Nowhere in Tasmania will you find greater evidence of the appalling conditions that Tasmania’s convicts were subjected to than here on the Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, which is six times the size of Sydney’s, accessed through Hell’s Gates. Although it only operated as a convict site for 11 years, Sarah Island’s reputation as the most brutal in Australia was justified as men were put through a living hell of logging the Huon Pine in the harshest of environments. Stories of misery, escape and cannibalism have been turned into books and films, including that of the notorious Alexander Pierce who tried to escape not once but twice, and was eventually hanged for eating his fellow escapees (it is said that body parts were found among his person when he was captured).
Like all things Tasmanian, brutality comes with breathtaking beauty and a visit to Sarah Island is most commonly done as part of a cruise down the Gordon River from the little town of Strahan, which allows ample opportunity to marvel at the vastness of the temperate rainforest, the ancient and protected Huon pine, whose precious shipbuilding qualities were the scourge of the convicts’ miserable lives, the bird life and serenity of the region which has been the subject of misery and environmental battles for two centuries. Your guides from Sarah Island will engage you in a delightful play, The Ship That Never Was, which is acted out every evening on the esplanade in Strahan, and well worth the experience even if you might get asked to put your acting skills to the test!