Macquarie Harbour, situated on the rugged west coast of Van Diemen’s Land, was accessed by sea, through a treacherous, narrow harbour mouth. The settlement, consisting of several out-settlements scattered around the shore of Macquarie Harbour and on various islands within the harbour, was almost entirely reliant on supplies from Hobart Town. This perilous voyage of 220 miles, subject to unpredictable weather and rough seas, could take several weeks.[1]  Transportation to the Colonies of New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land was described as being ‘sent to the end of the world’, while Macquarie Harbour was described as ‘Hell on Earth’ by those who ended up there.[2] Whilst being sent to Macquarie Harbour was an extreme punishment in its’ own right, further punishment was in store for those who did not conform there. For the convicts, administrators, officers, soldiers and free settlers it was a miserable existence. 


The prisoners who are banished to this settlement are generally of the worst description, and such only as can scarcely be trusted with safety in the main colony, or whose offences have deserved the signal punishment which this place is intended to inflict.[3]


The Macquarie Harbour Penal Station operated between 1822 and 1833[4].  The headquarters of the settlement was located on Sarah Island in the south eastern corner of the harbour, about 25 miles [^] from the harbour mouth.[5] Male convicts were quartered on Sarah Island, while female convicts were quartered on Grunnet Island, a small island half a mile distant from Sarah Island.[6] In total just over 1150 prisoners served time at Macquarie Harbour; researchers place the number of women at fewer than thirty although the exact number of female convicts is still being researched. [7]  Of these women, perhaps half would have been assigned servants accompanying administrators, doctors, officers or soldiers.  An example is Sarah Simmons who was an assigned servant to Dr. Dermer and Mrs. Barnes at Macquarie Harbour from 1831 to 1832. Sarah was notorious for her unruly behaviour, which may have contributed to her being selected for the assignment.   A letter from L.G. William Sorell to Under Secretary Goulburn dated December 1821, mentions eight female convicts as being part of the first contingent of the 110 persons sent to Macquarie Harbour to establish the settlement. There were also 44 'Convicts under Sentence and of bad Character and incorrigible conduct'; 'Convict Artificers and Mechanics of good character, intended to receive indulgence after a period' totalled 11; 'Other Convicts of useful avocations not under Punishment, in-cluding Pilot's Boat's Crew' totalled 11. There was no indication of whether the female convicts came under any of the categories allocated to the male convicts sent to the settlement. (HRAIII-iv p.44)


‘Macquarie Harbour’ as a punishment was one of transportation to the unknown, removal to the extreme wilderness, isolation from all access to civilisation, and being placed in an environment with the most uncontrollable and depraved of the male convicts sent there for 'rigorous restraint and reform'. (HRAIII-iv p.42)  The women would have worked in the hospital, at task work, or as assigned servants to the officers, administrators or free settlers. Jane Davis was assigned to her husband, a hospital attendant.


Records show that nine women were sentenced specifically to transportation to Macquarie Harbour as punishment for crimes within the colony. At least two women ended up at Macquarie Harbour in response to the magistrate’s judgement: ‘to be transported to such part of the Territory as His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor may think proper for the remainder of her sentence’. Research indicates that another two women (Sarah Fenton and Rachael Chamberlain) possibly were sent there for misconduct on their transport ship, the Mary Ann.[*] 


Women sentenced to Macquarie Harbour (as recorded in Convict Conduct Records):


Jane Davis (nee Williams) was a Native of Norfolk Island, who arrived free in VDL with her adopted (Cropper) family. She was convicted with her husband, Sergeant William Davis, of receiving sheep, knowing them to have been stolen, at Broadmarsh, and tried in Hobart in June 1824. Their sentence was ‘to be transported for the term of 14 years’ to such place’. [8] They both ended up at Macquarie Harbour. William Davis, a hospital attendant, was later moved to Maria Island. In 1826 Jane received a further sentence while living at Macquarie Harbour: on 20 May she was sentenced to wash 40 prisoner’s shirts weekly, a punishment for disobedience of orders and sending an improper message to Mr Barnes, the Assistant Surgeon.


Isabella Hamill (per Mary Ann 1822): in September 1822 Isabella was found guilty of feloniously receiving 300 shirts and 5 pairs of duck trowsers, stolen from H.M. Magazine in Hobart Town. She was sentenced to be sent to Macquarie Harbour for 5 years.


Elizabeth Gould (per Providence, 1821): in 1823, 22-year-old Elizabeth was convicted for receiving from Thomas Rigbey a quantity of pork, the property of W Field, knowing it to have been stolen. She was sent to Macquarie Harbour for 3 years.


Hannah Bell (per Lord Sidmouth, 1823): in 1823, for stealing 91 dollars from Mr Harris Walker in the dwelling house of Mr Lakeland, Hannah was sentenced to be sent to Macquarie Harbour for 5 years. However, she was still located at the Female Factory one month later when sentenced to seven days on bread and water. She has not been confirmed as being transferred to Macquarie Harbour.


Ann Brucefield (per Lord Sidmouth, 1823): In 1823, for stealing at various times 1 plaid striped jacket, 1 white jacket and other articles, Ann was sent to Macquarie Harbour for 5 years.


Mary Evans (per Mary 1823): in 1824, for felony, Mary was sentenced to be transported to Macquarie Harbour for 5 years. One year later she was located at the Hobart Female Factory.


Ann Riley (per Mary, 1823): in January 1824, for attempting to break out of the Hobart Female Factory, Ann was sentenced to transportation to Macquarie Harbour for 2 years and ‘to be kept to hard labour till she can be sent’. By March 1825 Ann was located back at the Hobart Female Factory. She twice more escaped from the factory in 1825 and 1826, along with several charges of absconding from her assignments.


