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Sarah Island Remains of the penitentiary - Sarah Island

Sarah Island - Tasmania's first penal settlement

Sarah Island in Tasmania's south west wilderness is  remembered as a place of degradation, depravity and woe. So wrote the Tasmanian  historian John West in 1842.

Sarah Island was Tasmania's earliest penal settlement, having  been established in January 1822, and was intended to strike fear into the  hearts of convicts.

Unlike Port Arthur, where the aim was to rehabilitate lost  souls, Sarah Island was intended as raw punishment reserved for the worst of convicts.

The use of strict discipline and constant hard labour made  it a place to be feared. Even more brutal, convicts were often chained to rocks  on the considerably smaller nearby Grommet Rock that was washed in sea spray in  bad weather.

For many men the burdens of Sarah Island were intolerable. During  the early phase of the settlement, some deliberately committed murder in order  to be sent to the gallows and escape once and for all from the tortured lives  they led.

Despite the brutality, the island was also a successful centre  of industry. Pining along the Gordon River and shipbuilding were among the  trades carried out by the convicts and in its day, Sarah Island was the largest  shipbuilding yard in Australia.

Although not as well-preserved as Port Arthur, the  significance of what is still evident is no less historically important.  Remnants of the penitentiary, bakehouse and  solitary cells can still evoke images of this island's notorious convict past.

The Sarah Island penal settlement was closed in 1833 after  the establishment of the penitentiary at Port Arthur.

Visitors can tour the island on one of several cruises into the  Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, departing from Strahan.

More on Tasmania's West Coast

For more on Tasmania's West Coast see our self-drive itinerary West Coast Wilderness