Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Highfield Convict Barracks

The ruins of the old convict barracks built from 1834 and occupied from 1836. In July 1832 there were 41 convicts assigned to the Circular Head settlement in order to help establish Highfield, a number which would rise to 73 before the convict assignment system was shut down. Indentured labourers brought out from Britain and assigned convicts made up the bulk of the VDL Company’s workforce. Arrangements were made for agricultural workers sentenced in England for protest activities to be assigned as Company convicts.

Convicts were essential to the success of the company. Many of the convicts were highly skilled builders and were responsible for the construction of Highfield and its surrounding buildings, including the old convict barracks at Stanley which were used by the Van Diemens Land Co as quarters for employed men in the early days.The government had assigned convicts to settlers on a proportional basis but convicts were never assigned to the VDL Company in the numbers that were originally anticipated by the Directors and their agents. This discrepancy was to become one of the main sources of friction between Edward Curr and Governor Arthur.

It is clear that Curr valued the work of his convicts. In one of his despatches to his employers, he stated “Let it never be forgotten that we owe everything we are and have to our convict labour. Wherever skill or trustworthiness is required, it is not among the free men but amongst the convicts that we are obliged to look”  Although Company convicts had a good reputation, incidents such as the escape of six convicts in a sealing vessel in 1828 or the 1835 plan to capture Circular Head and seize the Company schooner Edward are worthy of note. The lure of higher wages elsewhere in the colony caused many of the indentured workers to abscond or nullify their contracts.

However, despite his favorable comments about his convict workforce, the company’s agent has also been accused of being particularly brutal. Curr employed a flogger, Richardson the Flagellator, and the flogging rate of the convicts under his authority was double that of the rest of the colony. Irrespective of their skills, the convicts were never paid for their labours but were forced to work under a system that was in al but name, slavery!

With the withdrawal of convicts following the closure of the convict assignment system and the introduction of the probation system in the early 1840s the company turned its attention from the use of convicts to attracting tenant farmers to the property.

Main Text & Information Source-
Interpretation signs at the Site