Sunday, April 15, 2012
This reproduction of a series of photographs that were taken by the Reverend Bice is displayed in the Commissariat Store Museum, on the basement level under All Saints Church.
The photographs were enlarged and now take the form of a 8 metre long display that is extremely interesting as it depicts part of the penal settlement that was on the Island from 1825 to 1855. The photographs were taken looking across the road from Quality Row towards the sea – that is, in a south westerly direction.
Although it is 157 years since the closure of the Second Settlement it shows the remnants of the buildings that were erected during this settlement and are still recognisable as the main centre of the convict era. Most of the visitors to the Museum are intensely interested in what was here during the Second Settlement and, as so many of the buildings have crumbled or totally disappeared, it bears out the “one picture is worth a thousand words” statement.
Of most interest is the three storey building that was the Prisoners’ Barracks that could house up to 900 men – 300 to a floor – and this is shown before its eventual collapse.
The building consisted of a rectangular block with a return at each end. Around the sides of the wall were two chapels, overseers’ rooms, watch-houses, guard posts, offices, stores, workshops and a court/school room. In the Barracks there were 22 wards and all slept in hammocks. The one door in and out of the building was situated in the middle of the main block. In 1835 the Reverend Atkins described the Barracks during the hours of darkness “for at least 10 hours every night, persons of all ages from 16 to 60 and of every degree of depravity through the heat of the climate, the violence of unbridled passion and the absence of women, unnatural crimes were of common occurrence”.
The other interesting section is the row of cottages along the drain through the swamp land and these 12 connected dwellings are now just a few sections of foundations poking through the grass with the cattle grazing nearby. The extant foundations reveal that there were six kitchens each servicing two cottages. The six eastern cottages each consisted of two rooms while the six to the west were single roomed. The variation between the two cottage types probably indicated the different status of the occupiers. In the photograph, the closest house are the remains of the Chief Constable’s quarters and this also shows just a few pieces of the foundations still visible.
The gaol with most of its buildings intact is depicted in the photograph. Little is known how many of the buildings were used and for what reason; the arms of the pentagonal arrangement of cells is just visible and from 1836 onwards there were many disagreements between Commandants, the Colonial Secretary and even the Royal Engineers. The disagreements and arguments continued until 1850 but the area is now nearly depleted of any structures at all and all that remains are grass-covered mounds and a few foundations and low walls.
The original photographs are held in the National Library of Australia. The museum has reproduced the images onto a card which sells at the Commissariat Store and REO Café for $1.50.