Australia, only three dockyards used convict labour to build both the yards and the ships. The Port Arthur Dockyard was one of them. The other two were Sarah Island on Tasmania’s west coast, which closed just as this yard opened, and the first Sydney dockyard. Opened in 1834, the Port Arthur Dockyard mainly supplied and repaired ships for the government. It also repaired some private vessels. It was located away from the main settlement, to reduce the ‘corrupting communication’ between convicts and free sailors.

The work force built a great variety of maritime craft including barques, brigs, schooners, cutters and whaleboats. These vessels transported convicts, supplies, raw materials and manufactured goods between Port Arthur and other colonial ports. The men here built some of the biggest ships in the colony at that time. A free Master Shipwright and convict overseers directed production in the yard. Up to 70 adult convicts and boys from Point Puer formed the labour force.

Like all the work sites at Port Arthur, it served two purposes. The hard work was meant to help reform the men, but their labour was also expected to be as productive as possible. Men who were sentenced to hard labour worked in gangs, carrying timber; well-behaved men were given the opportunity to learn a trade. You might imagine that men forced to labour work reluctantly, resentfully and slowly, and take no pride in their work. But these convict-built ships were as good as any built in the colony.

John Watson was the Master Shipwright until 1836. He was followed by David Hoy. Both men seem to have taken seriously their responsibility to reform the convicts under their charge. John Watson’s grandson described how his grandfather had taken a ‘very desperate character’ and turned him into a productive worker by treating him ‘like a human being and not as a caged beast’. In general Watson found the men, no matter how ‘dangerous’ and desperate’ their reputation, ‘most willing to learn a trade and some of the boys turned out very well’. David Hoy also enjoyed a good relationship with his workers, and was proud that many of them became ‘respectable and useful’ members of colonial society. Walter Paisley, who learned his trade here as a very rebellious Point Puer boy, was still making whaleboats 50 years later.

There were two docks for large vessels and a slip for smaller boats. These were the focus of all Dockyard activity. One of the large docks, dug by convicts in 1835, is still visible, though a limekiln was built in the other in 1854. The small slip is no longer visible. 15 large vessels, the biggest weighing 286 tons and measuring 30 metres long, and more than 140 smaller boats were launched from these docks. Much of the activity took place on the water. When the hull of a vessel was completed, it was launched and anchored offshore; there the fit-out of the decks, mast and rigging continued. Small boats and barges ferried men and materials between the ship and shore. When vessels pulled into Port Arthur for repair, they were sometimes careened in shallow water on the rocks so that men could work on the bottom of the vessel. Men engaged in these repairs often worked in water up to their necks.

The Master Shipwrights House was one of the first buildings in the Dockyard, built for John Watson and his family in 1834. It was not only his home, but his office, the ‘nerve centre’ of the Dockyard. From its windows he could survey all its activities. Here ships were designed, records were kept and orders were given. A convict clerk worked in the toolstore next to the kitchen, issuing the valuable tools and keeping the accounts. John Watson left in 1836 and was replaced by David Hoy.

Hoy had been at Macquarie Harbour for six years, where he had been in charge of shipbuilding with ‘no assistance but from prisoners taken out of the gangs, only one or two of which had ever handled a sharp-edged tool’. He claimed to have turned them into shipwrights equal to any in the colony in three years. His personal history illustrates the dangers of working in a 19th-century dockyard. He injured his back when spars fell on him at Macquarie Harbour, and fractured his skull after scaffolding collapsed under him at Port Arthur. When Lady Franklin met him in 1837 she described him as ‘an old man’. He was then about 50.

The Master Shipwright’s house is the only building that survives from the ship-building period. It is built using brick-nogged construction, an old technique that creates a strong and well insulated structure. The house was once surrounded by outbuildings – a pig sty, poultry shed, store, privy and laundry. The small garden in front was probably the shipwright’s wife’s domain, where she grew flowers and herbs.

Behind the house lay the large food garden. When the Dockyard closed in 1848 this house was occupied by a succession of civil officers, including the commissariat officer and the schoolteacher. After Port Arthur closed, the house passed into private hands but was resumed by the government in the 1950s. It narrowly escaped demolition in the 1970s

Up to five convict overseers worked at the Dockyard. They ensured that the convict work force carried out its orders. Master Shipwright David Hoy employed a number of free men as overseers to try to improve discipline. Port Arthur’s military garrison was responsible for security. Boats and tools were a tempting target for would-be escapees, so three soldiers were stationed at the Dockyard on watch each night. According to regulations, they were to be ‘most vigilant that nothing is taken away; to take into custody any prisoner lurking about his post or out of the Master Shipwright’s quarters without bearing a written pass, to hail all boats passing and repassing; to be most careful that no fires are left burning, not to quit their post except for the purpose of reporting anything extraordinary they may have observed, to keep an eye on anything they observed floating or drifting in the water.

