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.
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.
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.
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.
The writer was the guest of Tourism Tasmania.