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Craftsmanship lights up Separate Prison

14/08/2008

While the conservation of the Separate Prison has been a massive, detailed and challenging project that generated many stories, some of the most fascinating stories from the whole project are those involving the recreation of the details for the reinterpreted building. A large number of fixtures and fittings needed to be recreated, many from the sketchiest of historical documentation.

A facsimile watch clock was recreated from an example held in TMAG, and impressive brass gongs – used to maintain the speechless but orderly administration within the working prison – were created from an example held in PAHSMA’s collection. The majority of this highly skilled work was commissioned from Tasmanian artisans – the joinery of cell doors, tables and stools was all carried out by PAHSMA’s own Works Crew and a Hobart company, Red Arrow, was responsible for many other items including the manufacture of the watch clock.

However the all-important oil lamps and chandeliers – a key component of the prison – proved to be so unusual that the search for a supplier prepared to take on the task led to the USA, to a craftsman in New York state.

PAHSMA’S Interpretation and Collections Manager Julia Clark takes up the story.

“We found Joel Paradis, from Westmoreland, New York, on the internet and were so impressed with all the work he had done for heritage houses in the US that we contacted him to see if he would be interested in recreating our chandeliers and cell lamps.

“Poor man, he said he was although he may have regretted it! All we could give him were two pictures, sketches from the 1850s. We had no original items in the collection, although we did have a rusty bracket on a cell wall. From those he made some drawings and using lamps of the same period with which he was familiar in the US he came up with some ideas.

“Our aim was to get as close as we could to the sketches, although because they are so short on detail we had to fill in lots of gaps. He worked with a team of people – glassblowers, blacksmiths, metal workers – to either make the items from scratch or to take moulds from existing items or elements that he and his friends unearthed from all over. The results have exceeded all expectations. They will be a gorgeous and central feature of the new interpretation.

“He is a most meticulous, skilled and dedicated master craftsman. Not a day went by when I didn’t get at least 15 emails from him, seeking clarification on details and making suggestions for improvements, and by the end I don’t think he was getting much sleep. He has become part of the Port Arthur Separate Prison family, and we are sad that he won’t be able to join us for the opening. But he will be with us in spirit.”

Craftsmanship lights up Separate Prison

The 'new' A Wing

Craftsmanship lights up Separate Prison

Chandelier in the Central Hall

Craftsmanship lights up Separate Prison

A cell lamp

Craftsmanship lights up Separate Prison

Lamp in A Wing

Craftsmanship lights up Separate Prison

Central Hall lamp, with photograph showing original fittings