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English born Commandant of the Port Arthur convict settlement in Tasmania, Charles Booth (1800-1851), was in kinship care for six months at the age of fifteen. Charles O’Hara Booth was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire to Richard Booth of Basing House which was built in 1531 for William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester. Charles’s mother was Mary Réze of Gibraltar.

Charles left England for India in July 1815 seeking work with the East India Company but didn’t arrive in Calcutta (now Kolkata) until January 1816. He stayed in the care of his uncle until six months later when he was accepted into the 53rd Regiment then serving in Madras.

In 1819, Charles purchased a position as an officer with the 21st Fusiliers and was stationed with them in Demerara, British Guiana (now Guyana) for some time. While the regiment was stationed back in the United Kingdom, Booth received a ‘Promotion by Purchase’ to Captain in September 1830.

Within a month of his arrival in Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land) in January 1833 with the 21st Fusiliers, and despite his lack of experience, Booth was appointed Commandant at Port Arthur, a settlement for transported convicts which had been established in 1830 and named after Lieutenant Governor George Arthur (1784-1854).

Booth was regarded as a stern ruler, a man who “determined to carry out his duties without departure from the rules and regulations fixed by the system” (Giblin, 157) and expecting the same from others.

The conditions under which they were expected to live in the penal establishment were made known to the convicts. The consequences of departure from rules were explained to them. If they chose to err, then punishment, severe and strict, but according to the law, would certainly follow (Giblin, 157).

Under Booth’s rule, Port Arthur expanded considerably:

Port Arthur was extensively laid out during his eleven-year tenure. Reclamation of land was undertaken, a semaphore system was set up, and a government farm was established. He ordered the construction of a convict tramway from Norfolk Island to Oakwood and oversaw the establishment of Point Puer, the first juvenile prison in the British Empire (Jones).

The separate prison for boys on the promontory at Point Puer was opened in 1834 with sixty-eight recently arrived boys. Although the initial intention was to separate the growing numbers of convict boys from the adults at Port Arthur, adult convicts were often at Point Puer, bringing suppliers and working as overseers and instructors. In March 1843 Benjamin Horne, on behalf of the Secretary of State for the British Government, inspected Point Puer and called for “Radical reform”. Horne was concerned about the lack of separation between the adult and child convicts, overcrowding in the buildings, poor education provided to the boys, and the extensive use of corporal punishment.

On 23 June 1843, a convict overseer at Point Puer was killed and two inmates, Charles Campbell and Henry Sparkes, were charged with murder. The boys were acquitted of the murder, but often singled out for punishment by Booth and his officers on their return to Point Puer.

In 1844, Charles Booth took up what Frederic Hooper calls “the less demanding appointment [as Superintendent] to the Queen’s Orphan Asylum at New Town, an institution—the first of its kind in Tasmania—to house children who were “orphaned, destitute and children” (Find and Connect), many of whom were the children of convict women.

The Queen’s Orphan Asylum was first established in 1833 and already by 1839 rumours of abuse of the children were rife.

In 1848, four years into Booth’s tenure, a report by Inspector of Schools, Charles Bradbury, led the then Lieutenant Governor William Denison (1804-1871) and Comptroller General John Hampton (1810-1869) to conclude that “the system was defective” with Hampton “alarmed by the children’s physical development” which he saw as inferior to their non-incarcerated peers (Pearce).

Charles Booth continued at the Queen’s Orphan Asylum until his death in 1851. He had married Elizabeth Charlotte in 1838 and she and their two daughters left for England in 1852.


Giblin, R.W. “Notes on the Journal of Captain Charles O’Hara Booth. Sometime Commandant of Port Arthur”. Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania, (1925): 152-166.

Harris, Steve. The Lost Boys of Mr Dickens. How the British Empire turned artful dodgers into child killers. Melbourne Books.

Hooper, Frederic. “Booth, Charles O’Hara (1800-1851).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.

“Benjamin Horne’s report on Point Puer Boys’ Prison, to His Excellency Sir John Franklin K.C.H. and K.R. Lieut. Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Point Puer, March 7 1843.” Edited extracts from Archives Office of Tasmania document C0280/157/520.

Jones, Callum. “Charles O’Hara Booth: A Biography.” Tasmanian, 17 December 2020.

Pearce, Kim. “The Orphan Schools.” Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Blog, Libraries Tasmania.

“Queen’s Orphan Asylum (1833-1879).” Find and Connect, 2021.

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