Mary Ann Furze (per Princess Charlotte, 1820): in 1821, for absconding into the woods and being absent from the service of her master Joseph Wright without a pass, Mary Ann was ‘to be transported to such part of the Territory as His Honour the Lieutenant Governor may deem proper for the remainder of her sentence’. Mary Ann was punished for 3 more offences while at Macquarie Harbour. While the first sentence of solitary confinement does not mention the location, the next two sentences mention Sarah Island.  As described in 1929, the gaol on Sarah Island was ‘a miserable, small place, containing one room and three small cells.’ [9]

In May 1824, for disobeying orders at Macquarie Harbour, Mary Ann was punished by Solitary Confinement for 3 days and was to be fed on bread and water only.

On 31st Aug 1824, Mary Ann’s second spell on Sarah Island was for three days of solitary confinement for neglect of duties.

On 9th September 1824 Mary Ann was punished with a further three days of solitary confinement on Sarah Island, on a diet of bread and water. Her crime was neglect of duty, using threatening language to the Dispenser of Medicine and destroying the fresh water kept for Hospital use.  [†]


Margaret Morgan (per Princess Charlotte, 1820): for stealing promissory notes to the value of £8/10s, Margaret was transported to Macquarie Harbour for the remainder of her original sentence. Margaret was located at the Hobart Female Factory 5 months later.


Margaret Graham (per Morley): in 1821, for stealing promissory notes to the value of £10 from her master, Richard Lewis, Margaret was sentenced to be transported ‘to such part of the Territory as His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor may think proper for the remainder of her sentence’.


Ann Barker (Parker) (per Morley 1820): in 1823, for possessing and passing counterfeit money, Ann was sentenced to be transported to Macquarie Harbour for 12 calendar months from the date of her arrival at that settlement, and afterwards to be forgiven. The charge appears to have been dismissed. Ann has not been identified on any muster as having definitely been at Macquarie Harbour.


Ann Bryant: One newspaper report has Ann Bryant, a native of New South Wales.   In 1823, Ann Bryant, for unlawfully receiving goods feloniously stolen from August William Coulston of Launceston (or Port Dalrymple), she was sentenced in the Supreme Court to be sent to Macquarie Harbour for 2 years.  There is no information on Ann Bryant after she left Macquarie Harbour.



Judith Chambers (per Alexander 1816): there are no records showing how Judith ended up at Macquarie Harbour in 1822. She was possibly one of several women accompanying their assigned masters who were posted there. Judith was sentenced repeatedly between 1817 and 1821 with punishments including sitting in the stocks and at least six stints in the Hobart Town Gaol where she would have been placed at hard labour.  On the 1821-22 muster she was located at New Norfolk and in 1822 was sent to the newly established penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour.


In a sworn statements taken at Macquarie Harbour on 20 June 1822 Judith Chambers and Thomas Allmet, claiming that the day before, three soldiers names Maurice Walsh, Terence Cahill and Henry Leech arrived at the Island (Small Island later named Grunnet Island) where the convict women worked and shared a hut with Thomas Allmet, the convict hut keeper, who was also a hospital attendant, and the overseer. This island contained a wooden penitentiary, with the hospital nearby.  Allmet questioned the soldiers as to how they had came onto the island, and if they have a pass. They admitted that they didn't have one.  Allmet then went to make a signal to Sarah Island (half a mile away) but they stopped him, as they did not want to be reported because they had been given the boat by the mate off the brig, to go fishing. The soldiers left but not before threatening that as the women had beds, they may stay on or come back later. The soldiers were later sent up to Hobart on charges of repeated misconduct. The charge was dismissed for lack of evidence.[10]


By April 1823 Judith is Free by Servitude, but reports of her misconduct continue up until February 1829.  A year later, on 14 January 1830, 30 year old Judith Chambers was admitted to New Norfolk Insane Asylum with mania.[11]  She died there 30 years later in 1860. Whether Judith had problems with mania prior to her experience at Macquarie Harbour is unknown. Incarceration in that brutal environment may possibly have had a lasting impact on her mental health.





 [^] Distance is approximately 17 miles on recent maps.

[*] Rachael Chamberlain and Sarah Fenton were possibly not sentenced to removal to Macquarie Harbour by a magistrate's warrant.  On arrival at VDL they were quickly put on a boat heading to Macquarie Harbour possibly through reprisal for their behaviour on the ship Mary Ann.  Their records locate them there in 1822, however it is not specifically mentioned whether they were assigned to anyone.

[†] ‘The small island, [Grunnet Island] like the settlement [Sarah Island] has no water, which, as well as wood, was carried over [every] day’.  Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 31 August 1843 - Page 4


[1] ACCOUNT OF MACQUARIE HARBOUR, Launceston Examiner, Wed 30 Apr 1890, Page 2

[2] Coultman Smith, B. 1846, Shadow over Tasmania, J. Walch & Sons, Hobart, 4 edn. P.40

[3]  The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 15 January 1831 - Page 4

[4] Macquarie Harbour Penal Station

[5] The Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 15 January 1831 - Page 4

[6] Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 30 April 1890 - Page 2

[7] Macquarie Harbour Penal Station


[9] Advocate, Friday 21 June 1929 - Page 8

[10] Citation: Irene Schaffer, The Forgotten Women Convicts at Macquarie Harbour 1821-26,

[11] HSD104/1/1 Female (mental) (Volume No. 13). Item Number HSD246/1/9 Folio 154 Judith Chambers 49 Kangaroo, Mania Admitted 14 Jan 1830



By E. Crawford (Nov. 2020)



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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed online [date].

For academic referencing (suggestion only) Website:  Female Convicts Research Centre Inc., accessed online [date] from [http address].