Manufacturing Reform: Female Convicts and Straw Bonnets

This blog is one of a series that explores in greater depth some of the fascinating stories that we uncovered while researching Duck Trousers, Straw Bonnets, and Bluey: Stories of fabrics and clothing in Tasmania, an exhibition currently on display in the State Library of Tasmania and Tasmanian Archives Reading Room in Hobart. These blogs are designed to complement the exhibition, expanding some elements of the exhibition story walls to provide more context and different perspectives.


The convict era is one often characterised by stories of harsh punishments and brutality. It is a period remembered for its chain gangs, solitary confinement, hard labour, and infamous lashings of the cat-o’-nine-tails. While this experience was true for many convicts housed in female factories, prisons, and penitentiaries throughout Van Diemen’s Land between 1803 and 1853, when transportation formally ceased, it was not the experience of all. There were exceptions to the rule.

Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: Hobart Town Chain Gang / Charles Bruce. Engraving, [between 1830-1831].

One such exception was the Anson Probation Station located on the Derwent River at Prince of Wales Bay. When considering the history and stories that surround this warship-turned-probation-station, one is overwhelmed by images of female convicts working side by side in various manufactories, making woollen garments, straw bonnets, and their own clothing. It presents a story of female reform, ingenuity and arguably, progress that the colonial world was not yet prepared for.

The HMS Anson and Probation

From 1844 to 1849, over 4,000 of the total 12,500 female convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land undertook a period of probation aboard the HMS Anson, a former warship and male convict transport ship (Schaffer, The Anson, n.d.). Under the initial superintendence of Dr Edmund Bowden and his wife, the Matron, Mrs Phillipa Bowden, the Anson held between 250 and 519 female convicts at any given time for the duration of six months (Williams, “The Archaeological Potential”, 2005, p. 80).

Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Sketch of H.M.S. Anson – female convict hulk – off Queen’s Domain. (n.d.), PH30/1/1980.

The Anson was an experiment of the probation period following the convict system’s transition from the assignment period in 1839. It was the intention of colonial figureheads, such as Lord Stanley, to reform prisoners through several stages of punishment that decreased in severity overtime. Despite this, there was no single or agreed upon method for how such reform should take place (Sprod, Probation System, 2005). In one instance, the surgeon superintendent of Pentonville Penitentiary, Dr John S Hampton, believed the best instrument of female reformation was marriage (Brand, The Convict Probation System, 1990, p. 94). It can be argued that the reformative practices established on board the Anson were in direct opposition of such a view.

The Evolution of an Idea

It was the initial expectation of the Anson convicts to undertake a daily routine of “early rising, sweeping, cleaning, sewing and scripture reading” (Kavanagh, et. el., Van Diemen’s Women, 2015, p. 133), however, Mrs Bowden sought more substantial employment for her prisoners. She did so by venturing into the world of manufacturing. Mrs Bowden took steps towards such by having the convicts make their own attire:

All the clothes for the female convicts were sent out from England ready-made, and thus […] there were no means of giving prisoners employment, even by the manufacture of the very clothes they wear. [.. Mrs Bowden applied] to the government at home to have the unmade materials sent out, so that she might give them to the convicts to cut out and make their own wearing apparel.

The Cornwall Chronicle, Sept 8, 1847, p.4.

It was reported in the Hobart Town Gazette that female convicts were provided items including a cotton or stuff gown, or petticoat, and a jacket and apron, which were likely all made of “cheap and coarse materials” (Oct. 10, 1829, p. 4). It is likely then, that the Anson convicts made at least some of these items upon Mrs Bowden’s instruction.

Tasmanian Archives: Plan-Ship, Anson-profile-as fitted out for a female convict ship-and mooring. Architect, Chatham Yard, U.K. (1843), PWD266/1/683.

Mrs Bowden’s manufacturing endeavours had varying degrees of success. While a plan to make and sell shirts did not achieve its intended outcomes, there is evidence to suggest processes of wool manufacture were carried out onboard. As reported in the Launceston Examiner:

Employment is found for others in this establishment, in the manufacture of stockings from wool, the whole process of which in washing, carding, spinning, knitting, and dying, is completed on board.

Launceston Examiner, Nov. 16, 1850, p.5.

Woollen items such as “hose for women” were made and sent out to ordinance stores for sale. It is not surprising, after her success, that Mrs Bowden strove to install an industry that was yet to be established in Hobart Town – straw bonnet manufacturing.

A Bonnet Manufactory on the Derwent

The bonnet was a fashionable accessory for women in England throughout the 19th Century and the design changed and adapted to suit the fashions and hairstyles of the time. In the early years of the 1800s, for instance, the Poke Bonnet was “all the rage” (Amphlett, Hats, 2003, p. 132), while the version of the 1820s became exaggerated to accommodate higher hairstyles. This continued into the 1830s in which the bonnet took its most lavish and extreme form (Black and Garland, A History of Fashion, 1975, p.185). By 1836, the bonnet began to shrink, and a funnel shape characterised those of the 1840s. According to a 1904 article published in The Queenslander, by 1846 “a very demure style of bonnet was worn” (April 16, 1904, p.7). The article continues:

The brim and crown were continuous, and it set flat on the head. The edge of the crown was adorned with a wreath of flowers, and the only trimming of the flat part consisted of parallel bands of ribbon or velvet. There was very little space under the brim, and no cap front was worn. The cap front was dispersed with because it would have eclipsed the beauty of the hairdressing which was visible under the bonnet in sausage shaped rolls on either side of the face.

The Queenslander, April 16, 1904, p.7.

It is unlikely that such finishings of flowers and velvet adorned the bonnets made by the convict women aboard the Anson, however, it is known that they were made of straw. It was also confirmed by the Hobart Town Advertiser that the bonnets were made in the “stylish polka” and “pretty cottage” styles (Sept. 14, 1847, p.4).

