You might just drive straight through Eaglehawk Neck on the way to visit Port Arthur Convict Settlement, or the coal mines historic site on the Tasman Peninsula. You might stop briefly to visit the Tessellated Pavement State Reserve and marvel at that geological phenomenon before motoring on. Or you might allow a little extra time and inspect the Dog Line and Officers Quarters Museum while you’re at it.
Scary Dog Line: Eaglehawk Neck
The dog line is a fascinating part of Tasmanian convict history. If the statue is a true reflection of the actual dogs, they were ferocious! Tethered at regular intervals, with lamp posts reflecting light onto cockle shells, the purpose of the dog line was was to prevent convicts escaping the Tasman Peninsula from the Port Arthur settlement. Eaglehawk Neck is a narrow isthmus, and there were enough dogs in the line to stretch across the width of the sand dunes. Their barking would alert the guards to any movement in the bush.
Obviously, the guard dogs needed someone to care for them, and a convict was assigned the duty. Authorities considered Eaglehawk Neck the key to maintaining the security of the Tasman Peninsula during the convict period. With that in mind, some dogs were even placed out on the water. Combined with the thought of shark attacks, the area was practically impassible for all but the most determined and cunning of prisoners. Martin Cash, who escaped in 1842 and went on to live as a bushranger, was one of the “lucky” few.
Officers Quarters Museum
The military station at Eaglehawk Neck was established in 1832 and by 1836 the settlement had grown to employ about 25 soldiers. The building originally provided as the Officers Quarters is today a museum, which is free to visit. The area once had a store and a jetty, and a hut where the children of the military would attend school.
Eaglehawk Neck was an isolated location, but communication between outposts was still possible. Important, numerically coded messages were sent between Port Arthur and Eaglehawk Neck (and on to Hobart) via a chain of semaphore stations. The mast-like structures had movable arms attached and were often used to forewarn the military about convict escapees. So even those brave, desperate or stupid enough to chance the dog line or the sharks, faced a very slim chance of success.
For more information about the dog line convict heritage site, contact the Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service. The Mount Nelson Signal Station offers another opportunity to learn about the semaphore communications system.