No. 1147 - Flinders Bay - Probation Station Chapel (1841-1843)

Flinders Bay is located on Forestier Peninsula and lies within Norfolk Bay. It is about 8 kilometres north west of Eaglehawk Neck.

The ‘Probation System’ was an experiment in penal discipline unique to Van Diemen's Land. It was introduced in 1839 to replace the ‘assignment system’ which attracted criticism in Great Britain on the grounds that it neither reformed prisoners or provided a deterrent to potential offenders. Probation was similar to the penitentiary system which was built on the belief that both punishment and reform could be achieved by confinement and a regime of hard labour, religious instruction and education. More than eighty probation stations operated in various locations for varying periods. Many were hastily and poorly built. The Probation System was abandoned following the abolition of transportation to the colony in 1853.

Religion was viewed as a critical tool in changing criminal behaviour. A 2008 UNESCO report on convict sites in Australia notes that this was achieved through:

“…the construction of churches and chapels for the use of convicts; employment of chaplains at penal stations responsible for the moral improvement of convicts; compulsory attendance at church services; reading of prayers by authorities and ‘private masters’ and distribution of Bibles. Separate churches or rooms were often provided for convicts from different religious denominations. Religious observances were often an essential part of the daily lives of most convicts including those under going secondary punishment. Attendance was rigidly enforced and non-attendance was a punishable offence…”.

Flinders Bay Probation Station was established in 1841. About 200 convicts were involved in timber getting and land clearing. The station was short lived and closed about 18 months after it was establishment.

A convict chapel was built at Flinders Bay alongside the military barracks. It was a rudimentary structure and little of it remains apart from scant remnants of the building’s footings. As with most probation station chapels, it would have would have been an unremarkable structure that attracted little commentary or description by contemporary observers. However an important record of the Flinders Bay settlement is preserved in “An Excursion to Port Arthur in 1842”, written by David Burn (1798-1875), a settler and writer who arrived in Hobart in 1826. Burn’s described a five-day visit to the convict settlement at Port Arthur as well as the boy's penitentiary at Point Puer, the Isle of the Dead, Flinders Bay, Saltwater Creek, Cascade and Impression Bay. A short description of Flinders Bay is reproduced here:

“The following morning…we accompanied the Commandant on a visit to the Probation Station at Flinders Bay, one of the numerous indentations of Norfolk Bay. Our course was by the tramway, and a part of the route by which we first reached Port Arthur. Flinders Bay is a new and very primitive station, under the superintendence of Mr Smith. There are 200 convicts under his charge, with a sergeant and 12 privates of the 99th Regiment. They are as yet domiciled in bark huts; but slab ones are preparing, as also cottages for the Superintendent, Mr Kilgour, the surgeon; Mr Dove the catechist, and the several assistants….The men are employed in the erection of all the requisite buildings, forming roads and bridges, grubbing, fencing, and cultivating land, which, in an improved condition, will, it is presumed, at some future day, be sold for the public behoof….Flinders Bay party is yet in the earliest of these stages, being employed in felling, burning off, and clearing land, and providing themselves with the necessary quarters. It is a magnificent looking location, with an ample supply (even at this dry season) of water….”.

While Burn’s does not mention the chapel it was probably one of the slab huts under construction. The remains of the chapel’s footings confirm that it was a fairly substantial structure.

The Probation Station was abandoned in January 1843 following a bushfire that destroyed the timber resources around the bay which were the primary reason for the establishment of the settlement.

A detail taken from the map below. 

A map of the Flinders Bay Probation Station. The chapel was located above the convict quarters and alongside the barracks. The scale on the map indicates that the chapel was approximately 50ft. in length. Source: State Library of New South Wales

The location of the Flinders Bay Probation Station is highlighted on the map. (placenames.tas.


State Library of New South Wales: TAS PAPERS 156: Port Arthur Convict Settlement : Permits, Conveyances and Expenditure, 1858-1860, and Other Convict Records, 1857-1864, Including Plans of Probation Stations, Tasman Peninsula, 1857.

Australia. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.  Australian convict sites : world heritage nomination / Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts  Dept. of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Canberra  2008  <>

Burn, David and Beattie, J. W. (John Watt), 1859-1930 An excursion to Port Arthur in 1842. 'The Examiner' and 'Weekly Courier' offices, Launceston, Tasmania, 1910.

Thompson, John,.  Probation in paradise : the story of convict probationers on Tasman's and Forestier's peninsulas, Van Diemen's Land, 1841-1857 / by John Thompson  J. Thompson [Hobart, Tas.]  2007

Launceston Examiner, Saturday 18 October 1890, page 3


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