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian State Library: Woman in a black bonnet: possibly Mrs. Georgina Butler. [Between 1845 and 1855].
Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Lady in bonnet, pencil drawing. NS5198/1/27

There were several established bonnet shops in Hobart Town during this time, although none had the necessary machinery to manufacture their own bonnets (The Cornwall Chronicle, Sept. 18, 1847, p. 4). To many this would have posed an obstacle, but to Mrs Bowden, it was an opportunity for innovation. Mrs Bowden recounted such in 1850 when she noted that “some ingenious women on board [..] succeeded in making straw splitters out of beef bones; these were followed by other necessaries” (Launceston Examiner, p. 5). According to the Cornwall Chronicle, “Mrs. Bowden obtained some straw, and ere long had taught herself to make [a straw bonnet]” (Sept. 18, 1847, p.4). Having acquired the necessities for bonnet making, the Anson manufactory was established with 150 female convicts partaking in the operation while others contributed to the woollen manufacture (The Cornwall Chronicle, Sept. 18, 1847, p. 4).

A Formidable Woman at the Helm

Despite Mrs Bowden’s success in her role as Matron, and later sole superintendent following the death of her husband in 1847, the Anson Probation Station was not destined for longevity. In its time the Anson was regarded by some as an exception to the common view of Van Diemen’s Land and most notably it was regarded an “El Dorado” of the convict system:

Mrs Bowden has accomplished much indeed for the reformation of women. We do not wonder at the young woman wishing to make her escape from misery and starvation in England, to such an “El Dorado” as the Anson.

The Hobart Town Advertiser, Sept. 14, 1847

Despite this, many, even in hindsight, consider the Anson a failure alongside the probation system. Kay Daniels contends that the Anson was unfit for service and Mrs Bowden, upon returning to England, left Van Diemen’s Land without successfully implementing her plans for widespread reform (Convict Women, 1998, p. 128). This reflects the opinion of many in the press at the time who wrote of Mrs Bowden in critical, often patriarchal terms:

[Mrs Bowden] will look with despondency, if not despair, and turning to her husband will say, “I really wish we were back in England again.” Stop a little Mrs B., do not despair, we will take leave to give you a plan by which you will be able to reform these idle, silly creatures. Make them usefully industrious, and you effect your purpose; they will then become useful servants and complete the reformation by becoming industrious and happy wives and mothers.

Colonial Times, May 6, 1845, p. 2.
The Hulk “Anson”. (1845, May 6). Colonial Times (1828-1857).

To say Mrs Bowden was unsuccessful does not recognise the feats of a woman in a patriarchal world as the above quote attests to. Patrick Howard, supports this, arguing that Mrs Bowden was the mainspring of penal reform, despite the odds that were against her (To Hell or to Hobart, 1993, p. 134). Furthermore, the progressiveness of the Anson Establishment is perhaps due to the assertion that Mrs Bowden saw the women on board as more than the crimes they had committed, more than “idle, silly creatures”. Her dedication to the cause of reform and employment indicates her recognition of their basic human rights, as did the provision of the basic dignity of a fashionable piece of headwear upon their leave. Mrs Bowden wrote in hindsight:

Until the introduction of straw bonnet making on board, nearly all the poor women were obliged to leave us for going to service without any bonnet. On representation to Sir E. Wilmot, they were permitted to be supplied with one.

Launceston Examiner, Nov. 16, 1850, p. 5.

Therefore, while some have argued that the probation period was “a disastrous failure” (Sprod, Probation System, 2005) it can be ascertained that Mrs Bowden and her establishment, with regard to female reformation and progress, were indeed an exception to the rule.


State Library Sources

Amphlett, H. (2003). Hats: A History of Fashion in Headwear. Dover Publications.

Anderson Black, J. and Garland, M. (1975). A History of Fashion. 2nd Ed. Rev. by Kennett, F. (1980). Orbis.

Brand, I. (1990). The Convict Probation System, Van Diemen’s Land 1839-1854: A Study of the Probation System of Convict Discipline. Blubber Head Press.

Daniels, K. (1998). Convict Women. Allen & Unwin.

Kavanagh, J., Snowden, D., and McAleese, M. (2015). Van Diemen’s Women: A History of Transportation to Tasmania. History Press.

Howard, P. (1993). To Hell or to Hobart: The Story of an Irish Convict Couple Transported to Tasmania in the 1840s. Kangaroo Press Pty. Ltd.

Archival Sources

Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Lady in bonnet, pencil drawing. NS5198/1/27

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian State Library: Woman in a black bonnet: possibly Mrs. Georgina Butler. [Between 1845 and 1855].

Tasmanian Archives: Plan-Ship, Anson-profile-as fitted out for a female convict ship-and mooring. Architect, Chatham Yard, U.K. (1843), PWD266/1/683.

Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Sketch of H.M.S. Anson – female convict hulk – off Queen’s Domain. (n.d.). PH30/1/1980

W.L. Crowther Library, State Library and Archive Service: Hobart Town Chain Gang / Charles Bruce. Engraving, [between 1830-1831].

Newspaper Sources

Discipline at the Anson. (1847, September 14). The Hobart Town Advertiser (Tas.: 1839 – 1861), p. 4. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from

Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land. (1847, September 18). The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas.: 1835 – 1880), p. 4. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from

Female Convicts. (1829, October 10). The Hobart Town Gazette (Tas.: 1825 – 1833), p. 4. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from

The “Anson” Establishment. (1850, November 16). Launceston Examiner (Tas.: 1842 – 1899), p. 5. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from

The History of the Bonnet. (1904, April 16). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld.: 1866 – 1939), p. 7. Retrieved April 19, 2023, from

Journal Articles

Williams, B. (2005). “The Archaeological Potential of Colonial Prison Hulks: The Tasmanian case study”. The Journal of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology, 29, pp. 77-86.

