R3576 'Convict tramway', 1852



This is a black-and-white lithograph (10.8 cm x 17.9 cm) taken from a sketch by Colonel G C Mundy. It depicts two open wooden carts on a wooden tramway moving through Tasmanian bushland. The tram at the front, which carries three dignitaries, has just crossed a wooden bridge; four convicts, two at the front and two at the back, run alongside the tram as they push it uphill. The second tram, which is travelling downhill towards the bridge, is carrying two soldiers, as well as four convicts (responsible for propelling it) who have leapt on board for the downhill stretch.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia.

Educational value
This asset depicts a convict tramway built between Long Bay and Norfolk Bay on the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania - the tramway was a 4.5-mile (7.2-kilometre) stretch of wooden rail on which four-wheeled open carts were propelled by convicts; it was used for the transport of stores and government officials from Norfolk Bay across the narrow isthmus to Port Arthur and Long Bay, and operated from the early 1830s to the 1860s.
It illustrates a tramway built to harness the abundant convict labour of the time for a practical purpose - ships bound for Port Arthur from Hobart faced a dangerous journey across Storm Bay and around Cape Raoul; it was much safer to enter the sheltered waters of Norfolk Bay, unload at the convict station there, load the goods and passengers into rail carts and transport them across the isthmus to Long Bay, where they could be unloaded, reloaded into small boats and rowed to Port Arthur.
It shows one element of the economic system of Tasmania in the early to mid-19th century - during this period, wherever possible, convicts carried out the labour normally reserved for animals or machinery.
It shows some of the dense bushland of the Tasman Peninsula at the time - there is a number of large trees and an understorey of smaller trees and thick shrubs; much of the timber from this area was harvested for building works; when five new convict stations were set up on the Tasman Peninsula in 1841, the convicts at the Cascades station extracted timber from areas close to the convict tramway and some of them also operated the tramway; during this period, working on the tramway was considered a soft job by the convicts.
It illustrates differences in social class and position in Tasmania at the time - the dignitaries ride in the front carriage, which is propelled by convicts; the soldiers follow, with the convicts responsible for their vehicle temporarily sitting around its sides.
It provides an example of the art of Colonel Godfrey Charles Mundy (1804-1860) - Mundy was a famous colonial artist, author and British military officer who visited and travelled extensively in the colonies between 1846 and 1851; he wrote 'Our Antipodes', the publication in which this drawing first appeared; his work is considered to be among the best depictions of colonial life at the time.
Australian history
Convict labour
Lithographic printing
Rail transport
© Curriculum Corporation and National Library of Australia, 2008, except where indicated under Acknowledgements