Convicts and Emigrants in Early Tasmania | Summer School in Hobart, Tasmania

The course focuses on Tasmania and its similarities and differences from the ‘mainland’ as a convict colony, with a particular focus on women's experiences.


  1. 1. Introduction to those who ran the colony. Who were they, and what kind of infrastructure was there in the early days of the colony?
  2. 2. Some new reflections on the nature of convicts sent to Tasmania. Were they different from those dispatched to other colonies in other periods, and if so how?
  3. 3. Who were the women convicts and how did they fare? Is the common perception that they were just ‘prostitutes and whores’ in any way justified?
  4. 4. Free emigration in a convict world. Here we look at how people from Great Britain and Ireland freely chose to emigrate in the 1830s.
Convicts and Emigrants in Early Tasmania | Summer School in Hobart, Tasmania itinerary

Convicts and Emigrants in Tasmania

Convicts and Emigrants in Tasmania is part of Odyssey Traveller's annual week-long Summer School learning programs offered each January in Hobart, Tasmania.

Our summer institute programs offer both classroom learning activities and field trips. We enjoy a lecture by the award-winning historian Alison Alexander, who is part of the faculty at the University of Tasmania. Her study has uncovered the extraordinary story of Maria Lord, a convict woman who built an extensive retail empire. By 1820, she controlled over a third of colonial resources, and was married to one of the colony's richest men - but one scandal threatened to unravel it all. We also hear a talk by Tony Marshall, a librarian and archivist at the State Library of Tasmania.

Do we really understand the reasons Great Britain decided to send convicts to the antipodes? Was it just a case of clearing offenders out of overcrowded gaols in England, Ireland and Scotland or were there other agendas in play in the global world of the British Empire?

We hope that this course will help us to a greater understanding of the decision to settle the Great South Land. We look, too, at the specific situation of Tasmania, its similarities to and differences from the ‘mainland’ settlements.

We travel each day to settlement sites, such as Port Arthur and the ‘Female Factory’, and try to see them through the eyes of those who sailed a world away from home, in most cases never to return. The human story of the people who were transported or freely chose to emigrate is an exciting and profoundly moving one.

Summer School classes for mature and senior travellers

Odyssey offers a collection of week-long learning programs offered each January in Hobart, Tasmania. Courses are refreshed for each year’s programs. Classes are limited to 15 people.

Over the last twenty-five years, Odyssey’s small group Summer School Program has given countless travellers an unforgettable educational and travel experience. Each summer, we prepare and offer fun and challenging special interest courses and programs designed to give travellers the options and opportunity to learn about history, religion, Australian culture, and the arts, among many other topics. These courses are designed in such a way that enthusiasts can deepen their knowledge of a particular topic or be initiated into new understandings on a subject.

We don’t quite live on campus, but we will be staying in a comfortable hotel in central Hobart! We will enjoy welcome and farewell dinners in between our seminars, as well as daily morning tea and lunch.

These programs offered are tailor-made for mature-aged and senior travellers who are eager to explore in-depth a particular topic. Summer school learning programs for mature and senior travellers who are and remain curious about the world. Read more about our philosophy of the Odyssey Summer Schools.

Below are some of the feedback from our Summer School programs in January:

"Mal was an extraordinary leader in this program about extraordinary women. The depth and breadth of her preparation was amazing and the information book was of publishable quality. The mix of text, documentaries, and various YouTube videos all combined to not only extend our knowledge but kept us focused and interested throughout the course."

"Pav was an outstanding programme leader. His knowledge of plants and Tasmanian gardens is exceptional. His local knowledge and contacts are impressive. At all times he led the group with good humour and tolerance and at all times I felt he was totally in control of the programme. We were very fortunate to have him as our leader."

"The program was so well organised that each day ran very smoothly. Extraordinary women - extraordinary program!"

"All of the local guides were passionate about their places...Everyone was very proud of Tasmania [and] eager for us to get the most out of our visit."


Day 1: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

After checking in to our hotel, we come together for a welcome dinner at 6pm. This is a chance to meet the group leader, fellow members of the Convicts and Emigrants program and other Summer Schools participants. We meet in the hotel lobby at 6pm.

Day 2: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

We will begin our study with a general overview of the colonisation of Australia, particularly Tasmania. We enjoy a background lecture on the reasons the Australian colonies were established. The remainder of the day will be spent visiting the Cascades Female Factory.

Day 3: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

Today we take a full day field trip to Port Arthur.

Day 4: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

This morning, we enjoy a guest lecture by Alison Alexander, on Maria Lord, Tasmania’s most successful woman convict. Afterwards we visit the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery as well as the Maritime museum.

Day 5: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

This morning we enjoy a guest lecture by author and researcher Tony Marshall on the subject of free settlement. Today’s tour is to Richmond.

Day 6: Hobart

Accommodation: Mövenpick Hotel Hobart or similar

Today’s classes focus on the issue of free immigration. Who were the free settlers? We explore this question, with visits to Runnymede (one of the fine colonial mansions now owned by the National Trust) and the Penitentiary Chapel and Old Gaol. In the evening, we come together with other Summer School participants for a farewell dinner at the Customs House Hotel at 6:00pm.

If time permits, we will visit the Theatre Royal.

Day 7: Hobart

The tour will end after breakfast.

Includes / Excludes

What’s included in our Tour

  • 6 nights in full en suite accommodation in central Hobart.
  • 6 breakfasts and 2 dinners.
  • Lectures and handouts as indicated.
  • Services of a study leader and lecturers.
  • Complimentary wifi.

What’s not included in our Tour

  • Comprehensive travel insurance.
  • Return airfares to and from Hobart.
  • Airport transfers to/from your Hobart Hotel
  • Costs of a personal nature.
Level 1 - Introductory to Moderate

Participants must be able to carry their own luggage, climb and descend stairs, moderate walking on uneven surfaces between 3 - 5 kilometers per day. Suitable for most fitness levels

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Crossing international borders with restrictions

The list of requirements to travel internationally has changed and will continue to change for several years. Odyssey is here to assist you in managing your way through these requirements:

Pre-departure checklist for travelling across International borders.
Support over email or phone available 24/7 for any questions you have.

For more information see our Crossing international borders with restrictions page.

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If less than 30 days before your tour starts you are unable to travel as a result of Government travel restrictions, Odyssey Traveller will assist you with a date change, provide you with a credit or process a refund for your booking less any non-recoverable costs.

See Terms and conditions for details.

Peace of Mind Travel

The safety of our travellers, tour leader, local guide and support staff has always been our top priority and with the new guidelines for public health and safety for keeping safe for destinations around the world, we’ve developed our plan to give you peace of mind when travelling with us.

See Peace of Mind Travel for details.


It was my first time with Odyssey & I enjoyed it very much

Participant 2018

Our leader, David Daintree, did a fantastic job. He was able to impart his knowledge and keep an easy-going vibe to the course. Most enjoyable. The two guest speakers were great. As I was reading Alison Alexander's book I was especially pleased to meet her and hear her talk on convicts in Tasmania.

Participant 2018

Very knowledgeable coach drivers, courteous and friendly (as were they all) but Stuart bent over backwards to show us various landmarks around Hobart on our last day.

Participant 2018

David is extremely knowledgeable, courteous and friendly. He wasn't rigid with the itinerary (times) as he wanted all the participants to enjoy and see what interested them the most. He did an excellent job.

Participant 2018

Reading List Download PDF

Tasmania's Convicts

Alison Alexander

To the convicts arriving in Van Diemen's Land' it must have felt as though they'd been sent to the very ends of the earth. In Tasmania's Convicts Alison Alexander tells the history of the men and women transported to what became one of Britain's most notorious convict colonies. Following the lives of dozens of convicts and their families' she uncovers stories of success' failure' and everything in between. While some suffered harsh conditions' most served their time and were freed' becoming ordinary and peaceful citizens. Yet over the decades' a terrible stigma became associated with the convicts' and they and the whole colony went to extraordinary lengths to hide it. The majority of Tasmanians today have convict ancestry' whether they know it or not. While the public stigma of its convict past has given way to a contemporary fascination with colonial history' Alison Alexander debates whether the convict past lingers deep in the psyche of white Tasmania.

Book Depository

Corruption and Skullduggery

Alison Alexander

"It's 1805, and Maria Riseley - single, poor and pregnant - finds herself in the gloomy Female Factory, Parramatta. Her future looks bleak: separation from her baby then back to the round of housework and sex that is the lot of an assigned female convict. Then Edward Lord arrives. Young, aristocratic, imperious, he wants a woman. A lieutenant in the marines, he has been posted to the tiny new settlement at Hobart Town, where women are scarce. So he has come to Sydney, a much more promising field." So begins the story of Edward and Maria, told by Alison Alexander. It's not just about two people from different social classes making their way in a new society; Alison uses their story to shine a light on early government in Van Diemen's Land, exposing the corruption and skullduggery that went on at all levels of administration, from the top down.

