Eagle-Hawk Neck Peninsula – The Bulldogs Platform – Port Arthur
. . . Eagle-hawk Neck, the narrow isthmus connecting Tasman Island with the mainland, where sharks were fed to encourage them to stay about, and where in the water a long chain of bulldogs on platforms gave the alarm if convicts swam across; and on the land guards of soldiers cut off their only escape from the hell of Port Arthur to the slow starvation of the main mountain ranges . . .
The following excerpt from “Jottings about Port Arthur” published in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald in 1866 gives a contemporary account of the chain of bulldogs.
. . . At last, however, we are at Eagle Hawk Neck We have fulfilled the predictions of our dearest friends, and come to the dogs. And the dogs know it. Right out in the surf on the left, right out in the bay on the other hand, right across a narrow spit some hundred yards across, right up on the hill-tops, there is nothing but bow-wow. And worse than bow-wow As we draw nigher and nigher, with fear and trembling, the closer we look at the canine guardians the less we like them, and heartily rejoice that they are chained. Some are in casks, some on high stages, some tied to trees, most are big, some are small, but all are evidently evil minded. They are one and all brothers or sisters, or first cousins, of Bill Sykes’s dog, or that remarkable bulldog from Sandridge with a stump of a tail, which was shown at the last canine exhibition in Melbourne. They roll their wicked red eyes, and lick their compact massive jaws, with an evident feeling of “wouldn’t I like to get at you, my boy, and how nice you would taste,” the tough ropes check their little games, and their howling has done us service. As the barking goes on, a quiet, soldier like policeman comes out, and leads us, in spite of Cerberus, half as culprits, half as visitors, into the guard house.
We have no passports. We must go back. Go back! a nice thing indeed: forty miles of back country got over since sunrise, and forty more to retrace. No such thing! Well, we can telegraph to Mr. Boyd, the acting superintendent, for leave to enter, or, if the worst come to the worst, as we look like gentlemen, we may be allowed to sleep on the benches. We prefer to telegraph, and we go into the guard-house, and are requested civilly to sit down. We sit down with thanks, and look round. On a sloping bed of boards two weary guardians are sleeping as comfortably as on a bed of down they are evidently tired-out. A third, a fine veteran of a fellow, is smoking his pipe, and with an intermediate whistle cleaning his carbine. Two others are lounging outside, apparently in doubt whether they are awake or asleep.
The dogs are silent now, but the boom of the everlasting surf, as the white waves come tumbling in on the beach keeps up a perpetual diapason. We turn disconsolately to the smouldering fire, and offering our cigars to the smoking veteran, try to talk. “Did he like the situation?” No, he did not like it at all. What did he most dislike? How was the pay? Very good. How were the rations? Fair enough. What was there to do? Very little, but to be up all the night. What was the grievance then? “I’ll tell you what it is, sir. A man been’t a hanimal, a man has his feelings, and can’t be merely fed up like a pig. He wants his chums, and here there is nothing but them ever-lasting dogs, and waves as keep roaring, roaring, roaring away for ever. It was better in the olden times, there was some fun then.” Did the prisoners ever try to escape? Sometimes. One dark night four prisoners, led by a notorious blackfellow named Jackey, attempted to cross from a headland called Sympathy Point to Woody Island. The sharks took down all the Englishmen, liking their white skins, but the blackfellow got off. That was not up at the Neck, but on the other side, from Sympathy Headland to Woody Point. They know too well to try it on here.
“But they do try it on here, mate,” said one of the lounging gentlemen outside now pacing leisurely in. I remember in poor Captain Booth’s time, when three of them tried it on. They had been out in the bush for about a week, and all manner of scouting parties were after them. Well, it came on to blow hard; they were all swimmers, and as the dogs were three weeks out and pretty deaf by that time they reckoned they would risk it. Tho dogs pretty well deaf, how is that? Why the noise of the waves deafens them, so that we have to change them as is out on stages once a month, till they gets back their natural hearing. But to the men — what became of them? Oh! the sharks took them down all three, and we shouldn’t have known what became of them but for their hats floating.
They tried a bolder thing than that, though, said one of the sleepers on the board stool. They got away one bright day, and I’m blessed if they did not try to get across the nine miles to Bruni. They goes and cuts up a number of wattles, and covers them over with skins and old shirts, and tallows them over — a kind of packing case they made of it, and out they go, and after a bit over it goes, and they go under and don’t turn up again. What was the chief evil they were running from, we ask ‘Baccy, sir, ‘baccy. The flogging was bad; they used to flog them till they fainted, the surgeon standing by with his hand on the pulse. But they would dare anything to get ‘baccy. They get enough of it now. Then they are well treated now? They are too well treated, was the answer.
Source: Jottings about Port Arthur (1866, February 15). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 2.]
Provenance: “Homeward Bound after Thirty Years.” A colonist’s impressions of New Zealand, Australia, Tangier and Spain … With Numerous Illustrations.
Author: Edward Reeves
Date of Publication: 1892
Publisher: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.
Place of Publishing: Paternoster Square
Copyright status: This work is out of copyright
Courtesy: The British Library