It was built in 1822 to house for mainly male convicts, although some women were also sent to the island. The penal colony was closed in 1833. Even though it only operated for 11 years, it achieved a reputation as one of harshest penal settlements in the Australian colonies.
Rationale for establishment
The penal station was established as a place of banishment within the Australian colonies. It would take the worst convicts and those who had escaped from other settlements. The isolated land was ideally suited for its purpose. It was separated from the mainland by treacherous seas, surrounded by a mountainous wilderness and was hundreds of miles away from the colony's other settled areas. The only seaward access was through a treacherous narrow channel known as Hell's Gates.
Strong tidal currents resulted in the deaths of many convicts before they even reached the settlement due to ships foundering in the narrow rocky channel. The surveyor who mapped Sarah Island concluded that the chances of escape were "next to impossible". Neighbouring Grummet Island, a small island to the North west, was used for solitary confinement.