World Heritage Listing for Australia’s Convict Sites

Eleven sites that combine to tell the epic story of Australia’s convict heritage have been inscribed on the World Heritage Register.

Federal Minister for Environment Protection and Heritage, Peter Garrett, and Tasmanian Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, David O’Byrne have welcomed the addition of 11 convict sites across Australia to the World Heritage List.

Five of the 11 convict sites in the World Heritage listing are located in Tasmania. They include:

The Cascades Female Factory, in Hobart – a self-contained, purpose-built institution intended to reform female convicts. The inmates did laundry and needlework services, offsetting some of the colony’s penal costs.

The Port Arthur Historic Site – operated as a penal station for secondary offenders until 1877, and developed into a major industrial complex.

The Coal Mines Historic Site – located on the north side of the Tasman peninsula, played an important role in the development of the colony, and held up to 500 convicts. It was regarded as a particularly severe place of punishment.

Brickendon and Woolmers Estates – located near Longford, were private farms that utilised assigned convicts, both male and female, who worked largely in agricultural jobs and contributed to the development of Tasmania’s pastoral industry.

Darlington Probation Station – located on Maria Island off Tasmania’s East Coast, where there are some 16 surviving sites dating in some cases to the 1820s.

(For technical reasons, Woolmers and Brickendon Estates are counted as a single site within the listing.)

“Australia is a relatively new country in terms of its European history. However, our early history coincided with one of the great historical phenomena, penal migration. This is reflected in the pre-eminence of our convict sites and their worldwide relevance and interest,” Peter Garrett said.

Mr O’Byrne said obtaining World Heritage recognition of Australia’s convict past is a significant milestone.

“Forced penal migration had a particular impact on Tasmania because of its sheer scale in relation to the general population. It’s not surprising that nearly half of the listed sites are in this State,” David O’Byrne said.

“This is a major part of the Tasmanian story.

“I’m quite proud to own up to some convict ancestry – my family is descended from four brothers, the O’Byrnes, who were convicted in Ireland and transported. Three of them survived the crossing and came to Tasmania, and went on to become free settlers. Many Tasmanians share similar stories.

“I think most people find it fascinating to look back in time and connect with their ancestors, even visit the actual places where they lived and worked.

“We are at a particular point in time, not just here but right around the world, where people can acknowledge convict heritage and feel comfortable to explore that heritage.

“Regardless of ancestry, we can all get a sense of perspective of the past by visiting Port Arthur, the Female Factory and Coal Mines in the south of the State or Woolmers and Brickendon in the North, even Darlington on Maria Island.

“Visiting the actual places gives us tremendous insight into the lives and conditions that convicts endured and how they came through that adversity.”

Both Ministers said the World Heritage nomination was a thorough process, and involved considerable cooperation and liaison between Federal, State, Territory and local Governments.

“The listing reflects well on Australia’s commitment at every level to conserving our heritage,” said Peter Garrett.

“A strong case had to be made to convince the World Heritage Committee that inclusion on the prestigious World Heritage List would hold relevance beyond Australia and for the world.”

Mr O’Byrne credited communities around the sites with helping enable the listings, which are expected to generate environmental, social and economic benefits for Tasmania.

The other sites that make up Australia’s 18th World Heritage listing are:

  • Old Government House and Domain, Hyde Park Barracks, Cockatoo Island Convict Site and Old Great North Road in New South Wales.
  • Fremantle Prison in Western Australia.
  • Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area in Norfolk Island.

The 11 sites are also included on the National Heritage List and are protected under national environment law.

Further details on the listing are available from website of the Federal Department of Water, Heritage and the Arts .

Heritage Minister David O'Byrne discusses the inscription with local media at the Cascade Female Factory

Heritage Minister David O’Byrne discusses the inscription with local media at the Cascade Female Factory

Chapel, Brickendon Estate

Chapel, Brickendon Estate

Woolshed, Woolmers Estate

Woolshed, Woolmers Estate

Darlington, on Maria Island

Darlington, on Maria Island

Cascades Female Factory

Cascades Female Factory

Port Arthur Historic Site

Port Arthur Historic Site

Coal Mines Historic Site

Coal Mines Historic Site