Online Sources

Schaffer, I. (n.d.). The Anson – history of the ship. Retrieved April 19, 2023, from

Sprod, M. (2005). Probation System, in The Companion to Tasmanian History, ed. Alison Alexander, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, Accessed April 19, 2023,

Introducing our new exhibition: Duck Trousers, Straw Bonnets, and Bluey: Stories of Fabrics and Clothing in Tasmania

Duck trousers, straw bonnets, and bluey: the history of Tasmanian textiles and clothing is filled with colourful and unique garments, characters, and stories. Stories like that of Joseph Bidencope, a skilful tailor and milliner from Poland, whose popular hats made in Battery Point were exhibited to great success at the Philadelphia International Exhibition in 1876. Or the many stories of the female convicts housed in the factories at Cascades and Ross – some of whom were imprisoned for stealing aprons, bonnets, and jackets – who made, embroidered, and laundered clothing.

These stories- and many more- are at the heart of a new free exhibition Duck Trousers, straw bonnets, and Bluey: Stories of Fabrics and Clothing in Tasmania currently on display in the State Library of Tasmania and Tasmanian Archives Reading Room in Hobart. The exhibition has original records and heritage books from the Tasmanian Archive and State Library collection on display, along with information and images in our new exhibition space.

Launceston Manuscript Collection, Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Waverley Woollen Mills Warehouse, 77 York St, Launceston – Half plate (1898-1900), LPIC32/1/3

The exhibition tells five intertwined stories. The first story focuses on the history of the Tasmanian Bluey otherwise known as the Miner’s Bluey, a waterproof and durable coat fashioned for the Tasmanian climate. “A Tale of two Woollen Mills” examines a pivotal series of events in the development of the wool industry in Tasmania in the 1860s and 70s, and in particular how two competing woollen companies were established in the north and the south of the state. The techniques used in tanning for the production of leather (and in particular the unique Tasmanian bark used) and shoemaking in Tasmania is the focus of the third story wall, entitled “We all take our shoes very much for granted.” Another story focuses on “Bidencope’s: Hobart’s House of Quality”, telling the story of the tailor Joseph Bidencope and the renowned retail store that he founded on Murray Street. The final story is entitled “A very serious want of cloathing…” and focuses on convicts making and laundering a range of different clothing. It ends with an examination of a riot at the Launceston Female Factory in 1842, in which the women armed themselves with spindles.

State Library of Tasmania: With J. Bidencope’s compliments. [Hobart, Tasmania] : [J. Bidencope & Son], [between 1890 and 1899?]

Over the next few months, the State library and Archive Service team will publish a series of blogs that explore in greater depth some of the fascinating stories that we uncovered during our research. These blogs are designed to complement the exhibition, expanding some elements of the exhibition story walls to provide more context and other perspectives.

Whatever in the world are ‘Duck Trousers’?

No animals were harmed in the making of duck trousers! The name comes from the Dutch word for canvas, which is ‘Doek’. Duck trousers were essentially thick linen canvas trousers, not unlike Moleskins. Duck trousers were the most common type of trousers in the early colony of Hobart Town; they would have been worn by both convicts as well as free men and were prized for their durability.

In the exhibition, duck trousers feature on our convict wall, telling the story of how clothes were made by convicts on their way to Van Diemen’s Land. Our story focuses on the men on board the Pestonjee Bomangee, that arrived in Hobart Town in 1845. Amongst the Tasmanian Archive collection we have a list (CON121/1/1) of the various clothing items that were made during this journey, including a lot of duck trousers.

Tasmanian Archives: List of packages of Government clothing made on board the Pestonjee Bomangee (1845), CON121/1/1

A sneak peak of the images on display

We are really excited to have on display in this exhibition many wonderful images from our Tasmanian Archive and State Library collections. Many of these images have been placed into a Duck Trousers, Straw Bonnets and Bluey Flickr Album for you to enjoy at anytime.

Duck Trousers, Straw Bonnets, and Bluey: Stories of fabrics and clothing in Tasmania will be on show until the end of August.

Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Garrett & Co. Pty Ltd, Clothing Manufacturers – Interior view (1920), NS1202/1/2

Tasmania Reads: Sir John Franklin and his Expedition of 1845 (Part Two: The Answer and Historical Background)

The State Library and Archive Service is issuing a challenge to Tasmanians to read five different examples of nineteenth century handwriting from our Heritage Collections, each featuring a different set of records held in the State Archives.

Just to recap:

Your Transcription Challenge

This note has multiple parts to it, with writing in all directions.  This challenge focuses only on the writing in the centre of the page, and not the marginalia. This is a challenging transcription that gives two very different messages to the reader…

Tasmanian Archives: Jack Thwaites Collection, A Series of Stereoscopic Views of the “Franklin Relics” brought home in the “Fox” by Captain McClintock.-Sep 1859. Photographed by Lieut. Cheyne R.N.1860 from expedition of Sir John Franklin to find the N.W. Passage. 1859-1860 (1860), NS1155/1/20

The Answer

H.M.S ships ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ wintered in the Ice in lat. 70 05′ N., long. 98 23′ W. Having wintered in 1846–7 at Beechey Island, in lat. 74 43′ 28″ N., long. 91 39′ 15″ W., after having ascended Wellington Channel to lat. 77°, and returned by the west side of Cornwallis Island. Sir John Franklin commanding the expedition. All well.

Historical background: The Victory Point Note

In 1859 William Hobson discovered a note in a cairn on King William Island. Hobson was part of a group who were searching for any news of Sir John Franklin and his crew, who at this point had been missing in the far North of Canada for more than ten years.

 The note bought news of the expedition, and of Sir John Franklin. The expedition consisted of two ships the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and their crews, which had been tasked with trying to locate the North-West Passage – the elusive sea-route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

There are two clear parts to the note is written on a stock form for cached correspondence – requesting delivery to the Secretary of the Admiralty upon discovery. The first part completes the form and details that both ships were safe, having wintered at Beechey Island between 1846 and 1847. Sir John Franklin was still in command and most importantly all is described as ‘well’.

