What do a Carceral Archipelago, Bella Sombre tree, Moreton Bay convict and St Helena Island have in common?

There are times in our life when the stars align and everything happens just the way it should. This happened last week on St Helena Island, when historians, writers, artists, rangers, educators, authors and researchers got together to capture some of St Helena’s magic. 


The loveliest aspect was that as a community we were so diverse, yet so driven by the same passion for the place upon which we stood. When it comes to a place like this island, the St Helena Community is made up of people who focus on so many diverse aspects – the past and the present, natural and cultural heritage, local and global, Indigenous and European history, indigenous biodiversity and introduced species. Here’s a snapshot of the diverse interests of those on the island last week:

A Global History of convicts and Penal Colonies

Fresh from a history conference in Sydney, Professor Clare Anderson, from the University of Leicester, was able to enjoy a sunny morning on St Helena Island last Friday.  Clare is focussed on colonialism and colonial societies across the British Empire and is currently directing the European Research Council funded project “The Carceral Archipelago”.  Clare Anderson’s newly published book A Global History of Convicts and Penal Colonies writes the history of convicts and penal colonies into global history and I highly recommend you check it out. Though St Helena Island did not receive convicts in the true sense of the word, many concepts and systems of management were transferred into penal settlements like St Helena. 

Professor Clare Anderson (right) with Tamsin O’Connor, Daley Donnelly and Belinda Daly inspect the Administration store.

Where Art meets Science and Nature

Ecologist and artist Dr. Paula Peeters spent many still, reflective hours using an old style pen nib and black ink to create her beautiful, intricate sketches of some of our heritage trees and plants. Admittedly St Helena’s aged trees and crumbling buildings are the very best of subject matter, but Paula certainly had us all breathing in large lungfuls of air upon revealing each drawing. Here’s an image of Paula…  and you’ll have to wait to see the final products, including the olive grove, the Bella Sombre trees and the towering bamboo stand, on this blog. 

Paula Peeters displaying her black and white sketch to her admirers.

History of Moreton Bay Penal Settlement

Tamsin O’Connor has delved deeply into the histories of penal settlements, particularly Moreton Bay and Newcastle. She has focussed on ‘Power and Punishment’ in our local Moreton Bay settlement and certainly Tamsin saw many strong links between the systems used on St Helena and those occurring decades before in Brisbane. Tamsin’s a woman of energy and humour – a powerful combination for bringing history alive and making it relevant and interesting to us all today.

Daley Donnelly and Tamsin O’Connor inspecting the scale model of the prison stockade.

Interpreting the history of St Helena Island

Lauren and my son Quinn and I spent many hours capturing images saturated in the golden glow of dusk or pre dawn. Well… I was the only one up at dawn, let’s face it! We were also shooting short videos and capturing details of headstones.  I asked Quinn to make some short videos from a 12 year old boys’ perspective, as I think as adults we sometimes don’t stop long enough to hear how this place resonates with the younger generation. So here is the first video now as a taster…

Partnering in the conservation of St Helena Island.

Finally we had our two QPWS rangers, Mette Juel and Daley Donnelly. If you want great hosts I recommend them highly. Daley has managed to get the MacDonald headstone over to the island and if you look at the image below you will see just how big and heavy it is! We were able to transcribe the long text and I’ll share that another time. Daley and Mette both believe in the communication and interpretation of this special place, and so are truly important players in the preservation and delivery of information about St Helena’s history. They also believe in the value of partnerships in supporting and enabling us all to achieve outcomes for St Helena Island.

It’s taken a big effort for QPWS rangers to move the MacDonald headstone to St Helena Island.

Beware! I now have months worth of material and I won’t stop writing about this beautiful place for a while now. The trip just confirmed for me that this is one place in the world that I have connected deeply to and that will always remain embedded in my heart. Lucky me. It was also lovely to know that Clare and Tamsin enjoyed their experience just as much …

”We had a simply amazing time. It was a perfect day in every way. Aside from the wonders of the Island we so enjoyed meeting you all.”

They have given me fresh inspiration and I hope this blog can do the same for you.



3 thoughts on “What do a Carceral Archipelago, Bella Sombre tree, Moreton Bay convict and St Helena Island have in common?

  1. Thanks for the great opportunity to spend time with you and everyone else on St Helena!

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