Darlington Historic Convict Site and Probation Station - Maria Island

darlington_view  

Maria Island (pronounced Ma-RYE-ah) was named in 1642 by Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, after Maria van Diemen, wife of the Governor General of the Dutch East Indies. This mountainous little island has served as a penal colony, a probation station, a limestone quarry and farmland and it's now a Tasmanian National Park in its entirety.

Maria Island can be “toured” in two distinct ways: from an historical perspective and/or for its natural beauty, flora and fauna. The Darlington Probation Station is one of the eleven properties which forms the World Heritage Australian Convict Sites as is Port Arthur. Had we visited Darlington first, it would have been more awe-inspiring perhaps, but after visiting Port Arthur, it wasn't particularly impressive by comparison.

 

darlington maria_welcome sign

 

The island is split into two (north and south) by a tombolo, a new word for us ... a sandbar(s) which connects two land masses or islands. I love it when we learn something new and obscure … or did you already know what a tombolo was? We put on our walking shoes and packed a picnic lunch to take ashore. The day was warm and brilliantly sunny as we checked in with the park ranger and consulted the island map for trails. Historic Darlington is on the northern part of the island and we chose day walks in that vicinity.

 

darlington_comissariat

 

The island was originally inhabited by Aborigines ~28,000BC and perhaps earlier. It didn't take long after the Brits arrived to decide that Maria might make a good site for a penal colony and in 1825, 50 convicts and a military escort arrived to establish a station. The oldest extant building on the island is the Commissariat Store built in 1825 and used for storage. It now houses the ranger station and some orientation displays.

 

darlington_penitentiary

 

The convict site was short-lived and closed in 1831. A decade later, it was reopened and housed among others William Smith O'Brien, the Irish political prisoner whose cottage we'd seen in Port Arthur. Several Maori convicts from New Zealand, charged with “open rebellion against the Queen”, were also incarcerated here. The white-washed penitentiary built in 1828 which housed convicts nearly two centuries ago is now used to provide overnight accommodation for guests.

 

darlington_windblown cottage

 

As we walked the well-marked dirt paths and cart roads, the remains of buildings and old foundations could be seen ranging from cottages to kilns to brickworks to cement silos. In 1884, entrepreneur and silk merchant, Diego Bernacchi, began a cement works harvesting the limestone from the island. Darlington township bustled for awhile, but the company went defunct, leaving the island and its buildings to fall into disrepair. In 1971, Maria Island was declared a wildlife sanctuary and in 1972 was proclaimed a national park.

Tomorrow we'll explore the natural beauty of the island.

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