A Convict’s Rite of Passage

A Convict's Rite of Passage

“I’m an eighth generation Tasmanian,” remarked Jake Bradshaw when we first met on the grounds of Port Arthur. “My ancestor George Ransley was the leader and a smuggler for the Adlington Gang who drank and hatched raids from the Walnut Tree Inn in Aldington, Kent. He was sentenced and transported for murder and smuggling on the convict ship Governor Ready on the 3rd April 1827,” Jake said with a wry smile, “but because he was originally a farmer and ploughman he was only imprisoned for five years before being released to work in the sizable crop fields.”

Jake was our knowledgeable tour guide for the afternoon at Port Arthur Penal station, a site which was established in 1830 as a timber-getting camp using convict labour. By 1840 more than 2000 convicts, soldiers and civil staff lived at Port Arthur. The penal settlement finally closed in 1877.

Today there are more than 30 historic buildings, extensive ruins and beautiful gardens and grounds worth exploring. we then took a short ferry ride away from the site to the Isle of the Dead cemetery (it felt good to be above ground here) and the ruined site of the Point Puer (Latin for Boy) Prison. For colonial history buffs and anyone interested in early settlement, this is one of five convict sites in Tasmania and by far the best preserved in Australia.

A touch of Trivia: Origins of the wrod Pommie? An unofficial explanation is that P.O.M. stands for ‘Prisoner of Millbank ‘ or that P.O.H.M.E. stands for ‘Prisoner of Her Majesty’s Exile’. However, the OED states that there is no evidence for these terms or abbreviations being used and that they are an unlikely source. Historian Richard Holt maintains the origin of the term comes from English cricket tours of Australia where the English gentlemen amateurs would drink Pommery Champagne in preference to Australian beer. Hmmm!

Check out: www.portarthur.org.au

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