Isle Of The Dead – A Cemetery With a Difference

Isle of the Dead Cemetery

All you regular readers out there (all 4 or 5 of you?) will know I have a thing about the old historical cemeteries in Australia. But this one is different. Trust me; this place is very  different…

The Isle of the Dead

This place is called The Isle Of The Dead and is, no doubt, self-explanatory. The small island sits about a kilometre off shore from the main part of the convict colony at Port Arthur in the southern tip of Tasmania. The opposite side the isle sits quite close to Point Puer, where the boys prison once stood. There is little left of the boys prison but it was said to have incarcerated boys as young as 9.

For more about the Port Arthur penal colony see our earlier post here.

The mainland penal colony viewed from The Isle of The Dead

As convicts and their guards (and families) came – and passed away – over the years, the authorities needed to find a site for a cemetery. The isle was used as a cemetery for the penal settlement from September 1833 to 1877.

A lone grave at the edge of the Isle of The Dead

The cemetery was divided into two designated sections. Convicts were buried on the lower, southern end of the island. No headstones or markings were placed on convict graves, as they were not allowed. Free people were located on the northern western corner of the island and their graves were generally marked with headstones and tombstones cut by convict stonemasons.

Very few on the convict side of the cemetery have headstones or markers


Contrasting view from the non-convict side of the cemetery

The actual number of people buried on the island is unknown because of the destruction of many official records but there is thought to be some 1,500 graves on the island.

Henry Savery was a convict and Australia’s first novelist with The Hermit of Van Dieman’s Land, published under a pseudonym in 1829 and Quintus Servinton published in 1831. He was buried on Isle of the Dead in 1842. There is even a literary award named in his honour. The Henry Savery National Short Story Award. Crazy eh?

Burial site of Henry Savery. Convict and Australia’s first author.

In 1992 the Fellowship of Australian Writers placed a memorial stone (see above) marking the 150th anniversary of Savery’s death. The stone’s inscription describes his book, crimes of forgery, imprisonment and death.

Convict prisons, old goals and historic cemeteries: You (probably) either love them or hate them. We love them.

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