The second part of the note scrawled in the margins of the first tells a radically different story. It explained that John Franklin and 24 crew members had died and Crozier and Fitzjames had taken over leadership of the expedition. Finally, it states that they were intending to leave the next day in an attempt to reach civilisation, upon a march which at this point seemed to be their only hope of survival.

Historical background: Sir John Franklin

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania: ‘Sir John Franklin, Governor, Sir John Franklin’s yacht ‘Eliza’, Sir William Denison’ in Album of photographs of Tasmania / [compiled by] R. C. Poulter. [Tasmania?] : R.C. Poulter, [between 1860 and 1920]

Sir John Franklin was born to a well-off family in Lincolnshire, England in 1776. From an early age he expressed a fascination with the ocean and the navy – and after initially opposing his desire to go to sea, his father purchased him an appointment in the Royal Navy on board the HMS Polyphemus, a 64-gun third-rate ship of the line. He saw action in the Battle of Copenhagen, in which HMS Polyphemus was part of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s Squadron.

Following this he achieved the rank of Midshipman and from 1801 he joined Matthew Flinders, a relative, on the HMS Investigator, a 334-tonne sloop. The ship was to journey on an exploratory voyage to Australia. This experience with Flinders developed his passion for exploration and discovery – an enthusiasm which would influence him throughout his life.

Franklin continued his career in the Navy. As a signal-midshipman he was on board the HMS Bellerophon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He continued to progress through the ranks and as a Lieutenant in 1818 he joined an Admiralty expedition to search for the North-West Passage (a route that would link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by sea – enabling a radical development in global shipping). The mission was not a success, but the experience put further fuel on the fire of Franklin’s passion for exploration.

Between 1819 and 1822 Franklin led an expedition, which because of the extreme conditions faced upon it, created the legend of him being ‘the man who ate his boots’. It was known as ‘The Coppermine Expedition’ – a tale of hardship, death, and (rumours of) cannibalism – the aim of which was the mapping of the North-Coast of Canada. The expedition, and the extremities that the group faced, led to the deaths of eleven of the group of twenty, and captured the public imagination. Upon his return to England Franklin received his commissioned as Captain.

In 1825 he continued to lead a second expedition to explore the wild North – this one known as ‘The Mackenzie River expedition’. Although less dramatic than the previous journey, the expedition was significant in developing understanding of Canadian geography – and saw Franklin rewarded with a knighthood.

In a more personal development John Franklin married Jane Griffin on the 5th of November 1828. She was Franklin’s second wife – his first, Eleanor Anne Pordern, a poet, died of tuberculosis in 1825. Born in London in 1791 Jane’s background allowed her a rounded education as well as experience travelling in Europe. An enthusiastic and motivated individual she had a keen interest in culture and science.

The 1830s were a difficult time to be a sailor, even one with Franklin’s considerable success. A long period of peace saw the number of roles available in the navy reduced dramatically. After spending some time on active-duty Franklin faced a situation in which there wasn’t much call at sea for the expertise and experience that he could provide. Given this situation he accepted a role as the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land.

In Tasmania

In 1837 Sir John Franklin followed from George Arthur as the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania. General assessment of his success in the role was mixed. His lack of experience as a politician, combined with working alongside the various conflicting interests of the strong and powerful, provided him with little chance of major success in the colony. He was quite popular with the people – but faced difficulties, often due to the machinations of the various factions wrestling for control. He worked hard to introduce some of his more progressive ideas to the populace, developing an environment in which cultural, artistic, and educational pursuits were given greater value. He was instrumental in establishing a secular public school system in the colony. He created the Tasmanian Natural History Society. Lady Jane worked to develop higher studies and went so far to have the classical temple ‘Ancanthe’, built below the mountain in Lenah Valley. Both Franklin’s were inspired by travel within the colony and encouraged further exploration.

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania: [Dessert dish] England, Staffordshire, Stoke-upon-Trent, c1836., Acc. No. C417.

In 1843 Franklin’s lost his position as Lieutenant Governor. John Montagu, the Colonial Secretary, had taken against Franklin from the start of his time in the State. Montagu was part of a clique known for the loyalty to the previous governor, George Arthur. After tensions between the two developed, Montagu was removed from his position. He appealed to England against this, after which Franklin was ‘Censured and Recalled’.

A Return to Exploration

Franklin was searching for vindication after his time in Tasmania. At the age of 59 he embarked on his final expedition, once again to the Arctic region. The Admiralty had decided to continue the search for the North-West passage. Sir John Barrow, the secretary for the Admiralty placed the discovery of the passage high on his agenda. Sir John Franklin was not his first choice to lead the mission but became the commander due to the unavailability of preferred individuals, lack of interest from the selected candidates, and pressure from high places.

The expedition consisted of two ships carrying 129 men. The three-masted HMS Erebus and HMS Terror had both originally been ‘bomb ships’, designed as platforms from which to launch mortars upon their targets. The boats were heavily modified for the journey to the Arctic – with extra reinforcement to protect them from the ice they were sure to encounter. They also had steam power. In addition to propelling the vessels, with a 25-horsepower engine, the technology was designed to assist in heating them – and even to distribute fresh water. The ships were well stocked with supplies – Including pickled vegetables, salt pork, tea, and most importantly 3600 gallons (or more than 16000 litres) of overproof Navy rum! (Potter, Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Old Search, p.54) These standard provisions were supplemented with a large amount of tinned food. The cutting-edge technology combined with ample supplies, must have been confidence building and reassuring for the crew members as they prepared to disembark. 

