| Norfolk Island
Fifteen hundred miles off the coast of New South Wales was
the most brutal prison of the convict period. Its name was
Norfolk Island. The British wanted an institution that would
act as a deterrent in the colony, which would terrify even
those in Britain who heard its name.
Sir Thomas Brisbane wrote 'I wish it to be understood that
the felon who is sent there is forever excluded from all hope
of return'. Indeed a high number of prisoners preferred suicide
to enduring the abominable conditions. Others poisoned, burned
or blinded themselves in attempts to avoid work.
Their physical and mental health suffered due to interminable
hard labour, poor diet, overcrowding, coarse, uncomfortable
clothing and harsh punishments such as flogging with a cat'o
nine tails and being chained to the floor. The men lived forever
in the shadow of the 'Murderers Mound', where twelve of the
convicts who participated in an uprising in July 1846 were
Tales from Norfolk Island filtered back to the England and
the colony was eventually abandoned in 1855.
After the closure of Norfolk Island, offenders were sent
to the southern tip of Tasmania, to a colony called Port Arthur.
Prison reformers back in Britain wanted to experiment with
new forms of punishment. The centrepiece of the new institution
was the Model Prison.
The idea was to replace flogging and corporal punishment
with complete sensory deprivation, which would break their
spirit and turn them into good citizens. The guards wore slippers
and carpets in the hallways deadened all sounds. When the
convicts were allowed out of their cells, they were made to
wear masks to they couldn't recognise one another. There was
very little verbal communication.