This is my last Tasmania-inspired post, as I leave the state today after my holiday, and am heading home to Brisbane.
Tasmania is named for the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who was the first European to land on its shores. Tasman himself had called the island ‘Anthoonij van Diemensland’, in honour of Anthony van Diemen, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies, and the man who had sent him on the mission to search for the Great South Land. ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ became Tasmania, in honour of Abel Tasman, when it became independent of New South Wales in 1856.
The British set up a military outpost on Van Diemen’s land in 1803, to thwart any attempts by the French to claim it for their own. The island ultimately became home to forty percent of the convicts sent to Australia between the first settlement in 1788 and 1853, when penal transportation was abolished.
The penalty of transportation came with the order of hard labour, and labour hard they certainly did. Many of the males were assigned to chain gangs to build roads, and for this they needed sufficient food for the back-breaking effort required in the days before heavy machinery. The Select Committee on Transportation (1837) made orders as to the ‘Discipline and Control of Convicts employed in the Road Department in Van Diemen’s Land,’ and these were spelled out in a document from Lieut.-Governor Arthur to Mr. Secretary Stanley, dated 19 December 1834:
Men working in the chain and unassignable gangs will receive
the following ration:
1 ½ lb. 12 per cent. bread, or 1 ¼ lb. bread and ½ lb. vegetables,
or 1 lb. bread, ¼ pint oatmeal, and ½ lb. vegetables.
1 lb, fresh or salt meat, or 10 oz. pork.
½ oz. salt
½ oz. soap.
Men in the unassignable gangs will receive the following ration:
1 ½ lb. bread, or 1 ¼ lb. bread and ½ lb. vegetables.
1 lb. meat
¼ oz. salt.
½ oz. soap.
1 oz. sugar.
1 oz. roasted wheat for coffee.
One man will be appointed daily be the superintendent, according to rotation, to act as messman for the gang, and it will be his care to see that the proper weight of rations is served out to the cook.
He will complain to the superintendent if the rations appear to him to be of bad quality.
The inspector of roads will select overseers and watchmen, also a clerk to assist the superintendent, a blacksmith, cook, rough carpenter, cobbler, tailor, messenger and baker for each gang, from among uch men in the employment of the Crown, not under punishment, as the pincipal superintendent may consider eligible.
It will be the duty of the superintendent to take care that these men perform such services as are required of them at the station, and that they do not mis-spend or mis-appropriae their time or labour.
Some convicts were luckier, and were assigned as servants to officials and free settlers. Their allowance too, was regulated:
Authorized Scale of Rations to Assigned Servants.
Government Notice, November 4, 1834.
1 lb. fresh meat.
1 ½ lb. bread and 1 lb. of vegetables, or
1 lb. bread and 2 lbs. vegetables.
1 oz. sugar, and 1 oz. roasted wheat for coffee, or
2 pints of milk, or
2 pints of table beer.
10 oz. of salt pork, or 1 lb. of other salt meat, not to be
Issued oftener than twice a week in lieu of fresh meat.
There are no recipes extant for convicts’ bread that I am aware of. It was assumed that the basic method was so well known that detailed instructions were not necessary. I do not know, for certain, what is meant by ‘12 per cent. bread’, but suspect it referred to the proportion of good wheat flour, the balance being made up of lesser grains, beans, oatmeal and the like. I hope one of you can enlighten me.
As the recipe for the day, I give you a little something from the first genuine Australian cookery book. It is called The English and Australian Cookery Book, and was published in 1864 by ‘An Australian Aristologist’ – the pseudonym of Edwin Abbott. Abbott was Sydney-born but moved to Hobart with his family at the age of about fourteen. He became a newspaper editor and publisher, and eventually, an elected member of the first State Parliament. The book includes recipes for such things as “pan jam” kangaroo tails roast in the ashes) and “slippery bob” (kangaroo brains fried in emu fat) alongside instructions for cooking ortolans and peacock, and for making trifle and punch. It was decidedly not a commercial success.
Take of old beer two quarts; white wine, one quart; anchovies, four ounces. Mix, and heat to the boiling point; remove it from the fire, and add three ounces of peeled shallot, half an ounce of mace, nutmegs, ginger, and black pepper. Macerate for fourteen days, and strain.