This oil painting by Henry Gritten depicts the settlement of Hobart on the Derwent River in Tasmania, below the impressive shape of Mount Wellington, circa 1856. A number of Hobart landmarks are also recognisable, including Constitution Dock, Victoria Dock, Cowgills windmill and St. Georges church. Convict Ann Norman would have seen a similar view, though of a less developed settlement during her years as a convict, circa 1830-1845. ANMM Collection 00018553.
In this blog post ANMM intern Jonas Groom takes us on a personal journey through convict history via a new museum acquisition
Arriving in Van Diemen’s Land
Clambering up the ladder from her convict quarters, Ann Norman would have come onto the deck of the transport ship Persian and embraced the warm rays of the sun, the fresh southern air and a vista of Hobart Town nestled under Mount Wellington. Ann’s thoughts about her new home may well have been cut short by the barking voice of Superintendent Patton, ordering the convicts ashore.
Ann’s vista of Hobart Town, crowded with convicts and their overseers and settlers, may have turned to the distance and the unforgiving Australian bush. Looking away from the small settlement, Ann would have seen the ships and harbour waters and beyond, to the great blue expanse that was the Southern Ocean. Possibly, like many convicts, clutching an engraved penny to her chest – a token of love – Ann may have felt the pangs of sorrow and heartache ripple through her, not knowing when or if she was ever going to see her beloved again…
The convict indent of Ann Norman is an exciting new acquisition for the Australian National Maritime Museum. The indent was an official government record kept by the Convict Department of Van Diemen’s land (later known as Tasmania). It is in effect a record of Ann’s life as seen through British authorities, from her sentencing at age twenty in 1826 to the final entry in 1841. This unique object presents a rare and tangible link to Tasmania’s convict past. Furthermore, Ann’s indent offers an intimate insight into the plight of convict women in the British Empire.
The Voyage is a ‘serious’ game based on the transportation of convicts from Britain to Van Diemen’s Land in the early nineteenth century. The project is a joint venture between the museum and roar film Tasmania, the University of Tasmania, Screen Australia and Screen Tasmania. The Voyage takes players on a journey from London to Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania) where, in the role of the ship’s Surgeon Superintendent, they are rewarded for the number of healthy convicts they deliver to the fledging British colony. The game is based on detailed historical data, utilising documented ship paths, convict and medical records and diaries.
Why a game for a museum? Research has shown that digital games have an enormous impact on the lives of children but their potential to improve learning has not yet been realised. Salen (2012) recognised the synergies between gaming and learning: “We see a huge intersection between games and learning, partially because the way game environments are structured is a lot like what good learning looks like”. However, relatively little is known about the ways in which students respond to different types of educational games, in different types of educational contexts, for different types of discipline or subject areas. This includes a lack of information about the difference between playing an ‘educational’ game at home, at school, or in another environment, such as a museum.
To investigate these issues further the museum partnered with Griffith University to undertake a series of studies with students in Year 9 (aged around 14–15 years) looking at their responses to playing games generally and their reactions to The Voyage specifically through questionnaires and focus groups. Some of the student comments included:
“[the game] combines audio, visual and kinaesthetic learning in a way that helps children, especially younger children who aren’t too interested in reading big blocks of text, to better absorb the information.”
“If you were to play the game in primary school and then you were to revisit the topic in high school, you’d have a better foundation which would help you just do better in history I guess, and appreciate history.”
“I did it [convicts topic] in Year Four. The method used was just sit in front of PowerPoint and try and take notes. I don’t know, but I retained just as much information from that game as I did from six hours of sitting in front of a PowerPoint learning information.”
The game is accompanied by online resource materials for students and teachers and a small pop-up exhibition with four text panels to accompany the game when on tour, as well as a series of four films to provide further context to the game:
The Descendants: descendants of convicts discuss their ancestors and how discovering their stories provides historical context about their life
The Historian: some of Australia’s leading convict historians dispel some of the myths about the voyages and convict life in general
Women and Children: Convict historians talk about the experience of women and children convicts
The Creators: game developers talk about some of the challenges involved in making the game fun but also historically correct