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The Tench - Hobart

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Penitentiary Chapel – Old Hobart Gaol
One of Australia's most significant convict precincts is in the centre of Hobart city.

Tasmania was a penal colony for the first half of the nineteenth century and Hobart Town was a dumping ground for convicts. By 1830 there were over 10,000 convicts in Tasmania and accommodation all around the colony was primitive and overcrowded.
On their arrival to the colony prisoners were held at the penitentiary which formed part of the chapel and gaol complex. It was known as The Tench. The convicts either toiled on the tread wheel grinding wheat for the bakery, worked on road and building projects or broke rocks at nearby quarries. The construction of the chapel was carried out by convicts.

In the image above you can see the chapel, with the penitentiary stretching out to the left of it.
The Tench as it was known by its inhabitants was the convict prisoners' barracks for Hobart Town. The Barracks were built in 1820 to accommodate 300 convicts. They were extended a few years later to hold 640 convicts and in 1857 the Whole complex became the Hobart Gaol.
It originally spanned over two acres and some 5,000 male convicts passed through the complex.
Below you can see the camera used to take the prisoner mug shots
Left over artefacts displayed in cases give an insight into prisoner life. A prisoner serving time for murder made this noose form toilet paper:
'H' Division prisoners often broke the glass of their cell light bulbs, attaching scrap wire to the filament leads. They then 'experimented' with a variety of wire coils as heating elements to try to heat the water in their cell mugs.
Books could be used to smuggle items
Following the cessation of convict transportation the site became Hobart Gaol for more than 100 years
This rotating security spike was used on top of the gate to prevent escapes
This Marking Machine was used to ink stamp prisoner clothing with their gaol number

Duties whilst in prison included the Treadmill
It was operated by convicts who would grasp a railing with their hands and step on the wheel as if climbing the stairs.
The mechanism, consisted of five identical 2.5m diameter wheels coupled in line. 25 convicts continually climbed up the steps of the wheel which took approximately 2 minutes to complete one revolution. After three rotations the bell rang – the 25 men quickly stepped off and were replaced by another 25 men. It had two functions. One was to provide hard labour for the convicts and the other to grind wheat for the barracks’ bakery. Prisoners could be sentenced to a week or more working on the wheel. Superintendant James Boyd regarded prisoners talking on the tread wheel as improper and proposed that partitioning be installed to prevent what he described as ‘demoralising conversations’. He stated “men sent to this punishment have not regarded its severity with any degree of dread”. The wheel was in use from 1825 to 1855.

The Clock Tower
By mid 1833 the construction of the Penitentiary Chapel neared completion but it was decided to upgrade the small public entrance to a tower complete with belfry, dome and clock. On the inside a large staircase ran around the walls to a doorway cut high in the chapel wall. It was through here that the public entered the chapel for services, thus avoiding the convict sections of the chapel. In 1834 the dual faced clock was installed, made in London and one of six brought to the colony. Today the tower is admired as one of the few examples of Georgian ecclesiastical architecture still standing in Australia.
From the outside, you can see features such as this 'blind window' built for effect and decoration and never intended for use as a window.

Parts of these walls contain some of the highest number or 'convict bricks' used in a building - as shown by the arrow marking to show they are government owned bricks

In 1860 after these Supreme Courts opened 94% of those on trial had been transported as convicts. By 1870 the numbers had dropped to 74% and by 1890 to less than 2%.
Court Room One was originally designed solely for use by the free people. It had a sloping floor and an entrance that was via a spiral staircase in the tower. A curtain was installed to shield the public from the prisoners. However, there were continual complaints about noise from the prisoners confined in the solitary cells below the chapel floor. It was converted in a Criminal Court in 1859.
Court Room 2 was originally built as one of three wings of the Penitentiary Chapel. Attendance at the chapel was compulsory. Extensive alterations were made in 1858 to two of the three chapels to convert them to the Criminal Courts.
Below Court Rooms 1 & 2 are two connecting tunnels built in 1860 to take prisoners to and from the gaol and courts.

The Execution Yard was built after the closure of the Murray Street Gaol in June 1857. The last Tasmanian hanging was on February 14th 1946. In this time 32 people were hanged on this site. The process of execution changed little of the years. Prisoners were kept un the gaol’s condemned cell while religious advisers were on hand to encourage repentance. Executions were usually held at 8am. On the morning of a hanging the prisoner was led to the execution yard, arms pinned behind, walking to the tolling of the church bell. Religious advisers would read passages of scripture and offer prayer as the victim walked to the scaffold and stood on the trap door. The Executioner would tie his legs together, fix the rope around his neck and place a white cap over his face. Often the victim suffered a slow, cruel strangling. It was common for the bodies to be taken to St Mary’s Hospital for surgeons and their students to dissect.
Not all, but some of the buildings remain from the original penitentiary - an insight into over 175 years of Hobart's shadier past.

Amazingly the front door key from 1856 is still being used today!

Posted by charlystyles 13:39 Archived in Australia Tagged the_tench hobart_gaol

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