The crew included a number of experienced sailors. Captain Francis Crozier was from Country Down in Ireland. Like most in his position, he joined the Navy when he was very young. He progressed steadily through the ranks and prior to the expedition of 1845 he had much experience of both military and exploratory operations. Crozier took a keen interest in scientific discovery, specifically related to astronomy and magnetism, and was a member of the Royal Society. Between 1839 and 1843 he travelled with James Clark Ross on his Antarctic expedition. During this journey he was made Captain of HMS Terror – a role that he reprised for the expedition of 1845 (David Murphy, “Crozier, Francis Rawdon Moira”, Dictionary of Irish Biography (2009)

Commander James Fitzjames was another well seasoned Naval officer. Originally, he had been one of the candidates that Sir John Barrow wanted to lead. His background was somewhat mysterious – he was illegitimate and had been adopted. He was known for his bravery, having been wounded during the First Opium War. In addition to this military experience, he had also embarked on exploratory expeditions – notably the Euphrates Expedition that, amongst other things, involved transporting ships across the mountains of Northern Syria. Fitzjames was to be Franklin’s second in command aboard HMS Erebus.

The fate of the Expedition

The Ships left on the 19th of May 1845 to much fanfare and excitement. They first travelled to Greenland where they stopped for supplies, a journey that took around a month. In late July 1845 they were seen by Whalers in Baffin Bay. This was to be the last time that the expedition was ever sighted by Europeans.It does seem certain that there was further interaction with the indigenous population. After this there were no further reports – aside from what was shared in the Victory Point note. It is understood that the ships continued to Beechey Island and following this to King William Island – where they were to remain. From here on detail becomes vague. The ships were locked in the ice. There they remained until April 1849 when they were abandoned by the remaining sailors. The Victory Point note states that Franklin died on the 11th of June 1847, and that command was taken over by Crozier and Fitzjames. More than 20 other crewmen died before the ships were deserted. The rest of the crew tried to reach civilisation – and as far as is known all were lost.

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania: South Polar Barrier Erebus and Terror / J.E. Davis. [Antarctica] : J.E. Davis, 1842. Acc. No. FA868

Many search and rescue missions were conducted to try to locate the lost expedition. Lady Jane Franklin exerted her considerable influence to discover the fate of her husband and his crew. The searches faced many of the same hardships that had beset the original group – and ultimately the research conducted upon them led to the development of knowledge of the Arctic waterways that had been the original mission of Franklin’s Expedition. John Rae, a Hudson Bay fur trader shared details of the fate of the expedition that he had sourced from local Innuit. These details included reports of cannibalism – and caused great upset on their release. The discovery of the Victory Point letter gave some resolution to those left behind. In later years academics and archaeologists continued to focus on the mission. In 2016 the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were located. Research into the mystery of exactly what occurred upon the Expedition continues.

 Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania: [The Arctic Council discussing the plan of search for Sir John Franklin] Jas. Scott. [S.l.] : H. Graves & Co., 1851.

In Hobart Today

Many Hobartians have spent time in Franklin Square – a leafy central park, convenient meeting location, and departure point for local bus services. The square was named in honour of Sir John Franklin in 1860. The statue was designed by John Noble, who also created a similar work that is displayed in London. The statue has an inscription, from the epitaph of Sir John Franklin by Alfred, Lord Tennyson – whose words may serve as a logical end to this brief introduction to the life of Sir John Franklin:

Not here! The white north hath thy bones and thou
Heroic sailor soul
Art passing on thine happier voyage now
Toward no earthly pole

What is held in the State Library and Tasmanian Archives Collections?

The story of Franklin, Erebus, and Terror has long been a subject of fascination. Many books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been written (and many more will be) on the Expedition. I was discussing this blog with a friend when he proudly shared a tattered tome about the lost sailors, featuring numerous macabre illustrations, that he had treasured from a young age. Something about the disappearance captivates people – and the recent discoveries have only served to heighten this.

The library holds diverse resources on the subject – ranging from original materials from the era to DVDs of popular television shows speculating on the events. Rather than detail everything available from the library I’ve tried to detail some of the items that have captured my imagination – and that I have enjoyed engaging with!

Michael Palin – Erebus

Michael Palin is rightfully legendary for his contributions to comedy and film. In this book he focuses his wit and wisdom on recounting the biography of the ship HMS Erebus. He describes the Erebus from its initial construction and details the journeys it took leading up to the Franklin Expedition. He goes into detail on the Expedition itself and in the location and rediscovery of the ship. Palin places himself in the story, recounting his own experiences with the Ship. A well-researched and approachable history – highly recommended!

This is available as a hardcopy, as an eBook, and as an Audiobook.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

This fictional account of the fate of the Sir John Franklin’s expedition by Dan Simmons, a North American author well known for his works in the horror and science-fiction genres. At more than seven hundred pages the novel allows Simmons to speculate about the life of the crews of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror on the ice. He introduces indigenous characters and details their interaction with the sailors. He also details a supernatural force – that becomes the deciding factor in sealing the fate of the expedition. The novel creates a very genuine tension, and although it is fiction it gives a real understanding of life locked in the ice. The length may seem a little daunting – but the captivating story and attention to period detail make this an enjoyable, but disconcerting, read.

The Terror (TV Series)

Produced by AMC this television program translates Dan Simmon’s novel to the small screen. It features many well-known actors, excellent attention to period detail, and some truly horrifying moments. The big budget production uses impressive visual effects that create a bleak picture of how life on board the ice-locked HMS Erebus and HMS Terror may have been. Ciarán Hinds gives a solid performance as a, perhaps, overly handsome Sir John Franklin.

Frozen in Time: The fate of the Franklin Expedition – Owen Beattie and John Geiger

A forensic analysis of the expedition that features a solid historical introduction. The details of how the research conducted in the early nineteen eighties and the difficulties faced by the scientists are impressive. The book does feature images of the exhumed bodies, and because of this is not recommended for everyone, but is an intriguing read for those with an interest in forensic archaeology and exploration. It does much to develop the stories of the sailors on Franklin’s ships, as well as to detail the experience of exploration in more recent years.

