No other place on the Tasman Peninsula encapsulates the history of the area more completely than Cascades, a property in the quiet green village of Koonya, close to Norfolk Bay.
Officers Quarters and Hospital
At Shelley Beach, a short distance to the east, a shell-midden bears witness to the occupancy of the Tasmanian Aborigines whose ancestors, the Pydairrerme (Pie-dare-rer-ma), gathered shellfish on the Peninsula for thousands of years. By 1830, when Lieutenant-Governor Arthur established his gaol for secondary offenders at Port Arthur, the group no longer lived in the area, swept away by the white invaders' violence or diseases. Cascades was now part of a 'natural penitentiary' from which escape by land was almost impossible.
A decade later the practice of assigning newly arrived convicts to settler-masters was abandoned. Instead new arrivals were to be housed in 'probation stations' and set to work in gangs on government projects. What better site could there be for a probation station than an inlet on Norfolk Bay, sealed off from the settled districts by the Eaglehawk Neck dog-line yet, by sea, conveniently close to Hobart?
The punishment cell, designed for sensory deprivation, usually known as the “Dumb Cell” – it shut them up.
Cascades had two other features which both enhanced its suitability as a site for a probation station and ensured that it would continue to play a significant part in the Peninsula's story long after the end of the convict period.
First, the headlands enclosing Cascades Bay and the hills behind it were covered with the type of forest which had prompted Arthur to use his 'natural penitentiary' as a source of timber for the colony. Swamp-gum crowded the valley floors, stringy-bark flourished on the slopes, while in the rainforest, of which only a small remnant survives today, sassafras and blackwood grew beneath a canopy of myrtle. The huge size of some of the Cascades eucalypts is described by Frederick Mackie, who visited the probation station in 1853, nine years after its inception. He noted how forest giants up to 200 feet (50 metres) high were felled by convict gangs and sent down a timber-lined chute to a saw-mill powered by steam. Some of this timber was used in an ambitious building program at Cascades or sent to Port Arthur, but most was conveyed by iron tramway to the Koonya jetty and shipped to Hobart.
As well as abundant timber, Cascades proved to have rich alluvial soil, watered by the stream from which the site took its name, and capable of producing grain, vegetables or excellent pasture. So, while timber-getting remained the probation station's chief industry, Cascades was worked as a convict farm for some years after the probation system collapsed.
During the 'age of axe and billycan', which followed the closure of the prison at Port Arthur, the convict buildings and some 120 hectares of land at Cascades were purchased by the entrepreneur Henry Chesterman. In this period, when land clearing and timber-getting became a way of life for the Peninsula's new settlers, Chesterman set up what was reputedly the largest saw-mill in the southern hemisphere at nearby Taranna, and installed his manager, Moses Clark, at Cascades.
The presence of the horses are a strong pointer that this is a post-convict image. For obvious reasons horses did not roam free in convict days.
Chesterman also planted an orchard and, together with other pioneers such as Dr Benjafield, ushered in a time of increasing prosperity in which the Peninsula became an important fruit-growing area. At Cascades, Moses Clark's son, Belmont, grandfather of the present owner, developed orchards which by the 1950s covered 18 hectares and yielded 22,000 bushels of apples and pears each year. The whole family worked all day on the property, picking fruit in autumn, alongside itinerant workers or Italian prisoners-of-war, and at night cutting scions for grafting or making apple cases by candle light.
Images reproduced with kind permission (pending)