No. 1159 - Premaydena - The Impression Bay Probation Station Chapel

Premaydena is a settlement on the Tasman Peninsula approximately 15 kilometres northwest of Port Arthur. Originally named Impression Bay, it was once a probation station for convicts engaged in agriculture and timber milling.

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.

The Impression Bay Probation Station was one of six probation stations operating on the Tasman Peninsula. The station opened in 1841 and by 1845 its convict population peaked at at around 600 men. Most buildings were situated on a hill on the north western side of the valley of which few traces remain.

A chapel capable of accommodating about 800 men was built on the eastern perimeter of the station in close proximity to the hospital and military barracks. Religion and religious instruction were viewed as a critical part of the penal system. 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…”.

At Impression Bay, as elsewhere, Catholic and Protestant prisoners were at times separated for worship, supposedly to improve behaviour. In 1850, a Protestant minister, Reverend R.W. Gibbs, and a Catholic priest, Father H. Magorian, were appointed to the station with a salary of £200 each. By this time the station had been adapted to accommodate ‘invalid’ convicts and it was renamed the Impression Bay Invalid Station.

In 1848 a report in a Hobart newspaper, the Britannia and Trades’ Advocate, described the pitiful removal of invalid and insane convicts from New Norfolk to the repurposed Impression Bay Station:

“On Saturday last, there was a removal of invalids from this station to Impression Bay. It rained heavily, and it was such a day as should have been sufficient, to prevent the removal of any creatures — human or animal — unless under the most urgent circumstances. It was a dreadful scene. We have been present at the removal of the sick and wounded after fights at sea and on shore, and yet never saw anything so utterly heartless and distressing as the removal of the sick, the blind, the halt, and the lame, from New Norfolk to the steamer. Several of them taken from their warm beds, creatures totally helpless, led along by others. About seventy moved along in the rain, some walking, some carried, others dragged along in hand-carts. It was a brutal exhibition. At the bridge they were kept for some time, the toll-keeper not considering them in the service of the Crown. He was right; on such a day, the Crown would be ashamed of such ‘service' from her suffering subjects. At length, about seventy of the unhappy miserable beings were shipped on board the steamer, and she left with about half the number upon deck, to meet a strong sea breeze, and to suffer all the misery of such a passage. The medical officers in charge acted up to the letter of their instructions, but, for doing so, they ought to be held responsible for having sacrificed everything like humanity….”.

The Invalid Station was in the process of closure in 1857 when it was put into service as a temporary quarantine station. For six months it became a quarantine station for 300 passengers from the migrant ship ‘Persian’ who were affected by an outbreak of typhoid fever. The ship with 325 immigrants on board, had left Liverpool bound for Hobart in Tasmania. The majority of passengers were former residents of the Isles of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. On arrival in Hobart, it was found that some of the passengers had fallen victim to a deadly outbreak of typhus. The Persian was immediately quarantined and sent to Impression Bay. An account in the Hobart Town Advertiser describes the situation at the station. The report mentions the convict chapel which was put into use for the last time:

“The sick females were placed by themselves in a large airy building, formerly used as the Protestant place of worship….The sick males were placed in a large airy room formerly occupied as the mess-room of the lunatic depot…. All the sick were provided with a good bed; [and] for each, with a space of nearly six feet between each bedstead; also wine and every medical comfort was given as the necessities require…”.

The typhus outbreak left its mark on Impression Bay, as is evident in a small cemetery on a headland, where weathered headstones mark the graves of the unfortunate migrants who succumbed to the deadly disease.

Convict establishment Premaydena, Tasman Peninsula. Undated photograph  [188027] - Libraries Tasmania

A map of the Impression Bay Probation Station. The chapel is located in the large building on left of the plan. source: State Library of New South Wales


The small cemetery with graves of migrants who succumbed to typhus. Source: http://thesekindredspirits.blogspot.com


Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 26 August 1846, page 6
Britannia and Trades' Advocate, Thursday 11 May 1848, page 2
Hobart Town Advertiser, Monday 16 November 1857, page 2

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 <http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/publications/about/pubs/convict-sites.pdf>

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

https://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/P/Probation%20system.htm

http://thesekindredspirits.blogspot.com/2012/03/persian-typhus-ship.html







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