Finding Franklin – Russell A.Potter

Russell Potter is an American academic and long-term scholar of all things Franklin. In this work Potter looks at the lost exhibition as well as the multitude of searches that have taken place since. He highlights the importance of Inuit accounts in piecing together the story. A popular piece of non-fiction – the book gives an overview of the research up to now, as well as providing a solid embarkation point for those keen to research further.

Potter also has a blog which is well worth exploration for Franklin Expedition related content.

Tasmania Reads: Sir John Franklin and his Expedition of 1845 (Part One: The Challenge)

The State Library and Archive Service is issuing a challenge to Tasmanians to read five different examples of nineteenth century handwriting from our Heritage Collections, each featuring a different set of records held in the State Archives.

The scripts are selected to give you insights into some of the key strengths of our collection and we hope they will pique your interest to explore further.

Today’s challenge is to decipher a note (which the library holds a reproduction of) made on a British Admiralty template by the members of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition for the Northern Passage of 1845. The State Library holds many resources relating to Franklin’s time as both Lieutenant Governor and as an explorer.

Your Transcription Challenge

This note has multiple parts to it, with writing in all directions.  This challenge focuses only on the writing in the centre of the page, and not the marginalia. This is a challenging transcription that gives two very different messages to the reader…

Tasmanian Archives: Jack Thwaites Collection, A Series of Stereoscopic Views of the “Franklin Relics” brought home in the “Fox” by Captain McClintock.-Sep 1859. Photographed by Lieut. Cheyne R.N.1860 from expedition of Sir John Franklin to find the N.W. Passage. 1859-1860 (1860), NS1155/1/20

The Answer …

will be published in our blog this afternoon. Stay tuned!

Tasmania Reads: Reading an entry from the Log of the Whaling Ship Chance (Part Two: The Answer and Historical Background)

The State Library and Archive Service is issuing a challenge to Tasmanians to read five different examples of nineteenth-century handwriting from our Heritage Collections, each featuring a different set of records held in the State Archives.

Just to recap:

Your Transcription Challenge

Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: Log – Chance (barque), [Southern Ocean?] – capt Scott [C2395] (1869-70), CRO82/1/9 p.7.

The Answer

On a whaling voyage October 1869

Begins with a light breeze and fine clear weather from the “NE” Ships heading “E S E” Daylight made moderate sail the crew employed seriously and as most required saw a strange sail the Cooper Febring at 7.50 A M saw Sperm Whales at 830 lowered the boats and gave chase got a good chance in the waist boat and missed with both irons Foblow the chase up and got along side in the bow boat and missed with both irons Follow the Chase up and got alongside in the boat and missed with both irons followed the chase up without success at 4pm boats returned to the ship the whales in sight but going fast to the NW sun set shortened sail to the lower tops sail ship to the NW Midnight moderate Emmanuel Francis Sick

[Diagonal text] Missed by Joseph Alexander and Joseph Ray

Historical Background: A Short Introduction to Whaling in Tasmania

Tasmania has long been the natural habitat for numerous species of whale. At one stage the whaling industry was one of the biggest in the Colony. Demand for whale-based products was high – whale oil was essential for lighting and industrial purposes and even the construction of clothing – until overfishing and changes in product demand saw it gradually disappear. Echoes can still be felt today – A prominent historic waterfront pub is called ‘The Whaler’, Old rendering pots can still be seen in local parks, and diverse materials can be found in local collections.

Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: Mabel Hookey, A relic of the old whaling days [Tasmania] : M. Hookey, [between 1890 and 1953?]

The initial development of the Whaling Industry in Tasmania was around shore-based stations. It is said that in travelling up the Derwent soon after the European Settlement was established, Reverend Knopwood said that he ‘…passed so many whales that was dangerous for the boat to go up the river unless you kept very near the shore’ (Robert Knopwood , The Diary of the Rev. Robert Knopwood,1805-1808 ) The lure of easy money ensured that the resource was soon generating income. Whales were easily located by lookouts operating from the shore. Upon seeing one a crew would set out with their harpoons, and if lucky, return the carcass to the shore for processing. Processing stations were developed in numerous locations including the Derwent, Adventure Bay, Recherche Bay, and Bicheno.

Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: Old whaling station S. Prout ; E. Brandard in London ; Virtue & Co., [1874-1876].

Later whalers began to move into the deeper seas, and this type of hunting became predominant. T.W. Sharpe describes the 1830s as the peak period for Tasmanian Whaling – for both the shore-based stations and in deeper seas. At this time Whaling made significantly more money than the Tasmanian wool industry.  As the resource became over fished during the 1840s Shore based factories became less viable – but the deeper sea whaling flourished – with up to 37 whaling ships reported to be operating at one time.

Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: William Duke, [The Flurry] [ca. 1848]

 This era of whaling may feel familiar to many readers, reflecting stories romanticised in popular culture, in such works as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Romanticisation was still evident in the early stages of the 20th Century as evidenced in this nostalgic statement from the Mercury’s 70th Anniversary Issue:

It is useless to regret, vain to wish back the old. The days of the old whaling industry are gone forever. There are many men in Hobart to this day – not many of them, it is true – who served in those old whalers; men who remember the time when Hobart Habour was full of whalers flying different flags, and Prince’s Wharf was stacked high with the rich casks of oil. They were indeed great days, those days of a bygone era, when swarthy ear-ringed men from Mediterranean lands mixed in the streets with fair Norsemen from the North, and all was merry with wine and song when the homeward-bound whaler came flag-bedecked into port.

The Mercury, July 5, 1924, p.57.
Tasmanian Archives: Photograph (11 views) – Whaler “Splendid”; Sailing ships in Hobart port with New Wharf & Battery Point in background; scrimshaw (1900), PH30/1/695.

