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Cockatoo island Convict Prison

Date: 1861
Overall: 570 x 765 mm
Display dimensions: 562 x 695 mm
Medium: Paper, coloured ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Maps, charts and plans
Object Name: Plan
Object No: 00050534
Related Place:Cockatoo Island,

User Terms

    A convict settlement was established on Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour in 1838 to provide a place of secondary punishment for convicts who reoffended after being transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. The convicts were employed on the island cutting and working stone and constructing the Fitz Roy dry-dock. This plan details the buildings from that period.
    SignificanceOriginal material relating to convict transportation and the convict system in New South Wales is rare and historically significant with few examples surviving in private or public collections.
    HistoryBetween 1788 and 1868 over 160,000 men, women and children were transported to the Australian colonies by the British and Irish Governments as punishment for criminal acts. Although many of the convicted prisoners were habitual or professional criminals with multiple offences recorded against them, a small number were political prisoners, social reformers, or one-off offenders.

    In the early years of transportation to the Australian colonies, the sentence of transportation and the subsequent isolation it brought on, many thousands of miles away from the land of your birth, was considered to be the main form of punishment. However as the colonies grew in wealth and the opportunities for ex-convicts flourished the British government, prompted by the Bigge Inquiry in 1821-1822 and believing that the transportation system was no longer an effective deterrent, directed the colonial governments in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land to establish a series of secondary punishment settlements away from the main population areas where recalcitrant convicts would be used as enforced labour for large scale government projects.

    Although Moreton Bay, the Great North Road, Port Arthur and Norfolk Island are well known as secondary punishment settlements in Australia, the islands of Sydney Harbour - in particular Cockatoo and Goat - also proved ideal. Isolated by the waters of the harbour they had the added advantage of being under the watchful eye of the main administrators of the system in Sydney.

    The convict settlement on Goat Island was established in the 1820s and the convicts put to work quarrying, cutting and carving the sandstone the island was made up of - this work continued well into the 1830s with the convicts constructing a large powder magazine, stores, guard houses, associated buildings, barracks and a protective wall. By 1838 with the work almost completed Governor Gipps ordered some of the convicts to be taken to Cockatoo Island where they were employed building a wharf, digging wells and constructing a permanent convict barracks building for 200 convicts and their guard.

    Despite the temporary secession of convict transportation to New South Wales in 1841, work on the Cockatoo Island Secondary Punishment Settlement progressed throughout the 1840s with the building of a series of stone barracks able to accommodate the island's 400 convicts, a hospital, guard's accommodation and stockade, store rooms, lumber yard, blacksmith's and carpenter's shops, punishment and solitary cells, overseers' mess room, kitchens and a series of grain silos.

    By 1847 convict transportation to the eastern seaboard was well on the wane and the convict settlement on Cockatoo Island might have been abandoned except for the NSW Legislative Council who proposed to Governor Charles Fitz Roy that the convicts be employed constructing a dry-dock on the island that would be suitable for the maintenance of Royal Navy vessels.

    Work commenced on what was to become the Fitz Roy Dry-dock in September 1848 and progressed almost continuously for the next twenty years with between 300 and 500 Imperial and colonial convicts and civilian labourers blasting and cutting the stone for the dock, building additional convict accommodation, workshops, guard houses and pumping rooms and then extending the dock in the mid-1860s. The convict prison on Cockatoo Island closed in 1869 with the remaining prisoners being transferred to Darlinghurst.

    This plan was published as part of an 1861 public inquiry on Public Prisons in Sydney and the Cumberland Plains that was established to look into complaints about overcrowding and homosexuality on Cockatoo Island.

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