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UNESCO Honors Tasmania's Convict History

August 31, 2010 By: Jena Tesse Fox

Tasmania's convict heritage was officially recognized by UNESCO last month, when 11 Australian convict sites, five of which are located in the southernmost state of Tasmania, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Tasmanian sites are Port Arthur and the Coal Mines Historic Site on the Tasman Peninsula; the Cascades Female Factory in South Hobart; Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island; and Woolmers and Brickendon Estates near Longford. The other six sites are in New South Wales, Western Australia and Norfolk Island.

Thousands of penal sites were established in Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries. They housed tens of thousands of men, women and children condemned by British justice, often for petty crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread, to transportation to the convict colonies. Each of the sites had a specific purpose, in terms both of punitive imprisonment and of rehabilitation through forced labor to help build the colony. The properties that now form part of the World Heritage List present the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labor of convicts.

Port Arthur, on the Tasman Peninsula, is perhaps Australia's most famous convict site. It operated as a penal station for secondary offenders until 1877, by which time it had been developed into a major industrial complex and had turned from flogging, using the 'Cat O' Nine tails' to a form of psychological punishment based on the system used at Pentonville in London. Its 60 or so buildings and picturesque landscape present a mix of both beauty and horror, and have helped the site become one of Tasmania's most popular tourist attractions and probably the best known site of the 11 included in the listing.

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