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Donation of unusual historic items to Port Arthur


The Police Historical Group, which operates a themed museum in Brisbane St Hobart, recently donated several items to the Authority. Michael Smith, who looks after PAHSMA’s collections, reports that two of the items in particular are very relevant to Port Arthur; an ‘in-door’ hat and a life preserver.

"The in-door hat was issued to hospital patients, lunatics or paupers and was for wearing in the confines of those buildings. This one, which is in very good condition, still carries the Broad Arrow and the letters BO, which was the mark of the Board of Ordinance which was the issuing authority.

"The life preserver was a style of short baton used by warders to control inmates.  The moderate condition of the life preserver initiated a closer inspection that revealed some of its structure.  In use it was imbued with an inbuilt whip action that was achieved by the handle being made of a thin tree branch that was wrapped in a helical fashion by uniform strips of whale baleen.  The weighted ends were secured to the handle by a mesh that was tarred. 

"The use of this material reflects the importance of the whaling industry to Tasmania. Whaling was shore based prior to 1840 with a station as nearby as the Forestier Peninsula. The industry turned ‘pelagic’ or deep sea thereafter, due to declining whale numbers.

"With a total of 103 vessels being involved in Tasmanian whaling between 1830 and 1900 and their need for repairs, refits and chandlery it is easy to see that some would have had contact with the Port Arthur dockyard. However it is not possible to say whether the manufacture of these items was a sailors’ sea-based industry or a shore based enterprise."

Both items, with what they reveal to us, make welcome additions to PAHSMA's collections.

Donation of unusual historic items to Port Arthur

The indoor hat, showing broad arrow and mark of the Board of Ordinance.

Donation of unusual historic items to Port Arthur

The life preserver, a type of baton.