Maria Island National Park

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Maria Island Beach

Maria Island is a national park off the east coast of Tasmania, Australia, 69 km (straight-line distance) northeast of Hobart or about 90 kilometres by road to Triabunna followed by a ferry ride. The island has had a mixed history, including two convict eras, two industrial eras, a farming era and, finally, becoming the national park that it is today. Maria Island is a mecca for visitors, providing an array of interests for the daytripper or overnight visitor to the island.


First Convict Era 1825-1832

Lieutenant Governor Arthur established a penal settlement at Darlington in 1825 for convicts whose crimes were not 'so flagrant a nature' that they should be sent to the notorious Macquarie Harbour settlement on Tasmania's west coast. A small party of soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Peter Murdoch and fifty male prisoners arrived at the island aboard the ship Prince Leopold in March 1825. Initially housing was log and bark huts or tents. After the arrival of a new Commandant, Major Thomas Lord, in August, more permanent buildings were erected using bricks made on the island and sandstone excavated from the sea cliffs. The commissariat store (1825) and the penitentiary (1830) can still be seen today and are the only surviving buildings from this era. Industries such as cloth, blanket and shoe-making, tanning, timber cutting, and pottery were fostered. Frequent escape attempts, complaints about relaxed discipline and the opening of Port Arthur in 1830 led to the decision to abandon the settlement in 1832.

Second Convict Era 1842-1850

The second convict era commenced in 1842. Under the probation system of the 1840s, convicts were withdrawn from private service and grouped together in government stations. Probation stations were established at Darlington and Point Lesueur (10 kilometres south-southwest of Darlington and also known as Long Point). Agricultural work was a key activity for convicts, particularly as there were in excess of 400 acres (1.6 km2) of crops to maintain. Officials and 600 male convicts in Darlington were housed in old and altered structures re-used form the first convict era, and new buildings were also erected. Overcrowding and ill-adapted buildings were constant problems.

First Industrial Era 1888-1896

Maria Island's potential for wine and silk production, fruit-growing and tourist developments attracted an Italian entrepreneur, Diego Bernacchi. In 1884 Bernacchi secured a long term lease of the island from the Tasmanian Government and the 'Maria Island Company' was formed. Bernacchi renamed Darlington 'San Diego', and the little town soon had in excess of 250 residents of a variety of different nationalities. Bernacchi established a small cement works which made use of the island's limestone deposits. The opening of the Grand Hotel in 1888, complete with dining, billiard and accommodation rooms, saw the promotion of the island as a pleasure resort and sanatorium. Also constructed during this era were the Coffee Palace, a row of workers' cottages known as the 'Twelve Apostles' and six terraced cottages, built using bricks from the demolished convict separate apartment cells. Some of the old convict buildings were re-modelled to house workers, managers and shops. Bernacchi's family resided in the old religious instructor's house for a time. Sadly, the 208-cell apartment block from the second convict era was demolished and the bricks used to build other buildings and roads. Only two photographs exist today of this building. Although Bernacchi was enthusiastic, the Maria Island Company went into liquidation in 1892. Bernacchi promoted the island's cement industry and formed a new company for that purpose. It was short-lived, and in 1896 Bernacchi and his family left for Melbourne, and subsequently London. Afterwards, tourists continued to frequent the island where Rosa Adkins ran a boarding house (formerly the Coffee Palace).

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