On 10 August 1853, a Jubilee Festival was held in Hobart to mark the cessation of convict transportation to the colony. To avoid it being closed down, organisers told the government it was to celebrate 50 years of settlement in Tasmania.
The Jubilee anthem rang out across Launceston’s Princes Square and the people sang: “Our land is free, broken Tasmania’s chain, washed out the hated stain, ended the strife and pain, blest Jubilee”.
While celebrations were the order of the day in the state’s North, Governor Dennison of Hobart considered that rejoicing would perpetuate feelings of hostility between the different classes, and refused to shut the government offices.
Curator of history at Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Jon Addison, believes that while the Jubilee celebrations were constructed at first to celebrate 50 years of British settlement, the real reason soon became clear.
“The Anti-Transportation League had to take the moral high ground at all times, it couldn’t be perceived to be gloating over its victory, with many still angered at cessation, its members needed to find a pretext for their celebrations,” Mr Addison said.
“The celebrations were varied throughout Tasmania, with pig and tar barrel chasing in Port Sorell to the community celebrations held in Princes Square in Launceston, which included the erection of the Jubilee Arch, made entirely of native greenery, which took two days to assemble.”
The Anti-Transportation League had led the charge to end transportation of convicts with the help of leading figure of the time Rev. John West.
Rev. West was involved with The Launceston Examiner in March, 1842 and became a leading editorial writer, using both his religious pulpit and the paper to exact his great moral crusade for the abolition of transportation.
He believed convictism was socially and morally evil and he used his first article to attack transportation and its detrimental effect on building a respectable, sound and prosperous society as it brought “ignorance, disorder and crime, and intensified class struggle”.
“Our stand must not be upon commercial considerations, but upon Christian duty . . . we shall leave no measure unemployed to save our children from ruin and our fellow colonists from destruction,” he said.
While not everyone agreed with Rev. West’s editorials, there is no doubt he drove a change in public opinion and according to biographer Patricia Ratcliffe “for the betterment of Launceston in the 1840s”. Mr Addison believes, however, that Rev. West had ulterior motives other than the well-being of convicts.
“He was not going into this with the convicts in mind, his priorities were the free settlers, the fine upstanding middle-class citizens he represented and who were a part of his congregation,” Mr Addison said.
Despite the dual motivation for the Jubilee Festival, the Jubilee celebrations brought the people of Van Diemen’s Land together and officially ended its convict ties to the mother country.
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