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Image 'Relics of convict discipline', c1911-15

TLF ID R3579

This is a sepia-toned black-and-white photograph (3.7 cm x 8.8 cm) showing items used to discipline or control convicts at Port Arthur. The collection, most of which is hanging on a wood-panelled wall, includes leg-irons, a ball and chain, handcuffs, whips (one of them a cat-o'-nine-tails), rifles and a sword. Text at the base of the image reads 'RELICS OF CONVICT DISCIPLINE. BEATTIE HOBART'.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts a range of instruments of punishment and control once used at Port Arthur in Tasmania - Port Arthur, on the Tasman Peninsula, commenced as a penal station in 1830, and by 1835 it had more than 800 convicts working in chain gangs; by the time it closed in 1877, 12,000 male convicts had been incarcerated there.
  • It portrays several pairs of leg-irons - leg-irons were worn by convicts who had been found guilty of a further offence while serving their original sentence and subsequently sentenced to a period of hard labour in a chain or 'iron' gang; leg-irons usually consisted of a 6-kilogram iron band that encircled each ankle, with the bands joined together by a length of heavy chain that could only be removed by a blacksmith; convicts wearing leg-irons could not take a step longer than the length of the chain; leg-irons always caused sores to develop in the areas under and around the iron, often resulting in infected lesions, and sometimes in death from blood poisoning.
  • It includes a long chain (on the left of the image) that was used in conjunction with leg-irons - long chains enabled convicts in the gang to occasionally relieve the weight of their irons by holding up the chain in one or both hands; this effectively shortened the length of chain between the ankles, and convicts carrying their chains could move only by shuffling.
  • It depicts a ball and chain - while not worn by convicts in chain gangs, the ball and chain was used as a punishment; the extra weight always exacerbated the sores and lesions resulting from the leg-irons.
  • It shows examples of whips that were commonly used to flog convicts - the whips had up to nine cords that contained knots or even small stones to worsen the punishment; there were rules concerning how many strokes could be given to a man in one day, and during floggings a surgeon stood by to determine whether the convict was able to take the prescribed number of strokes.
  • It shows muzzle-loading muskets (smooth-bored shoulder guns) - these were loaded through the muzzle; the black powder (gunpowder) propellant was loaded first, followed by wadding made of the paper from the lower section of the cartridge, then the spherical ball and the upper piece of cartridge; finally, the ramrod was pushed into the muzzle to compact the ball and wadding down onto the gunpowder.
  • It shows what is probably part of the collection of John Watt Beattie - this photograph is part of a collection compiled by Edward W Searle in the period between 1911 and 1915 while he worked for Beattie, a renowned photographer of Tasmania who was also an expert on Tasmanian history; the Port Arthur Museum was located in Beattie's Hobart studios from the 1890s until he became ill, when he sold most of the 20 tonnes of exhibits to the Launceston Corporation in 1927.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
  • History/Historical knowledge and understandings
  • Studies of society and environment/Time, continuity and change

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: National Library of Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 02 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning resource type
  • Image
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Operating systems
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  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements