12.01.2011 - 13.01.2011 28 °C
On this trip I seem to developed a surprising interest in the deportation of convicts to Australia. It would be quite easy to come from to Australia and ignore the convict past but I found myself really fascinated. As well as it being the starting point for most of the white settlers in Australia it is also in interesting time in British history, starting with what made them think it was a good idea to send people half way around the world anyway. The answer to that is quite easy, the prisons were so overcrowded they thought it was a humane alternative to hanging. In my opinion pretty much anything is a humane alternative to hanging! To get yourself on a convict ship bound for Australia it turns out all you had to do was steal a silk handkerchief or a few loaves of bread. In today’s society that is the equivalent of stealing a dvd player, not much you may think; then I think of my purse that stolen out of my locker last year and maybe it’s wasn’t such a bad idea after all!
The main places convicts got sent to were Sydney or Hobart but not being a convict I started my journey in Perth. Deportation was stopped in 1864 on humanitarian grounds but Perth and the swan river colony were still crying out for convicts to help build up the settlement, as they hadn’t got enough labourers. They were told they could have one ship a year and the last convict ship landed in Perth on the 10th of Jan 1868 (now Australia day). The first job they got the convicts to do was to build their own prison! As if it wasn’t bad enough you had just stumbled off a convict ship in to the heat of the west coast you are expected to build the one building that is going to stop you from joining everyone else. But boy did they build it well. I had a tour round it and I wouldn’t have wanted to try and get out of it.
I did however go in the Chapel and although I am not one for visiting churches this chapel was remarkable. There was so much natural light coming in you just got a sense that it was a really calming and beautiful place to be. Propably not a feeling the prisons got very often. The guide did say that they did a lot of weddings in that chapel, I could see why but I don't think i'd want to walk in my wedding gown past a load of cells where the prisoners did who knows what during the night!
The fremantle prison, Perth was still in use in 1990. Let s take a moment to consider that. Something that was built in the 1860s by convicts was still in use when I was age 8. That alone is quite remarkable but as I learnt on the tour that it hadn’t changed much. The cells had to be widened as they were so small the prisoner s were suffocating, (the local government covered up this fact and pretended it was unknown disease that had killed them). Electricity was installed but there were still no toilets (it was a bucket in the corner) and there was no air-conditioning, think of the smell!!! Personally I think air conditioning is a main stay of civilised society and all countries that are hotter than the UK should have it as standard. The prisoners if they were in the top row of cells were in 50o heat. I’ve experienced 45o and even the Australians were complaining!