Historic site in Hobart…The “Tench,” The Penitentiary Chapel…

 Clock tower at the Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site in Hobart, Tasmania.
The concept of visiting the prison chapel based on its historical value as part of the Tasmanian National Trust challenged both of us. 
The view while driving toward Hobart from the south.

Tom, an avid history buff and I, the proverbial amateur photographer, found the prospect of visiting this facility located in downtown Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, befitting our combined interests.

The actual penitentiary itself, the “gaol” (pronounced jail) was torn down in the 1960’s leaving only a portion of the prison, now referred to as the Campbell Street Prison and Law Court which included some cells, the law court, the gallows and the chapel. 

Living for six weeks in this somewhat remote region of the Huon Valley, in the town of Geeveston, we mentioned in an earlier post, has a population of less than 1500. Traveling the 45 minutes to Hobart makes sense given our desire to know more about this outstanding island and its treasures.

The gift shop at the entry to the historic building.

Since arriving in Tasmania on December 3rd, and after having been aware of the fact that many convicts were sent to a variety of Tasmanian prison facilities, The Tench was on our radar. Although not mentioned in the quotation below, La Chapelle du Pénitencier and its rich history fall well within the field of intrigue as explained in the quotation below.

The tour began with just us and another couple in a class setting where our guide, Merilyn, explained the history of the establishment.

From this site: 

Tasmania’s convict history tells a tale of crime, punishment, hardship and survival in some of the harshest, yet most beautiful places on earth. More than 70,000 men, women and children were transported to Van Diemens Land in the early 1800s and many of the places and elements they constructed are still standing today. (Continued below).

A replica of a punishment imposed on the disruptive prisoners by which they stood in those severed spaces turning a large barrel for hours at a time.

There is evidence of the past of Australian detainees, no matter where you go, making Tasmania the ideal place to learn about and experience first-hand the beginnings of Australia. In fact, five of Australia’s eleven World Heritage Sites are located in Tasmania.  (Continued below).

View of the external wall of the facility.

The Port Arthur Historic Site is Australia’s most famous correctional facility, while the nearby Coal Mines Historic Site was Tasmania’s first mine, operated by over 500 inmates. Mining ruins and relics can now be explored in the surrounding fields.  (Continued below).

Door knocker at the entrance to the gaol (jail) at the Campbell St. entrance.

In Hobart, the Cascades Female Factory tells of the thousands of female convicts transported to Tasmania. On Maria Island, off Tasmania’s east coast, the buildings of the Darlington Probation Station date back to the 1820s and are set in a beautiful natural environment.  In Hobart, the Cascades Female Factory recounts the thousands of detained women transported to Tasmania.

Taken from a photo of a former entrance.

And in the north, the stately Brickendon Convict Village and Woolmers Estate are extraordinary testaments to the hard work of convicts assigned to private landowners.  (Continued below).

Taken from a photo of a small portion of one of the prison yards before this area was torn down in the 1960’s.

Other convicts highlights include Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour and the convict built bridge in Richmond.  As well as these, there are lots more convict sites across the state – in fact, a visit to just about any of our earlier towns will reveal the hard labour and skilled craftsmanship of Tasmania’s convicts.”

The historic court where accused criminals were processed.

Warmly greeted at the entrance office by Joan, a 20 year volunteer at the historic site, we appreciated being hosted with our enthusiastic intent of sharing this vastly interesting and significant piece of Tasmania and Hobart history with our worldwide readers.

A portion of the facility was designated as a residence for the magistrate (judge) which later became holding cells.
Closer view of Court One where the First Seating transpired on April 17, 1860 before His Honour Sir Valentine Fleming, Knight, Chief Justice. This was the continuation of the trial of Julius Baker, charged with four counts of shooting with intent to murder who was sentenced to death and hanged at 8 am on Thursday, May 10, 1860.

After a short wait, Merilyn, our tour guide and also an 8 year volunteer, escorted us and one other couple who joined us shortly in the presentation, on what proved to be a highly informative and professional presentation lasting for over 90 minutes.

Jury box.

We wandered from area to area at times over uneven ground, ducking under shallow ceilings and stairwells and a variety of tight spaces, all of which further fascinated our innate curiosity.

Stairway in the court that led stairway on the court that led to the tunnels where prisoners were held awaiting trial. We walked down these steps to inspect the cells below the tunnels where prisoners were held awaiting trial.

Merilyn spared nothing in sharing her knowledge of the facility coupled with a strong sense of compassion for the primitive and horrific nature of the facilities which were in use until the 1980’s.

We took this photo from a CCTV of the mechanism of the historical clock which remains functional.

The town of Hobart was determined to get such a housing of dangerous convicts away from the center of the growing metropolis. In 1960, the majority of the penitentiary was bulldozed, with only the chapel, courts, gallows and some cells remaining today as a site recognized by the National Trust of Tasmania.

Bell on display with other memorabilia from 1936.

The colonial masterpiece once consisted of most of the frontage of two city blocks between Bathurst and Brisbane Streets. Today, all that remains are the small group of buildings on the corner of Campbell and Brisbane Streets.

Organ in the chapel.

In addition, today there remains the base of the remnant of a high sandstone wall that once enclosed the Hobart Gaol on the Campbell Street side.

This bathtub was used by prisoners who bathed once a week, one after another, using the same water.
Goal cell door.

Looking back today, Hobart may have benefited by keeping the entire facility intact for its potential as a tourist attraction further enhancing the appeal as a destination site, generating more revenue for the entire area.

Seating in the chapel, built in 1831 and 1833 could accommodate 1500, was built over a variety of solitary confinement cells some of which were so small the convicts were unable to stand.

However, the remaining structures of “Tench” a nickname generated by the convicts for the Penitentiary in the 1800’s, has a considerable appeal for history buffs.

Some crumbling cells remain able to be observed by visitors.

After the tour, one feels a powerful sense and understanding of its historical significance and the treachery of life for those who were so unfortunate to have violated the laws of the period and brought harm upon others.

The small size of the cells may be determined in this photo.
The story of a famous prisoner, Mark Jeffrey’s who’s cell was presented on the tour.

After the tour we lingered in the garden taking photos of plants and flowers which we’ll share in future posts as time and space allows.

The gallows remain today. We stood in this area with both a sense of awe and horror.
Taking a bathroom break before our tour, Tom insisted I check out the “Heritage” toilet. He always teases me that he’s “pulling my chain” to which I add, “I don’t have a chain!” This is the type of chain he’s referring to.
A special thanks to Joan and Merilyn for sharing this special site with us and for the opportunity to share it with our worldwide readers. Hopefully, next time you’re in Hobart, you’ll take the time to visit this historic site.
Photo from one year ago today, January 21, 2016:
As soon we arrived at to our new home, we began taking photos of these wonderful creatures which we thoroughly embraced over the three months we lived on the alpaca farm in the countryside in New Plymouth, New Zealand. For more details, please click here.