A huge former British penal colony, Port Arthur is an impressive and well managed historic site with over 30 buildings ageing from 1833 to 1936. It packs a lot of history and interest into one place, amazing how much happened in it’s 44 years of operation as a penal settlement (1833-1877). It was purely for reoffending men, some of the toughest criminals in the Empire. It’s been a tourist attraction pretty much ever since and is now the most popular in Tasmania.
The obvious place to start is with the most famous building, the Penitentiary, originally built as a mill. Though partly ruined the scale is apparent, though the setting by a beautiful bay isn’t typical of most prisons.
Behind it lies the remains of the Law Courts, the better preserved Guard Tower, and the very well preserved Commandant’s House.
Further up the hillside are more heritage cottages, the Senior Military Officer’s Quarters, Officers’ Quarters and Smith O’Brien’s Cottage.
The Police Station is the newest building on the site, built in 1936 when Port Arthur was a small town called Carnarvon.
Due to fire there isn’t much left of the Hospital or Paupers’ Depot.
The Asylum and the Separate Prison are near complete though and conveniently closely located as the Separate Prison with it’s focus on solitary confinement and silence tended to drive people insane. Even the chapel had dividers so the prisoners could only seen the chaplain and not each other. It represents the prison concept taken to an extreme, and ineffectively so.
There’s an attractive row of cottages for the Visiting Magistrate, Roman Catholic Chaplin, Junior Medical Officer, Accountant, and Parson.
St David’s Church is a low key 1927 replacement for the ruined original 1837 much grander church.
The nearby Government House is ruined but not the very English rolling gardens in front of it.
Across from Mason Cove is the aptly named Isle of the Dead, a very small island home to the (mostly unmarked) graves of at least 1,100 prisoners and prison workers.
Finally I made it out the dockyard, with houses for the Clerk of Works’ and Shipwright, and a 25m sculpture giving an idea of the scale of the ships built here during it’s 15 years of operation before it was closed as too much competition for private ship builders.
Visiting it was a complete contrast from the morning spent heading around Tasman Peninsula by boat, as part of a combined full day trip from Hobart. ADD LINKS
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