No. 1163 - Koonya - Cascades Probation Station 'Chapel' (1841-1855)

Koonya is a small settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, approximately 5 kilometres west of Taranna, on the Saltwater River Road. In the 1840s a site was developed here for the establishment of the Cascades convict probation station. The station closed in 1855 however many of the original buildings have survived and it the most intact convict station on the peninsula. The Cascades was renamed Koonya in 1887.

The Cascades was one of six probation stations established on the Tasman Peninsula. The station was established in 1841 and at its peak housed almost 450 convicts, after prisoners were transferred from Norfolk Island. Convicts were engaged in clearing land, growing vegetables and timber harvesting. The Cascades became the major timber supply point for the Peninsula and a tramway was used to transport the milled timber to the jetty.

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.

A chapel and schoolroom was built on the Cascades site. 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 undergoing secondary punishment. Attendance was rigidly enforced and non-attendance was a punishable offence…”.

Little is known about the Cascades 'chapel' which was initially a very rudimentary structure. In 1846 Administrator Charles La Trobe visited the station and in his report mention is made of a chapel. La Trobe states that “one of the two mess-rooms, which is a mere shed, is used as a chapel and a school house”.

In 1847, after convicts from Norfolk Island were moved to Cascades, a more substantial and permanent building was constructed. This is confirmed in a report from 1873 when the site was surveyed by Archibald Blackwood:

“There are numerous buildings, but fast going to decay. Cottage and garden, slaughter-house, bakehouse, two large prisons, row of cottages, workshops, hospital, numerous cells, and a large building formerly used for a church, the remains of an old building burnt down some time ago”.

Following its closure as a probation station in 1855, the Cascades Probation Station was run as a convict farm for some years before being abandoned. In 1882 the entire Cascades complex was purchased by Henry Chesterman. Chesterman planted an orchard and employed workers felling trees, splitting palings and demolishing buildings for the sale of materials in Hobart. The buildings in serviceable condition were used for residential and farm purposes. In the 1980s the Cascades site was extensively restored. It is privately owned and is used for tourist accommodation.

The building used as a chapel, school room and mess prior to its restoration in the 1980s. Source: TAHO - Heritage photos series NS2267 item Number NS2267/1/1634

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


The Mercury, Wednesday 13 August 1873, page 2  [Mr. Surveyor Blackwood's Report]

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 <>

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

Interpretation signage at the Cascades historic site.


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