WAS SARAH ISLAND REALLY A 'HELL ON EARTH'?
Altogether about 1200 men and women were sentenced or sent to Sarah Island. Most of them had
committed further offences while serving their original sentences; others came as 'remittance men',
skilled tradesmen who worked at the Settlement in exchange for remission of their sentence.
They were supervised by military detachments of several regiments (up to 90 soldiers at one
time), and by a variety of Civilian Officers, Supervisors and Constables, many of whom were
ex-convicts. Ships' crews were regular visitors, tradesmen were co-opted and often bribed to work
at the Settlement, there were women and children, some convicts working as servants, some wives of
soldiers and officials, some wives and children of convicts.
The Muster in 1828 was a total of 531, including about 380 convicts, 95 military, 14 women and
The early work of the Settlement was timber-cutting and hauling, work that could be done largely
by unskilled gangs. But shipping out the valued Huon Pine proved more of a problem than expected:
one solution was to build ships at the Settlement to transport the timber.
Soon Sarah Island was more than just a prison. It was also an industrial village: gardeners,
timber cutters, sawmen, boatmen, tanners, bootmakers, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, carpenters, boat
builders and shipwrights, fencers, bakers, cooks, medical orderlies, quarrymen and stonemasons,
brick makers, lime-burners, coal miners, clerks, accountants, artists and draughtsmen.
There are few obvious ruins on the Island today. Most of the buildings were of timber
construction which has been removed or rotted. Some deliberate damage many years ago by those who
wanted the island's history forgotten and the activity of souvenir collectors in the late 19th
Century and early 20th Century have depleted the brick and stone structures. We do have some
detailed images of the Island painted by the artists who served time there (skilled draughtsmen sent
for forgery). But the real task of re-construction is to create a picture of the people who lived
and worked there.