A Shorter History of Australia: Revised

Geoffrey Blainey

A broad, concise and inclusive vision of Australia and Australians by one our most renowned historians. After a lifetime of research and debate on Australian and international history, Geoffrey Blainey is well-placed to introduce us to the people who have played a part and to guide us through the events that have created the Australian identity- the mania for spectator sport; the suspicion of the tall poppy; the rivalries of Catholic and Protestant, Sydney and Melbourne, new and old homelands and new and old allies; the conflicts of war abroad and race at home; the importance of technology; defining the outback; the rise and rise of the mining industry; the recognition of our Aboriginal past and Native Title; the successes and failures of the nation. For this enlarged edition Blainey has rewritten or expanded on various episodes and themes and updated relevant matter. He has described significant events and trends of the early-20th century. A ready-reference timeline of major events in Australian history is also included. The Shorter history of Australia is a must for every home and library.

Book Depository

Van Diemen's Land

James Boyce

Almost half of the convicts who came to Australia came to Van Diemen's Land. There they found a land of bounty and a penal society, a kangaroo economy and a new way of life. In this book, James Boyce shows how the convicts were changed by the natural world they encountered. Escaping authority, they soon settled away from the towns, dressing in kangaroo skin and living off the land. Behind the official attempt to create a Little England was another story of adaptation, in which the poor, the exiled and the criminal made a new home in a strange land. This is their story, the story of Van Diemen's Land.

Book Depository

For the Term of His Natural Life

Marcus Clarke

First published in 1874, this is the most famous work by the Australian novelist and poet, For the Term of His Natural Life is a powerful tale of an Australian penal settlement, which originally appeared in serial form in a Melbourne paper.

Book Depository

The Fatal Shore

Robert Hughes

In 1787, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of King George III, the British Government sent a fleet to colonize Australia. An epic description of the brutal transportation of men, women and children out of Georgian Britain into a horrific penal system which was to be the precursor to the Gulag and was the origin of Australia. The Fatal Shore is the prize-winning, scholarly, brilliantly entertaining narrative that has given its true history to Australia.

Book Depository

Girt: The Unauthorised History Of Australia

David Hunt

Girt. No word could better capture the essence of Australia . . . In this hilarious history, David Hunt reveals the truth of Australia's past, from megafauna to Macquarie - the cock-ups and curiosities, the forgotten eccentrics and Eureka moments that have made us who we are. Girt introduces forgotten heroes like Mary McLoghlin, transported for the crime of 'felony of sock', and Trim the cat, who beat a French monkey to become the first animal to circumnavigate Australia. It recounts the misfortunes of the escaped Irish convicts who set out to walk from Sydney to China, guided only by a hand-drawn paper compass, and explains the role of the coconut in Australia's only military coup. Our nation's beginnings are steeped in the strange, the ridiculous and the frankly bizarre. Girt proudly reclaims these stories for all of us.

Book Depository

True Girt: The Unauthorised History of Australia Volume Two

David Hunt

First there was Girt. Now comes . . . True Girt In this side-splitting sequel to his best-selling history, David Hunt takes us to the Australian frontier. This was the Wild South, home to hardy pioneers, gun-slinging bushrangers, directionally challenged explorers, nervous indigenous people, Caroline Chisholm and sheep. Lots of sheep. True Girt introduces Thomas Davey, the hard-drinking Tasmanian governor who invented the Blow My Skull cocktail, and Captain Moonlite, Australia's most famous LGBTI bushranger. Meet William Nicholson, the Melbourne hipster who gave Australia the steam-powered coffee roaster and the world the secret ballot. And say hello to Harry, the first camel used in Australian exploration, who shot dead his owner, the explorer John Horrocks. Learn how Truganini's death inspired the Martian invasion of Earth. Discover the role of Hall and Oates in the Myall Creek Massacre. And be reminded why you should never ever smoke with the Wild Colonial Boy and Mad Dan Morgan. If Manning Clark and Bill Bryson were left on a desert island with only one pen, they would write True Girt.

Book Depository

My Home in Tasmania

Louisa Anne Meredith

Louisa Anne Meredith's account of her life in Tasmania was published in 1852. She was an experienced traveller, and this work is remarkable for being the first detailed account by a woman of life in the colony. Its shrewd observations and descriptive personal narrative make it an engaging read, as well as providing a valuable historical record. A keen botanist and artist, Meredith describes the island's natural life in great detail in beautiful and evocative passages. The first volume covers the journey to the island and her initial impressions of it and provides fascinating examples of colonial attitudes in the period. In Volume 2 she provides more anecdotes of her life, including descriptions of the animals and journeys within the island, and also covers more social issues, looking at religion and custom in the colony.