The Sentinel is not to enter the hut in his hours of duty, to patrol frequently about the yard during his hour, his attention to be particularly directed to any boats that are ready for launching, to answer the Sentinel’s call of ‘all’s well’ at the settlement every half hour’. Despite these precautions, four prisoners stole a boat from the Dockyard and escaped in 1835. They were later recaptured.

The Clerk Of Works House is not part of the former Dockyard complex, but was built over the top of the 1841 Blacksmiths’ Shop and an earlier sawpit. The house was constructed after 1848 and was occupied by a number of officials during Port Arthur’s later years, including a chaplain and the clerk of works. After the settlement closed the house was privately owned.

Though successful, the ship building operations at Port Arthur ceased on a large scale in 1848. A growing colonial economy, recovering after a severe depression in the early 1840s, meant that private ship builders did not want to compete against a government yard producing ships at a cheaper rate and lobbied for its closure. During its 15 years of operation, Port Arthur’s dockyard produced 15 large decked vessels and around 150 small open boats. At its peak, more than 70 men worked here.

Today this area is silent and almost empty. But if you had been here between 1834 and 1848 you would have seen a collection of small and large wooden sheds clustered around two large docks. In the largest shed, a vessel 25 metres long is taking shape. On a small slip nearby a whaleboat has been drawn up for repairs. Around these vessels swarm men in coarse woollen uniforms, with brown leather caps on their heads. Other men work up to their necks in the cold water, repairing another vessel just off shore.

A timber-carrying gang is emerging from the bush, bringing a log to the sawpits. Other convicts sweat in the heat of the blacksmith’s shop, forging iron and copper fittings for the ships. You would have heard the rasp of saws, the clash of metal on metal, men shouting to one another. You would have smelt sawn timber, burning charcoal and hot pitch. Today only bird song and the sweet smell of the bush fill the air.

Main Text & Information Source – Port Arthur Shipyard Guide

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Former Temperance Hall, Hobart

During the 19th century, the Temperance movement slowly developed throughout the British Empire and was based on concerns about the increasing numbers of people being drawn into poverty and crime via the excessive consumption of all sorts of alcohol and other intoxicating liquors. During this time, the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, famously declared that he believed alcohol was responsible for more deaths in the British Empire than war and famine combined.

The development of the movement saw the formation of numerous Temperance societies across the empire where members would sign a pledge to abstain completely from the consumption of alcohol or at least exercise moderation. The societies actively lobbied the governments of the day to create laws that severely restricted the sale of alcohol. As during this time, pubs were the main public meeting places available, the societies were often forced to construct coffee palace and temperance halls in order to provide themselves with an alternative to the pubs.

The Tasmanian Temperance Alliance was formed in Hobart in 1850. Soon after the origin of the organization, the Alliance Rooms in Macquarie Street were purchased, and had remained in their possession for a number of years. By 1884, the building had been found to be inconveniently situated, and otherwise unsuitable. It has been thought advisable to secure a more suitable site and the committee hoped soon to be in a position to recommend a solution to its members.

By 1890, the Alliance had been able to purchase land in Melville Street, Hobart and have constructed for its use, a large hall for alcohol free public entertainment. The building was constructed in a classical design and the building was said to have been so well constructed that the acoustic properties of the hall were said to be fully free of any echo. An amazing achievement for the time. The hall was ultimately used to present lectures, musical concerts and performances, tea dances and variety performances.

The Tasmanian Temperance Alliance maintained its ownership of the building until 1922 when they sold the property and it became the Bijou Theater. This venture was not a commercial success. It was used briefly as a furniture store in the mid-1920s, and eventually remodelled as the Avalon cinema in 1932, becoming the venue for the production of both Paramount and British Dominion films. A new modern sound system was installed and the seating was rearranged to accommodate 900 patrons. The ground floor entry was remodeled but the upper floor fa├žade was left unaltered.

The building still retains this appearance and the building was acquired in 1977 and has since been used for various commercial businesses including the Brunacci Avalon Markets which is a popular local weekend marketplace.

