Point of No Return – the history upon which this story is based
About Point Puer
The arrival of convict boys at Port Arthur began in 1834 and it was the British Empire’s first institution built for criminal boys. It was also the British Empire’s first attempt to rehabilitate the boys with many of them having the opportunity to learn a trade, and to read and write.
There were originally 60 boys (growing to 700) aged from 10 to 20 years and many of them had committed petty crimes of theft living of the street in London.
The most trivial crime was not permitted to pass without punishment which ranged from solitary confinement to a maximum number of 30 lashes. But, with little supervision, floggings were a regular occurrence. Even so, the survival rate of boys in this prison was far greater than at other prisons in Britain
where men and boys were not separated. Historical records detail the minor but regular offences that occurred whilst they were in prison – e.g.
absconding from work, leaving barracks to go to the beach at night, attacking guards,‘crowning the overseer’ and even singing at night. White Rocks was rumoured to be the place where boys threw themselves off to commit suicide to escape their miserable conditions. No successful escape was ever recorded from Point Puer.
Many of the events depicted in Point of No Return are based on real events as researched
from sources listed below. Contact Alaine Beek for further information if required.
Documented events include:
daily routine (5 o’clock rise)
rats on ships
deaths of prisoners on ships
boys stealing O’Hara Booth’s wine supply and getting drunk on ship.
washing in the sea each morning
water transported from Port Arthur
guards being ex Port Arthur prisoners
untrained guards and teachers
lack of control of punishments
thoughtless risks taken by the boys (e.g. throwing a brick at a guard)
some boys sleeping in workshop area
loose boards in solitary
so called ‘religious groups’ used as an excuse for other activities
cooking potatoes at night
storing handmade cards in bibles
daily religious instruction
threat of other gangs of boys
stealing being a constant issue
buttons used as currency to trade
insufficient guards at Point Puer
punishments – whipping, solitary with no food or just bread and water
some boys being allowed to leave Point Puer and go on to be Australia’s early pioneers.
Isle of the Dead
Activities/tasks – e.g. boot making, book binding, building
William Pearson – a young prisoner who arrived aged 12. He got himself into trouble constantly and was eventually sent to Norfolk Island and executed there aged 21
The barracks where the boys were housed, unlike the prison cells at Port Arthur, were more like large dormitories. The drawing here shows it was a simple large building. More were built as demand grew. The young convicts were often used as cheap labour and built many of the buildings
themselves. But not being fully skilled or supervision, the buildings leaked and often fell apart.
Solitary was more like a traditional jail cell although shoddily built even that was deemed unfit for its purpose. Benjamin Horne writes in his report on Point Puer (March 7 1843) “There are some small detached buildings near the jail, formed into cells opening into an inner passage, for separate confinement. As to their strength and adaptation to the purpose I can only say that two boys are sometimes found in one of the separate cells in the morning, and that I have
heard the boys in the solitary cells keep up a conversation at the full pitch of their voices during the middle of the day. They sometimes break out of them and abscond and at other time remove boards so that provisions may be conveyed to them from without. In short the whole is a mockery of separate or solitary confinement.”
Isle of the Dead
This photo was taken by A Beek on her visit to Point Puer. This was the actual beached where the boys bathed in the morning. Note the Isle of the Dead in the distance. The Isle of the Dead was used as a graveyard with (as Bones describes) the officers higher up having proper gravestones and the prisoners under shallow mounds of dirt near the bottom (see photo below).
It is said there was a caretaker who lived on the Isle of the Dead, Mark Jeffrey. He built his own grave in readiness for his death and made sure it was deep enough. He also refused to eat any vegetables grown on the island not liking the idea of so many prisoners buried in the soil.
Sadly, Ardy’s story of what happened to his brother was not uncommon. The life of a climbing boy was quite horrific and survival rates were very low. Their master, the chimney sweep, would light a fire in an attempt to terrify a boy into getting himself out of being stuck. This didn’t always work and deaths were common. Boys were forced to climb up chimneys that were still hot. The smaller the child, the better for the chimney sweep as the child could fit into much narrower chimneys and could even move along a chimney that had a bend in it.
Above picture shows the boy on the right is stuck in the chimney.
The remains of a sawpit can still be seen at Point Puer. This was a very dangerous job for the young convicts.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THE PLAY POINT OF NO RETURN
A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by written and Illustrated by Simon Barnard Text Publishing Melbourne, Australia, 2014
A Burglar’s Life; or, The Stirring Adventures of the Great English Burglar Mark Jeffrey; a thrilling history of the dark days of convictism in Australia – primary source edition (reproduction of Mark Jeffrey’s book published in 1893. Reproduced by James Lester Burke, J E Heiner, W Heiner.
Caught in the Act – Unusual Offences of Port Arthur Convicts Compiled by Phillip Hilton and Susan Hood Published by Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority,1999
High Seas & High Teas Voyaging to Australia Roslyn Russell, Published by the National Library of Australia, 2016
Point Puer… And the Prisons of Port Arthur, Walter B. Pridmore Printed by The Printing Authority of Tasmania 2005
Point Puer: Images and practices of Juvenile Imprisonment in Convict Australia, Kim Humphrey (research report) 1977
Settlers Under Sail By Don Charlwood, Burgewood Books Victoria, Australia, 1978
The Convict Days of Port Arthur 3 rd Edition Beatties Studio, Hobart, Tasmania, 1990
Benjamon’s report on Point Puer Boys’ Prison to His Excellency Sir John Franklin K.C.H. and
K.R. Lieut. Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Point Puer. March 7 1843. Edited Extracts from
Archives Office of Tasmania document C0280/157/520
The Empire’s First Stolen Generation: The First Intake at Point Puer 1834-39 by Peter MacFie
and Nigel Hargraves. Tasmanian Historical Studies Vol 6
Point Puer: Images and Practices of Juvenile Imprisonment in Convict Australia (‘An
Historical Interpretation of the Point Puer Boys’ Prison 1834-1839, commissioned by the Port
Arthur Historic Site Management Authority’). By Kim Humphrey, May 1997
Report on William Pearson - his crimes and punishments
Commissioned by Port Arthur Historic Side Management Authority.