In the latter stages of the 19th Century new technologies, such as electric lighting, developed. These made the whale products less necessary – and the industry began to decline. There had also been little regard paid to the management of the resource – resulting in a sad decrease in whale numbers. The last whaling ship is said to have left the port of Hobart in 1900. (Kathryn Evans, ‘Whaling’, Companion to Tasmanian History, 2005)

Our Collections

Whaling Logs

Whaling boats kept official log-books – often updated by the first mate. The logs recorded information on location, local conditions, the well-being of the ship and crew, and most importantly the sighting and capture of whales.

The Crowther Collection at the State Library of Tasmania holds many examples of these logs, providing straightforward information on the voyage but sometimes becoming much more evocative documents of the time.

Many of our logs have been digitised and can be read on the internet. Those that haven’t yet been photographed are accessible through the History Room at the State Library of Tasmania. Have a look at some of our holdings here: Search – Tasmanian Archives (


Scrimshaw is a decorative art form that involves etching upon bone or ivory. It was thought to have been developed by Whalers utilising the by-products of their catches – to keep themselves entertained in their down time on board ship. Images were often initially sketched onto the teeth or bone, and then inscribed using needles and other fine tools. Finally, ink of some form (possibly soot or tobacco juice) was rubbed into the scratches, providing contrast for the image.

The subjects for the images were varied. Some common topics included life at sea and nautical themes, whales themselves, classical myths, sweethearts, and bouquets. Inspiration was often taken from popular publications of the time. The pieces give us a wonderful insight into the imaginations and thoughts of the whalers – artists with no professional training. A self-taught art, it allows us some insight into the everyday thoughts of regular sailors – in contrast to the highly curated art generally seen in galleries and museums.

The State Library has a comprehensive collection of Scrimshaw, with forty-eight items held in the Crowther Collection.

Some of my favourite items are:

Highlander and Victim atop a crag:

Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: [Highlander and victim atop a crag – scrimshaw on sperm whale’s tooth] [18–].

Sperm Whaling in the South Pacific Ocean:

Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: Sperm whaling in the South Pacific Ocean : [scrimshaw on whalebone plaque] [18–]

Regal lady with Eagle on draped cloth canopy:

Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: [Regal lady with eagle on draped cloth canopy – scrimshaw on half jaw bone of pilot whale or blackfish] [18–]

Lending Material

Whaling has long been an intriguing topic explored by novelists, historians, artists, and film makers alike.Libraries Tasmania hold many whaling related items – not only in reference collections. The following items provide just a taste of what we hold – and all available to borrow and enjoy from home:

Susan Lawrence, Whalers and Free Men: Life on Tasmania’s Colonial Whaling Stations (2006)

A detailed description of life in the coastal camps – where shore-based whaling was based. The book provides interesting detail on the day to day lives of the whalers, pieced together from archaeological excavations.

Steve Paszkiewicz and Roger Schroeder, Scrimshaw – a complete illustrated manual (2005)

This book provides an ideal starting point for those interested in learning more about or trying to create their own scrimshaw. The book details the history and basic techniques of the form, as well as providing patterns to use in your projects.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

Herman Melville’s epic narrative of men and whaling which is often regarded as one of the most significant works of American literature. The novel conjures vivid images of the logistics of deep-sea whaling – in addition to a complex narrative that is open to a range of interpretations.

The North Water – DVD (2021)

A brooding historical television drama set in the world of whales and whaling in the 1850s (based on a novel by Ian McGuire). The series descries the events aboard a whaling boat that ventures into Arctic waters. It isn’t specifically Tasmanian but gives a picture of life on a whaling boat in this era – albeit with slightly more murder than may have been usual! Starring Colin Farrell as Henry Drax, an intimidating harpooner.

A Short Bibliography

Knopwood, Robert, The Diary of the Rev. Robert Knopwood, 1805-1808, (Hobart: Government Printer, 1947).

S Chamberlain, ‘The Hobart whaling industry’, (PhD Thesis: La Trobe University, 1988).

M Nash, The bay whalers : Tasmania’s shore-based whaling industry, (Canberra: Navarine Publishing, 2003).

Jameson, Marian, A Guide to Scrimshaw in Tasmanian Collections and the legacy of Sir William Crowther, (Hobart: 1998).

Meyer, Charles Robert, Whaling and the art of scrimshaw, (New York: H.Z.Walck, 1976).

Alexander, Alison (Ed.), The Companion to Tasmanian History, (Hobart: University of Tasmania, 2005)

Archives Office of Tasmania Research Files (found in the Tasmanian Names Index)

91 Stories: Cabinet of Curiosities

Natural history collections are not only useful to scientists. They also reflect the life of the collector, his or her family, their connections, and the worlds they inhabited – even the state of their digestion! Ruth Mollison’s story about Morton Allport’s shell collection is a piece of detective work, a personal history, and an insightful (and sometimes unnerving) exploration of how one Tasmanian family intertwined art, science, reputation and obsession.   

Continue reading “91 Stories: Cabinet of Curiosities”

Recently Digitised Material: January-June 2022

This blog features some of the recently digitised items from the Tasmanian Archives and the State Library of Tasmania heritage collections.

Read on to find out about new additions to our digital collections! To discover even more, you can also search our catalogue and Tasmanian Names Index or visit us on FlickrYouTube and Instagram.

