Sarah Island has a notorious past. Once a thickly wooded outcrop in Macquarie Harbour lashed by the Roaring Forties, it was selected as a place of ‘banishment and security’ because of its isolation. It was a bleak place reserved for the worst of British felons.
With the opening of the Port Arthur penal settlement in 1830, use of Sarah Island was phased out. It operated for a year as a convict probation station when it housed a party of convicts sent to cut Huon pine. Economic and 'moral' problems forced its closure.
From the 1850s to the 1880s, and again in the 1930s and 1940s, Sarah Island became the base camp for piners working in the area.
During the mining rushes to the west coast, looting occurred on the island and bricks and other building materials were removed. Only the ruins of the more substantial structures were left standing.
Since the introduction of cruises from Strahan to the Gordon River in the 1980s, Sarah has become a popular tourist destination, primarily to view the ruins of the penal settlement. Guided tours are operated on the island daily. The guides also present evening performances in Strahan of ‘The Ship that Never Was’, a play that tells the true story of an escape from the Sarah Island penal colony.