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On Walkabout At: Port Arthur, Tasmania – Part 1

Prior Posting: Wineglass Bay, Tasmania

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After visiting Freycinet National Park and Wine Glass Bay we headed further south along Tasmania’s east cost towards the historic Port Arthur, which is an important site for the Australian conscious for events that happened there in both the past and present.  Port Arthur is located on the Tasman Peninsula, where we found a really nice caravan park to spend the night at that was located along a beautiful cove:

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The next morning we packed up our camp site and headed down the road towards the nearby Port Arthur.  Most Americans have probably never heard of Port Arthur, but for Australians this place is of great historical significance.  The colony first got its start as a timber station in 1930, but from 1833 to the 1850’s Port Arthur served as the penal colony for the toughest criminals sent to Australia.   This depiction of a bunk on a transport ship going to Australia shows how little room prisoners shipped to Australia had on the way there:

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Something I didn’t realize before visiting Port Arthur was that the prisoners transported to Australia from Britain were not sent to jails, but rather worked at logging camps, farms, and other businesses in Australia as indentured servants.  Upon completion of their sentence as indentured servants they were set free and given the option to be given land to start their own farm or business with the skills they learned.  The prisoners housed at Port Arthur however were convicts that re-offended while serving their sentence as an indentured servant in Australia.  This caused Port Arthur to be known as the prison with the worst of the worst of the British penal system.  However, if there was ever a place to house such prisoners this was place because not only was it located on the far off island of Tasmania, but it was also located on a remote peninsula with only one way to reach the rest of the island which was accessed by a narrow, heavily guarded 30 meter isthmus.

Here is a view of the isthmus named Eaglehawk Neck looking towards the north and the mainland of Tasmania:

On this small isthmus British kept a military garrison that prevented anyone from escaping to the mainland.  There is actually a few buildings that remain from when this isthmus was a military garrison that visitors can check out:

Eaglehawk Neck Military Barracks

One of the most humorous escape stories is of a convict that found a dead kangaroo and used its hide as disguise to try and hop his way past the guards.  However, the guards who were always on the lookout for a bite to eat began to fire at the kangaroo which forced the convict to take off his kangaroo disguise and give himself up.  Anyway here is a view of the west side of Eaglehawk Neck:

Eaglehawk Neck Isthmus

Here is a view of the east side looking north:

East Coast of Eaglehawk Neck

Here is a view of the east side looking south:

East Coast of Eaglehawk Neck Looking South

On the east side that is exposed to the ocean’s waves, we saw a number of surfers trying their luck on the waves:

Eaglehawk Neck Surfers

I doubt the soldiers in the Eaglehawk Neck ever tried surfing, but it looked like the surfers were having a good time.   Anyway back to Port Arthur; for being in such a remote area the settlement at Port Arthur was quite large compared to the few buildings that remain today.  This model at the visitor center gives a good depiction of just how large this prison colony once was:

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The visitor center was actually quite good and gave a lot of very relevant history in regards to not only the prison but the British penal colony system.  So I spent a good amount of time there reading all the displays.  After finishing up at the visitor center, my wife and I walked over to the main penitentiary of the prison colony:

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This building actually used to be a flour mill constructed by convict labor before being renovated into a penitentiary to house more prisoners as the colony grew:

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Walking around the inside of the penitentiary was actually a bit spooky even during the day time:

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As I walked by the prisoners’ cells I was amazed by how small the rooms were:

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How would you like to locked up in that room for an extended period of time?:

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Near the penitentiary there was another building that was used to house the worst prisoners of Port Arthur in solitary confinement:

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The prisoners may not have had much room in their cells, but look at this room at the building near the penitentiary where the guards lived:

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The guards didn’t have much room to themselves either and some of the displays said that the behavior of the guards was not much better than the prisoners because of the effect the isolation and alcoholism had on the soldiers stationed at Port Arthur.

Something else of interest about the penitentiary is that local actors put on little skits for visitors that depicts the daily life of the convicts at the prison:

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As the prisoner population at Port Arthur aged eventually an asylum was needed to house the increasingly mentally infirm convicts that began to populate Port Arthur:

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Inside the asylum was a museum that housed various items from both the prisoners and the guards:

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As you can see their hats were not all that stylish:

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At least the uniforms look a bit better than the hats:

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After checking out the museum there was plenty more to see at Port Arthur.

Next Posting: Port Arthur, Tasmania – Part 2

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