In this blog:

  • Thomas Bock’s notes on photography, including Talbot’s calotype process and daguerreotypes – Ref: ALL34/1/1
  • Star of Tasmanian shipboard journal (1859-60) – Ref: NS7221/1/1
  • Journals of Separate Prison wardens, Tasman Peninsula (1860, 1863) – Ref CON91/1/2-3
  • Descriptive Lists of Male and Female Convicts to Be Embarked for Van Diemen’s Land from Various Prisons in the United Kingdom, (1839-50). Ref: CON114/1/1-8
  • Convict credit and gratuity books, Tasman Peninsula (1865-68). Ref: CON130/1/1-3
  • Register of Convicts for Whom Enquiries were Made (1850-68). Ref: GO121/1/1
  • Tasmanian Birth Registers (1921) – RGD33/2/5 to 8
  • Female Admissions, Royal Derwent Hospital (1898-1903) – Ref: AB365/1/13
  • Copies of Wills Recording Granting of Probate (1868-1874) – Ref: AD960/1/8, AD960/1/9
  • Daguerreotype and ambrotype portraits – Ref: NS5465/1/1-3
  • Launceston Collection of Photographs of Ships – Ref: LMSS761/1/1-490
  • Hobart Town by Ensign Kemp from behind my quarters / W.H. Kemp
  • Artworks by Knud Geelmuyden Bull
  • Mount Wellington from Bellerive, artist unknown
  • Mount Lyell mines map,1896
  • Glass plate negatives from AA Rollings Collection – Ref: NS1553/2/1 to 34
Continue reading “Recently Digitised Material: January-June 2022”

Recently Digitised Material: October-December 2021

This blog features some of the recently digitised items from the Tasmanian Archives and the State Library of Tasmania.

Read on to find out more about our new additions to our digital collections! To discover even more, you can also search our catalogue and Tasmanian Names Index or visit us on FlickrYouTube and Instagram.

In this blog:

  • Photographs of Tasmanian Cricket Teams – Ref: PH40/1/3625-27
  • Photographs of Launceston and Perth– Ref: NS7193/1/5-8
  • Artwork of Launceston Mechanics Institute – Ref: LPIC41/1/1
  • Artwork of Hobart Town, on the River Derwent, Van Diemen’s Land by W.J. Huggins (Allport)
  • Photograph of Twin Ferry Kangaroo, Hobart – Ref: PH30/1/3269
  • Advertisement for Weaver and Co, Wellington Bridge Hobart by T Midwood – Ref: NS6760/1/7
  • Glass Plate Negatives by A Rollings of Sorell Area – Ref: NS1553/1/1010-1099
  • Register of Convicts B, M-Z 1835-47 – Ref: CON22/1/4
  • Register of payment of salaries to officers of the police, 1855-57 – Ref: AUD45/1/1-3
  • Journal of a voyage from Liverpool to VDL, 1833 – Ref: NS5739/1/1
  • Copies of Wills Recording Granting of Probate – Ref: AD960/1/6, AD960/1/7
  • Film of opening of Launceston library after refit – Ref: AG279/1/2
  • Film of the Launceston children’s library – Ref: AG279/1/1
Continue reading “Recently Digitised Material: October-December 2021”

Recently Digitised Material: July-September 2021

This blog features some of the recently digitised items from the Tasmanian Archives and the State Library of Tasmania.

Read on to find out more about our new additions to our digital collections! To discover even more, you can also search our catalogue and Tasmanian Names Index or visit us on Flickr, YouTube and Instagram.

In this blog:

  • Richard Simson Photographic Collection – Ref: NS6351/1/1-95
  • Albums of Gladys Midwood – Ref: NS6759/1/2-3
  • Photographic Albums by Margaret Smithies, Ernest George Record and the McDowell family
  • Tasmanian Government Railways
  • 1920s aerial view of Hobart city block bounded by Murray, Harrington, Liverpool and Melville Street looking North from behind His Majesty’s Theatre and Hobart Rivulet – Ref: NS892/1/61
  • Artworks of Launceston
  • Emu Bay by Thomas Unwin
  • The Pests of the Prince by Henry Manly
  • TGR Williams glass plate negatives – Ref: NS1409/1/46-48
  • Judges notes on capital offences committed at Norfolk Island, 1846 – Ref: CSO20/1/449
  • Burial Plot Maps, Cornelian Bay Cemetery 1915-16 – Ref: AF86/1/1
  • Wills from AD960/1/5
  • 1829 journal written from London to Van Diemans Land by John Owen Lord – Ref: NS301/1/2
Continue reading “Recently Digitised Material: July-September 2021”

Recently Digitised Material: October-December 2020

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that this post contains images and voices of deceased persons.

This blog features some of the recently digitised items from the Tasmanian Archives and the State Library of Tasmania. Each year, we place items online to help promote and preserve our rare and special collections. These images and films are just a tiny sample of an amazing treasure trove of Tasmania’s heritage. From colonial artwork to convict records, fragile glass plate negatives to rare films, private letters to government records, our collections (including the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts and the W L Crowther Collection) tell millions of stories from Tasmania and around the world.

Read on to find out more about our new additions to our digital collections! To discover even more, you can also search our catalogue or visit us on Flickr and YouTube.

In this blog:

  • Peter Laurie Reid Carte-De-Visite Collection, c1860 – Ref: NS1442/1/1 to 53
  • Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 – Ref: NS6607/1/1 to 14
  • Stereoscopic Photographs of Emu Bay Burnie, c1890 – Ref: NS6664/1/1 to 5
  • Stereoscopic photographs taken by George Benjamin Davies for submission to the Postal Stereoscopic Society of Australia, c1921 – Ref: NS6538/1/1 to 33
  • Tasmanian Government Tourist Bureau photographs – AA375
  • Photograph of Fanny Cochrane Smith and Horace Watson recording Tasmanian Aboriginal Songs: NS1553/1/1798
  • Illustrated Travelogue July 1919 – Ref: NS6853
  • Fountain in Governor’s garden, Port Arthur – Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts
  • Drawing of George Meredith, Senior – Ref: LMSS12/1/72
  • Photographs from the Trustees of the Tasmanian Public Library – Ref: SLT23
  • Wills Image Replacement Project: AD960/1/1
  • Diary of Police Duties kept by Charles H. Brown, District Constable, Coal Mines, Tasman Peninsula 1853 – Ref: CON129/1/1
  • Index to General Correspondence, 1836-7 – Ref: CSO4

Continue reading “Recently Digitised Material: October-December 2020”