Discover The Remnants Of Maria Island's Convict Era

Maria Island awaits, off the coast of Tasmania, tempting you with its incredible landscapes and adorable wildlife residents. It also holds stories of a past, oh so turbulent. You see, Maria Island was not just any other island back in the day; It was a penal colony.

If you truly yearn to discover Maria Island’s history, you must embark on a journey through time, peering into its intriguing past to understand what it once was.

How is this possible, you ask? Maria Island tours, of course! Lucky us, the island still has some of the important structures standing from its convict era. Join us in this blog as we unveil these fascinating sites, giving you a glimpse into Maria Island's convict history.

The 19th century saw not one, but two eras of penal colonies on Maria Island. From 1825 to 1832, Maria was a penal settlement. It was believed that the isolation and harsh conditions of the island would deter escape attempts.

However, this plan didn't quite work out as intended. The island's isolation, while making it challenging to escape from, also presented opportunities for convicts to take to the water and attempt to reach the mainland. Consequently, Maria Island gained a reputation for being a place from which many convicts attempted to escape. By 1832, the settlement was completely abandoned.

In 1842, Maria Island was again repurposed to be a convict probation station. This was a part of the broader system of penal punishment in the Australian colonies during the 19th century.

This system was an alternative to the more established penal colonies and aimed to provide convicts with an opportunity for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. It was a transitional phase intended to prepare convicts for their eventual release. During their time at the probation station, the convicts were expected to demonstrate good behaviour, work skills, and the capability of going back to free society.

This system eventually came to an end in the mid-19th century.

Sites That Whisper Tales Of The Past

If you should visit a tourist site with the intention of learning about the Maria Island convict history, Darlington Probation station is where you should head to.

Darlington was the perfect spot for a probation station because it was tucked away in nature, far from other settlements. Plus, it had loads of natural resources that the convicts could be employed to exploit. And since it was on an island, it was pretty tricky for the convicts to make a run for it (or so they thought).

Today, Darlington stands tall as Australia's most remarkable and well-preserved probation station. The station’s 14 buildings and ruins offer you a window to take a peek into its bygone era. The site remains considerably unchanged since the days of convicts. As you explore, you'll find yourself surrounded by the simple elegance of colonial Georgian-style structures.

The most unmissable convict buildings are right here in the former town of Darlington. Watch history come to life! Also, there are informative sign boards all around the site to give you more information about the lives of the convicts of Maria Island.

Must See Convict Era Sites On Maria Island

Commissariat Store
You can still see the two-storey Commissariat Store from the convict era in Darlington. The Commissariat Store once served as the central storage and distribution point for essential supplies to the convicts on Maria Island. It was positioned closest to the jetty for the easy transfer of goods from boats.

The Commissariat Store got a makeover and has now become Maria Island Park's reception and visitor centre. They have a nice display of artefacts that take tourists like us back in time. Feel free to explore what is left of the Hospital, Surgeon’s Quarters and Religious Instructor’s Quarters that could be found behind the Commissariat Store.

Convict Penitentiary 
The purpose of the original penitentiary complex was to house the convicts. If you ever wondered how it felt to be a convict in one of these penal colonies, this is your chance!

The Convict Penitentiary now accommodates tourists! Nothing fancy, just a simple bunker house. There is no electricity and the toilets are in a different block, but these things only make your experience here more realistic.

Coffee Palace
When you go in, you might take this structure for a cafe. It is perfectly natural. It is a restaurant from the Bernacchi era that is now a museum. Two rooms here look very 1890s, decorated with artefacts of yesteryear. Okay, now the cool part – what if we told you that you can time travel here?

They've got this fun audio thing going on. As you chill and sip your tea, you can also listen to historical figures spill the beans about life on Maria Island! How cool is that!

Also check out the dam on the Bernacchi Creek that was built by the convicts. The dam still provides water to Darlington.

It is truly a great blessing that these buildings are still standing. Visiting these is a golden opportunity to be transported back in time and to understand what the life of a convict was like in this prominent penal colony.