WHEN the Pictorial Guide to Weymouth was published in the 1880s, the isle of Portland was not forgotten.

A selection of pages are dedicated to the island, described as 'so well deserving of attention that it is worth the trouble of travelling from the further parts of the kingdom to witness its many features of interest.'

Portland is noted for being a place where the extremes of weather are felt most acutely, with the guide claiming: "There is no place in the world in which a spectator can realise more completely the terrible force of tremendous seas and the oft-times fatal effects of a south-west gale." Nevertheless, in fine weather, the isle is said to offer views of the calm sea that 'are beyond measure lovely.' The guide concludes, then, that the scene at the isle is frequently one of sunshine and calm, but is sometimes one of dread.

Certain aspects of Portland are highlighted within this guide, from the quarries and the prison to the church and the breakwater. Chesil Beach, a site of 'natural curiosity,' is described by the size of its stones: "At the Portland end of the beach the pebbles are large, being three inches in diameter; but as the ridge nears the mainland they diminish in size, until at Abbotsbury, a distance of 10 miles, they are extremely small." The guide also recounts an occasion where 'a ship was carried by the waves completely over the beach, and was launched on the other side into the Portland roads,' and recalls a storm of 1853 which displaced upwards of four million tons of shingle from the shores.

The Avalanche Memorial Church, located in Southwell village, receives a special mention, perhaps due to the tragedy being so recent. In September 1877, two ships, SS Avalanche and SS Forest, collided off Portland Bill during stormy conditions. The Avalanche was taking passengers to their homes in New Zealand, and the accident claimed the lives of 106 people. Local fishermen rescued survivors and brought them ashore, before launching a national campaign which raised £2,000 in donations for a new church to be erected as a memorial. Nowadays, the church is also known as the Church of St Andrew.

The prison in Portland opened in 1848, largely to make use of convict labour in the construction of the breakwaters of Portland Harbour and its various defences, before becoming a permanent institution in 1869. The breakwater was a mile and three-quarters in length, with a strong inner fort and "64lb guns capable of sweeping Weymouth Bay." Stones were laid by Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales in 1849 and 1872 respectively, while as many as 25 ships of Her Majesty's fleet were said to have "lain in these roads at one time during recent years."

Accordingly, the pictorial guide describes how 'convicts are to be seen every fine day, working in gangs beyond the limits of the prison, except on Sundays,' with estimates that the number of prisoners hovered around 1,600, under the charge of about 260 officers.

Convict labour was also employed in the workings of Portland's quarries. The sites attracted many visitors, even in the 1880s, and while many were Government-run, 'there are important private quarries, some being very profitable, notably that of the Quarry Co.' Portland's stone has been used as a building material since the Roman times, and was clearly a source of pride at the time the guide was published: "The stone (marine and fresh-water limestone) is raised in enormous quantities annually and continues to be used in erecting some of the best buildings in England. Sir C. Wren obtained from Portland much of the stone with which St Paul's Cathedral was built." Other famous buildings constructed of Portland stone include the Bank of England, the British Museum and Somerset House.

In the 1880s, like today, Portland was clearly and proudly celebrated for its geology, said to "afford scope for some of the most interesting studies that can be indulged in England." Also gaining recognition was the Bow and Arrow Castle on the isle, the ruined keep of a stronghold built in the time of William Rufus and of which the following verse is written, quoted by the guide:

Romantic keep that crowns the rocky shore,

Thy palmy days of battle are no more,

And shaft from thee shall never drink again,

The blood of Viking or of plundering Dane.

Yet, when the sunlight dies upon the sea,

Thy walls shall witness other archery;

For Cupid here shall string his golden bow,

And lay the swain at feet of Beauty low.