history

THE HISTORY OF MAGNIFICENT MARIA ISLAND - Tasmania .

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First, convict era 1825-32.

Lieutenant-Governor Arthur established a penal settlement at Darlington in 1825 for convicts whose crimes were not of 'so flagrant a nature' that they should be sent to the notorious Macquarie Harbour settlement on Tasmania's west coast. A small party of soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Peter Murdoch, and fifty male prisoners, arrived at the island aboard the ship Prince Leopold in March 1825. Initially, housing was log and bark huts or tents. After the arrival of a new Commandant, Major Thomas Lord, in August, more permanent buildings were erected using bricks made on the island and sandstone excavated from the sea cliffs. The commissariat store (1825) and the penitentiary (1830) can still be seen today and are the only surviving buildings from this era. Industries such as cloth, blanket and shoe-making, tanning, timber cutting, and pottery were fostered. Frequent escape attempts, complaints about relaxed discipline, and the opening of Port Arthur in 1830 led to the decision to abandon the settlement in 1832.

Second convict era 1842–50 Edit

The second convict era commenced in 1842. Under the probation system of the 1840s, convicts were withdrawn from private service and grouped together in government stations. Probation stations were established at Darlington and Point Lesueur (10 kilometres south-southwest of Darlington and also known as Long Point). Agricultural work was a key activity for convicts, particularly as there were in excess of 400 acres (1.6 km2) of crops to maintain. Officials and 600 male convicts in Darlington were housed in old and altered structures re-used from the first convict era, and new buildings were also erected. Overcrowding and ill-adapted buildings were constant problems.

First industrial era 1888–96 Edit

Maria Island's potential for wine and silk production, fruit-growing, and tourist developments attracted an Italian entrepreneur, Diego Bernacchi. In 1884 Bernacchi secured a long-term lease of the island from the Tasmanian Government and the 'Maria Island Company' was formed. Bernacchi renamed Darlington "San Diego", and the little town soon had in excess of 250 residents of a variety of different nationalities. Bernacchi established small cement works which made use of the island's limestone deposits. The opening of the Grand Hotel in 1888, complete with dining, billiard, and accommodation rooms, saw the promotion of the island as a pleasure resort and sanatorium. Also constructed during this era was the Coffee Palace, a row of workers' cottages known as the 'Twelve Apostles and six terraced cottages, built using bricks from the demolished convict separate apartment cells. Some of the old convict buildings were re-modeled to house workers, managers, and shops. Bernacchi's family resided in the old religious instructor's house for a time. Sadly, the 208-cell apartment block from the second convict era was demolished and the bricks were used to build other buildings and roads. Only two photographs exist today of this building. Although Bernacchi was enthusiastic, the Maria Island Company went into liquidation in 1892. Bernacchi promoted the island's cement industry and formed a new company for that purpose. It was short-lived, and in 1896 Bernacchi and his family left for Melbourne, and subsequently London. Afterward, tourists continued to frequent the island where Rosa Adkins ran a boarding house in the former Coffee Palace.

Second industrial era 1925–30 Edit

Diego Bernacchi returned to Maria Island, determined to exploit the limestone deposits for cement and expand on his initial plans. The National Portland Cement Company Ltd was formed in 1920. The annual report for 1923 revealed that a new 620-foot (190 m) pier had been constructed and that buildings were being erected, including a 200 ft (61 m) high chimney stack of reinforced concrete. A railway line conveyed limestone to the works. Machinery worth over £125,000 had been imported from Copenhagen and London. The works were officially opened in February 1924. Community life prospered for the 500 or so residents. Social and sports clubs sprang up, dances were held and the old chapel was used as a cinema. A school was erected for the employees' children. The schoolmaster's house of this period is now the Ranger's Office. Unfortunately, production problems were experienced at the works from an early stage, and together with the effects of the Great Depression, caused the cessation of business in 1930.

Farming era 1930–72 Edit

After the conclusion of the second industrial era, Maria Island became a quiet home to a few farming families. In particular, the Adkins, French, Howell, Robey, Hunt, and Haigh families spent many years on the island. The Adkins family in particular have a long association with the island than any other name, with four generations of them calling the island home - commencing in the 1880s and continuing until the 1960s. A number of these families' names are cemented into the island's history by having buildings, farms, or sites that still have their names. These include the Adkins' house (burnt down in recent years), French's Farm, Robey's Farm, Hunt's Cottage, Howell's Farm, and Haigh's Farm (site only). Farming ended when the Tasmanian Government began purchasing properties from their owners in preparation for declaring the island a national park.

The National Park – 1972 

In 1972 Maria Island was declared a national park. From the late 1960s, various species of fauna were released onto the island, including mammals and birds such as Cape Barren geese and emus (from mainland Australia). Emu numbers increased to an estimated 20-30 by the early 1980s, by which time it was decided they were a risk to visitors, and efforts were made to eradicate them. The last emu is thought to have been shot during the first of the Kangaroo culls in 1994. They have not been sighted since.

The island's first ranger was Rex Gatenby. Prior to the island being declared a national park, many of the historical cement works buildings were demolished due to the danger the government thought the buildings would present to tourists. At this time such buildings were not generally considered historically significant.

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