Port Arthur
flickr image by Harclade

Port Arthur


Port Arthur is one of most tangible relics of the convict system. Located about 90 minutes’ drive from Hobart.

Along the route from Hobart, a point of great interest is Eaglehawk Neck, which really is worth stopping for. If you go to Port Arthur with a Hobart tour, you will usually have the opportunity to look at the scenery here.

Port Arthur Travel

flickr image by variationblogr

In convict times, this is where soldiers and dogs guarded the Tasman Peninsula to ensure that escape from Port Arthur was almost impossible. At this point the isthmus is only one hundred metres across.

A chain was run across and dogs tied to the chain. Then, since the only possible escape route was via the sea, a rumour was circulated that the waters were infested with sharks. Even so, in 1843 the bushranger Martin Cash and two of his friends did manage to escape from here.

Now, though, the point of interest is not the dogs, but the natural scenery. There are four natural wonders here within the space of a few hundred metres.
They are labelled the Tasman Arch, a natural bridge across which one can walk; the Devil’s Kitchen, where the waves rush in through a narrow gap producing a cauldron of churning water at the foot of a deep enclosed chasm; the Blowhole; and the Tessellated Pavement, caused by wave action.

Tasmans Arch

flickr image by neo_cat

Port Arthur itself is near the southern tip of the Tasman Peninsula. Named after Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, it began life in 1830 as a timber station. In 1833 it became a secondary punishment male prison settlement.

Port Arthur had become almost self-sufficient by the 1840s, but when transportation lost favour, and new young convicts ceased to arrive in the 1850s and 1860s, that self-sufficiency was gradually lost. In 1877 the prison was closed.

Thereafter buildings such as the church and penitentiary were destroyed by fire and by vandalism, and other constructions suffered from those seeking building materials. The settlement was renamed Carnarvon, but in 1927 it reverted to Port Arthur.

Entry is now through the Visitor Centre with the entry pass being valid for two days. Passing through the Port Arthur Visitor Centre, one finds oneself in the role of a nineteenth-century criminal, being sentenced to transportation and then entering the ship and emerging in Port Arthur.

One is given a prisoner identity card, relating to the circumstances of an actual past prisoner, and invited to trace his history and discover what became of him.
Within the grounds at Port Arthur are approximately thirty buildings, some restored and some just ruins, some prison buildings and some the homes of those operating the prison, or just ordinary civilians residing in the area.

Penitentiary, Port Arthur

flickr image by puzzlement

There is also the separate prison, for those who not only were transported convicts who had committed further offences in Australia, but had then re-offended in Port Arthur. Their punishment was a life of silence and solitary confinement. Even in church, where they were allowed to sing and pray audibly, in the hope of some propitious result, they were segregated from their fellow prisoners in individual stalls.

Port Arthur Tasmania

flickr image by s13n1

There is a beautifully built church, and a hospital, where, in fact, patients were well tended. There is an avenue of trees forming a memorial for those lost in the Great War. There is a Post Office and a Policeman’s Residence reminding us that this was a living community after its convict days, and even during them.

In recent years, Port Arthur made history again, as most visitors know. On 28th April 1996, a man with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire in the cafeteria, and later elsewhere, killing 35 people and wounding a further eighteen. A mentally impaired 28-year-old from Hobart, who for months protested his innocence, was eventually tried for the murders and convicted. The 35 innocent victims are remembered in a Memorial Garden near the Visitor Centre.

Commemorative plaque to Port Arthur Massacre

flickr image by jeaneeem

There are other sights to see in the vicinity of Port Arthur. These include Remarkable Cave, five kilometres south, and various other convict sites. Of the latter the most interesting is the Coal Mines, in the north-west of the peninsula.

Coal was discovered here in 1833 and, although it was relatively low-grade coal, it gave Tasmania a degree of independence from New South Wales, from where all supplies had previously been imported.

A contingent of the most refractory prisoners was sent to work these mines, in very harsh conditions, and another prisoner, one Joseph Lacey, convicted for robbery, appointed as overseer, since he had experience of mining. He proved so capable in this position that he eventually became the lessee of another colliery following his release. There are also the remains of convict ‘probation stations’ (outstations) at Nubeena, Premaydena, Saltwater River, Koonya and Taranna.

Date posted: 19th September, 2015

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