Experience life down the coal mines in the next Port Arthur Talk

May 11, 2009

Historian and former Port Arthur Historic Site Assistant Archaeologist Richard Tuffin will present an exploration of convict coal mining in Van Diemans Land, in a special Port Arthur Talk timed to coincide with National Archaeology Week and the Tasmanian Heritage Festival, in a talk entitled

…where the vicissitudes of day and night are not known’: convict coal mining in Van Diemen’s Land.

In Van Diemen’s Land during the 1820s to 1840s, attempts were made to employ convicts in the extraction of the colony’s coal resource. Like their fellows working above ground, these unfree labourers were engaged in the task of colony-building, the coal that they cut literally feeding the fires of colonial industry. Over the course of two decades at least four convict coal mining operations were started by the Government in Van Diemen’s Land.

‘I was sentenced to 2 years hard labour in chains at the Coal Mines… I was picked out for ‘below’ and was marched off with the rest of the gang to the mine shaft, or the “Coal Hole” as we called it.’ – William Thompson, ‘Career of William Thompson’

The best known of these is the Coal Mines of the Tasman Peninsula, although coal was also worked by convicts at such distant locations as Macquarie Harbour and South Cape. Varying in scale and longevity, these operations witnessed an evolving blend of punishment and profit goals, governed by the need to extract the resource at the same time as punishing the convict. It is the intention of this paper to chart the history of convict coal mining in Van Diemen’s Land and its place in the wider history of convict labour management in the colony.

Richard Tuffin currently works as an archaeologist for Austral Tasmania. Between 2001 and 2007 he worked for the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority as an assistant archaeologist. He is undertaking a part-time PhD through the University of Sydney, the current results of which are presented in this paper.

All welcome to this free event.
Wednesday 20 May 2009, 5.30pm
Junior Medical Officer’s Conference Room,
Port Arthur Historic Site

For more information please call 6251 2324.

The Coal Mines Historic Site from the air.

The Coal Mines Historic Site from the air.