MAKING CRIME PAY – thanks to the tourists

Visitors are encouraged to be convicts for a minute or two. Unbolt the door to the tiny cell, shut the door and experience the pitch darkness of solitary confinement.

Visitors are encouraged to be convicts for a minute or two. Unbolt the door to the tiny cell, shut the door and experience the pitch darkness of solitary confinement.

I didn’t think up the witty headline of this post. It’s the title of our historian friend David Young’s Ph.D. thesis, which examines how Tasmania turned its grim convict past into tourist dollars.

The village of Richmond, a short drive out of Hobart, is a prime example of this enterprise.

It is now a popular half day trip for visitors, and the city fathers (ok, mothers too) of Richmond and canny commercial operators are making a pretty penny from its convict heritage.

Richmond was founded in the 1820s, as an important staging post between Hobart and the notorious penal colony at Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula. When the convicts built the bridge in 1823, it opened up the area to settlers looking for new farmland.

...and one of Tasmania's most photographed icons. The Richmond Bridge, Australia's oldest, built by convicts.

Australia’s oldest bridge…and one of Tasmania’s most photographed icons.

The Richmond Gaol, opened in 1825, is now set up as a museum. It still feels slightly ghoulish to me to visit a place of confinement and torture (the flogging triangles are still on display in the yard). What I admired about the way it was organised was that the stories of inmates as individuals were told, at least briefly.

Perhaps the Richmond Gaol guest who achieved most fame was one Solomon Ikey, who is believed to have inspired Dickens’ character Fagin. After a career as a fence in London, Ikey escaped custody and hid out in Denmark and the USA. When he heard his wife Ann had been transported to Tasmania, he decided to follow her. Before long he was recognised, arrested and clapped in Richmond Gaol, where he became a ‘javelin man’ – a convict constable.

There are few Australian towns which have preserved their old buildings as well as Richmond has. In consequence it has an attractive streetscape, one which is perfect for the installation of cafes and craft and souvenir shops.

Richmond. One of Australia's most attractive streetscapes.

Richmond.

If you’ll excuse the convict puns, we decided to lash out, hang the expense and visit Old Hobart Town, the privately operated model of the city in the 1820s, ‘handcrafted with passion by Andrew and John Quick’, to quote from their website.

Modern day Gullivers in Lilliput.

Modern day Gullivers in Lilliput.

Old Hobart Town, 1820.

Old Hobart Town, 1820.

All in all, rather well done, with plenty to entertain the kiddies. Scenes of convicts escaping, a flogging, a hanging, a boy falling from a tree, people getting blind drunk…it’s a sort of 3D Where’s Wally with a convict theme.

Trip facts:

Entry to Richmond Gaol costs $9. See www.richmondgaol.com.au
Entry to Old Hobart Town costs $15 for adults, with family concessions available. See www.oldhobarttown.com

The writer was the guest of Tourism Tasmania.

3 Comments

Filed under Travel-Australia

3 responses to “MAKING CRIME PAY – thanks to the tourists

  1. Stan

    Richard, forget the past,,Richmond’s greatest claim to fame are the local bakeries scallop pies. I do hope you had one ?

  2. No doubt. The Richmond scallop pies are the best in Tasmania. Worth a trip back. Mind you, I have never had a scallop pie outside of Tasmania so could be a ‘World’ claim here. Cheapest scallop pie, Bicheno.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s