The Penitentiary Chapel – known as The Tench – is one of Hobart’s main tourist attractions according to Trip Advisor.
It was built in 1821 as a convicts barracks.
In the early days of settlement, the majority of convicts were assigned to free settlers to help clear and farm the land, or were assigned to work at public sector tasks such as clerks, overseers, seamen, blacksmiths, masons, bricklayers and carpenters.
Assigned convicts laboured under little or no restraint. Public sector convicts were generally housed in secure accommodation overnight but some highly skilled convicts were known to rent rooms in town.
Only the hardened and most uncooperative convicts were housed in barracks.
In the early 1830’s the Colonial Architect and Engineer, John Lee Archer, was commissioned to design a church to accommodate the increasing convict population at the barracks together with the needs of citizens of the growing town.
The design economised tiered seating in the three sections of the chapel, l- shaped, above solitary cells in the void below. Some cells were so small, a prisoner could only crawl inside and lay down. In the chapel, free citizens sat in one section, in full sight of the convict congregation. Over the years, fifty thousand convicts passed through it’s doors.
When transportation ceased the convict barracks became the old Hobart Gaol. Sections of the chapel were later converted into Supreme Courts with the access tunnels below linking the court rooms to cells, exercise yards and the gallows.
In the early days of settlement, bricks were made by convicts and due to the high level of theft, all bricks were soon marked with a “broad arrow” as a sign that they were government property. Such bricks are easily identifiable in the walls of the chapel and other early colonial buildings.
The Tench is now owned by the National Trust and is well worth a visit.