Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.
Port Arthur has long been associated with convict settlement in Tasmania – from the 1830s it’s the place where repeat offenders were sent for higher security and harsh labour. Travel to Port Arthur from the Tasmanian mainland is only possible by sea, or through a narrow stretch of land called Eaglehawk Neck.
To discourage convicts attempting the land crossing, the military established what came to be known as the dog line.
A line of ferocious dogs were strung along the isthmus so they could bark and alert the guards, or if someone managed to get close enough, maul. They were even placed on stages out in the water, in case anyone tried to wade around. The dogs were constantly kept on chains, in some cases for years, and the more vicious the better.
The writer Henry Melville described the dogs in 1840:
Those out of the way pretenders to dogship were actually rationed and borne on the government’s books, and rejoiced in such soubriquets as Caesar, Pompey, Ajax, Achilles, Ugly Mug, Jowler, Tear’em and Muzzle’em. There were the black, the white, the brindle, the grey and the grisly, the rough and the smooth, the crop-eared and the lop-eared, the gaunt and the grim. Every four-footed, black-fanged individual among them would have taken first prize in his own class for ugliness and ferocity at any show.
These days all that marks the dog line is a sand track running across the isthmus from the road to the beach along which the dogs were strung. The nearby soldier’s cottage is open (and pretty empty) for a wander through, and it’s an interesting patchwork of renovations and rather low doorways. Besides that there’s a bronze statue closer to the road to highlight the story of the dogs themselves. If the statue and historical records are anything to go by, I wouldn’t want to be near them.
The dogs were in place until the 1870s.
For more travel exploits, check out the short e-book Matt Smith’s Thailand Diary, available for the bargain price of 99c from the Amazon book store.