Main Text & Information Sources –
“The Story Of central Hobart – Street By Street” – Donald Howatson
Trove Website - The Mercury 29th May 1884

Historic Photos –
University of Tasmania Online Library - Temperance Hall Crowd

Brunacci Indoor Market website - Avalon Market

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

St Peter's Church, Hamilton

St Peters Church of England at Hamilton is one of the oldest existing churches in Australia, and even pre-dates the founding of Melbourne. Built of freestone with a tower which has an opening for a clock, which for some reason has never been installed and with only one door under the tower. The reason for this was almost certainly to prevent the congregation, which in the early days was about 50 per cent convicts, from attempting to escape.

The plans for the church were designed by the Government architect, John Lee Archer. The cost was stated at £700 minus the tower and the first committee for the construction of the church was appointed with Mr. D. Burn as Secretary. The Government agreed to pay half the cost of the church and construction began in 1834 with J.J. Turnbull as builder. The foundation stone of St. Peter's, Hamilton, was laid by the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania, Colonel George Arthur, on Thursday, June 26, 1934.

Prior to that date meetings of residents of the surrounding district interested in the erection of the church had been held, and subscriptions invited and generously responded to by leading residents. Apparently the walls had to be rebuilt in 1835 just after the laying of the foundation stone by Lieut. Governor Arthur in June, 1834 and the new builder contracted to complete it was W. Sibley after Turnbull had found himself in financial difficulties.

It was stated that the church would be completed within two months, but that did not mean all interior fittings and furnishings, because a further reference states that the building was completed and inspected in June, 1837. The church was consecrated on May 8th, 1838, by the first and only Bishop of Australia, the Rev Dr. W. G. Broughton, who also consecrated the burial ground. The first confirmation service was held on the same day at 10:30.

There were plans to add a spire to the tower in the 1920s but they never eventuated.
There are headstones around the church that date back to the 1830s and some of the regions earliest pioneer settlers. One headstone of particular interest is that of Sarah Lane who died at the age of 8 years in 1844.
The inscription on the headstone reads:
“Here
Lieth the mortal remain-
S
Of Sarah Lane
Died 3rd Nov.r 1844
Aged 8 years
This little inoffensive child
To Sunday school had trod
But sad to tell was burnt to deat-
h
Within the house of God”

The dropped 's & h' are the result of the stonemason who didn’t measure out his work very well but saddest of all is the fact that this little girl died tragically in a fire while attending her Sunday School. Quite incredible and very sad.

St Peters remains an active and vibrant church to this day and is part of the Hamilton Parish

Main Text & Information Source - St Peter's Church, Hamilton

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Lyons Cottage Historic Site, Stanley

Lyons Cottage was the early home of the Honourable Joseph Aloysius (Joe) Lyons.  Lyons was Premier of Tasmania between 1921 and 1928.  He went on to become the only Tasmanian Prime Minister ever elected, between 1932 and 1939. Lyons Cottage is where he spent the first few years of his life.  It contains a number of antiques, historical photographs and information on the Lyons family.

Lyons Cottage is significant on a number of levels.  While it is important simply due to its association with Joe Lyons, it can also be considered of significance in relation to its humble appearance.  It implies that anyone in Australia, regardless of their background, can be elected to the highest office in the country if they have the ability.  On another level completely, the cottage demonstrates the characteristics of a single storey, weatherboard Victorian Georgian dwelling.

The cottage itself seems to have originally been part of an allotment that included an adjacent hotel property. The hotel was built by Joe’s father, Michael Lyons, in 1849.  He sold the hotel in 1854 but retained the lot where the cottage now stands. It is not known exactly when the cottage was built but it was certainly constructed before 1870 as it appears in a photograph taken in that year. The cottage is just one storey and, when first built, would have only had four rooms – two at the front, one more and a kitchen at the rear. It was also constructed fairly cheaply – from plain timber on the exterior, and with interior paling boards rather than more expensive lath and plaster.

It really is quite a modest dwelling, even for the time. Renovations most likely took place during the early twentieth century, and additional rooms have been added to the rear at some point.  It was acquired by Parks and Wildlife (PWS) in 1976 and, at that time, was in a fairly poor state of repair.  In 1979 PWS undertook repairs of the building in order to retain the original and humble appearance of the home, similar to how it looked when Joe Lyons was born in 1879.

Main Information Source - Lyons Cottage Historic Site
Australian Dictionary Of Biography - Joseph Lyons