Book Depository

A History of Tasmania

Henry Reynolds

This captivating work charts the history of Tasmania from the arrival of European maritime expeditions in the late eighteenth century, through to the modern day. By presenting the perspectives of both Indigenous Tasmanians and British settlers, author Henry Reynolds provides an original and engaging exploration of these first fraught encounters. Utilising key themes to bind his narrative, Reynolds explores how geography created a unique economic and migratory history for Tasmania, quite separate from the mainland experience. He offers an astute analysis of the island's economic and demographic reality, by noting that this facilitated the survival of a rich heritage of colonial architecture unique in Australia, and allowed the resident population to foster a powerful web of kinship. Reynolds' remarkable capacity to empathise with the characters of his chronicle makes this a powerful, engaging and moving account of Tasmania's unique position within Australian history.

Book Depository

In Tasmania : Adventures at the End of the World

Nicholas Shakespeare

In this fascinating history of two turbulent centuries in an apparently idyllic place, Shakespeare effortlessly weaves the history of this unique island with a kaleidoscope of stories featuring a cast of unlikely characters from Errol Flynn to the King of Iceland, a village full of Chatwins and, inevitably, a family of Shakespeares. But what makes this more than a personal quest is Shakespeare's discovery that, despite the nineteen century purges, the Tasmanian Aborigines were not, as previously believed, entirely wiped out.

Book Depository

A Cargo of Women : Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal

Babette Smith

Intrigued to discover a convict ancestor in her family tree, Babette Smith decided to investigate her life and the lives of the 99 women who were transported with her on the ship Princess Royal in 1829.Piece by piece she reveals the story of her ancestor the indomitable Susannah Watson who, trapped in the crowded filthy slums of Nottingham, stole because she could not bear to see her children starving'. Separated forever from her husband and four children, she was transported to Australia for 14 years. She endured the convict system at its worst, yet emerged triumphant to die in her bed aged 83 singing Rock of Ages'.Babette Smith reconstructs the lives of the women from the Princess Royal from fragments of information in shipping lists, official records, newspapers and court transcripts. Her research overturns stereotypes of women convicts as drunken whores and criminals. Caught in an England convulsed by change, they become the unwitting and unwilling pioneers of a new land. Many proved to be resourceful and resilient, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by a new society.First published two decades ago, A Cargo of Women became a bestseller and remains one of the most valuable accounts of convict life in Australia. This new edition includes further information about the women from the Princess Royal and new illustrations.

Book Depository

The History of Tasmania

John West

John West (1809-1873) was an English-born minister who received a Colonial Missionary Society post in Tasmania in 1838. West became an outspoken opponent of the ongoing government policy of transporting convicts from Britain to Tasmania. Around 1847 a wealthy supporter approached West to write the colony's history, although it had been a British territory only since 1803. West accepted the task and, amid his campaigning and other responsibilities, completed this two-volume work which was published in 1852. It is divided between a straightforward narrative of events and thematic issues such as the treatment of the Aboriginal peoples and the issue of the convict transport system.

Book Depository

Frequently Asked Questions About Odyssey Traveller Summer School

What is the Odyssey Traveller Summer School program?

Odyssey Traveller’s small group Summer School program has given countless travellers an unforgettable educational and travel experience. Each summer, we offer numerous special interest courses and programs. Courses are designed for senior travellers who are eager to deepen their knowledge of a particular topic or be initiated into new understandings of a particular subject. Often these courses underpin our European small groups tours for seniors that are offered each year. We focus on history, religion, Australian culture, and the arts, among many other topics.

Who are your lecturers?

Summer School lecturers and instructors are current or retired university lecturers or experts with a particular passion for teaching their chosen subject. Many of our lecturers have extensive teaching experience, and are gifted educators with the ability to adapt material based on the group’s needs. Many of them have taught with us for several years. They have fine-tuned their courses to allow for deep engagement on the part of participants.

What should participants expect from a Summer School program?

Our teaching rooms are located in a state-of-the-art conference centre in central Hobart. This location enables us to screen relevant documentaries and films, and to maintain engaging teaching environments. This conference facility is perfectly situated, just a a short walk from our hotel.

Summer School programs are designed to encourage participation. Expect regular discussions and tutorial exercises, as well as various group activities. The majority of our courses also feature memorable educational excursions, which take full advantage of all that Hobart has to offer. Our “Convicts and Migrants” program takes participants to many of the region’s most historically significant sites, including Port Arthur and Runnymede House. Other programs feature outings and excursions to sites of cultural significance, in order to blend classroom learning with more interactive and hands-on educational experiences.

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