The gaols in Britain were over crowded. Transportation to the new colony was the sentence of choice for the magistrates. For convicts sent to the end of the world their punishment was seen as a death sentence. The life of a convict was certainly tough in early days of penal settlement of Van Diemen’s Land.
However, some crafty, mischievous and desperate buggers made their names infamous in the penal colony.
George “Billy” Hunt – “The Convict in Disguise”
George “Billy” Hunt was found guilty of stealing a handkerchief and was sentenced to 14 years transportation in October of 1824. He departed for Van Diemen’s Land on the Sir Charles Forbes on 5 January 1825.
Billy Hunt was a serial escape artist. He is best known for performing one of the more ambitious escape attempts from a Port Arthur chain gang. In 1832 he was sent to work on the timber cutting chain gangs at Port Arthur. After various escapes from New Norfolk and Maria Island he was bound to attempt to escape Port Arthur.
Hunt escaped through the bush by following the tramway line all the way toward the narrow 30 metre wide isthmus known as Eaglehawk Neck. The only way to escape the peninsula by land.
Kangaroo for Supper
Billy Hunt would cross at low tide by way of disguise. The disguise of kangaroo skin. The underfed soldiers on guard duty saw the kangaroo and aimed to shoot thinking this kill could feed them well. Hunt is said to have dropped his disguise and cry “Don’t shoot, I am only Billy Hunt”.
Hunt was captured and received 75 lashes and 12 months hard labour in addition to his existing sentence.
After many more indiscretions for theft and insolence and the resulting punishments, Billy Hunt was granted his freedom in 1846.