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Heritage values of Sloping Island surveyed

Heritage values of Sloping Island surveyed

Heritage Tasmania officers recently visited one of the earliest, yet most difficult to access and poorly understood probation stations – on Sloping Island.

About 1.5km off the north-west tip of the Tasman Peninsula, the island is less than 2km in length.

A probation station was operated on the island from late 1841, representing one of the first examples of the Probation System.

Prisoner numbers peaked at 176 in July 1844, just months before the station was abandoned, mainly due to a shortage of fresh water.

Although the main station was closed, a semaphore station was operated on the island until 1873 and the island was at times used to house boat crews and visiting officials during this period.

The visit to the island was made possible through the Hamish Saunders Memorial Trust (HMST) which offers conservation science students the opportunity to visit a Tasmanian island to do survey work under the guidance of local scientists.

Remains of a stone prison cell Sloping Island Photo by P Rigozzi PWS

Remains of a stone prison cell Sloping Island Photo by P Rigozzi PWS

Staff from Natural and Cultural Heritage Division and the Parks and Wildlife Service conducted a thorough survey of the natural and cultural heritage values of the island. A full suite of spatial science technology for recording historic sites was put to the test.

A Remote Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), more commonly known as a drone, from Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania was used to take high resolution aerial photography of the island.

These photos were processed and analysed using desktop GIS systems to identify targets that could be investigated by a site visit. A Differential GPS system, from the Geospatial Infrastructure Branch of DPIPWE, was used to record these ground features to an accuracy of a few cm.

Remains of a stone prison cell on Sloping Island Photo by P Rigozzi PWS

This technology was used to record the remains of a stone cell block, other accommodation and storage buildings, a sandstone quarry, semaphore station, water well and other water catchment infrastructure.

Many of these features had been identified previously, while some new features were also identified.

The use of new technologies has enabled accurate location information for these features to be assigned the first time.

The final Sloping Island Natural and Cultural Values Survey Report will aid the Parks and Wildlife Service in their ongoing management and conservation of the site.

It is hoped that the demonstration of the technical capabilities of DPIPWE to conduct accurate and detailed surveys of historic sites in a short time span is just the start of many more projects that will record these significant sites, leading to a better understanding of the convict system and long-term conservation outcomes.

The Sloping Island Probation Station is currently not entered on the Tasmanian Heritage Register, and it is hoped that the information collated in this survey will support a future listing of this significant site.