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Oceania » Australia » Tasmania » Port Arthur
February 3rd 2017
Published: January 18th 2019
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3rd Feb: We took the bus from Hobart to Port Arthur. The journey was pretty uneventful, although I did have to endure listening to the conversations of the other passengers. There was one older boke, who was trying to set up an Airbnb account on his phone and he was giving his mate (and the rest of the bus) a blow-by-blow account of what he was doing. My mate thought it was hilarious especially my face as I was sick of listening to him drone on. Also, I am not known for my patience and I really wanted to grab his phone and set up the account for him so that he would shut up. We had a quick stop on the journey, we went to Pirate Bay Lookout and saw the gorgeous coastline.

When we arrived at Port Arthur, we headed straight to our hotel. We were staying at the Port Arthur Motor Inn, which was the cheapest and also one of the closest place to the Port Arthur Historic Site. No hostels here to help our budget. We were too early to check in, but we were able to dump our stuff. Since we were staying at the
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Port Arthur Historic Site
edge of the historic site, we were given a special key so that we could let ourselves in and out of the site, before it was open and after it was closed. This was a nice little perk that we wouldn't have got if we'd stayed in another place. We headed over to the visitor centre and got our lanyards to prove we could be there. I can't remember if we had to pay the entrance fee or if it was included in our trek. We also booked the ghost tour for the evening as it sounded fun. We had wanted to pick up of our stuff for the Three Capes Hike, as there was an information booklet that we were keen to read through. We were excited for this part of the trip and wanted to do some reading up about it in our downtime. Well, the woman at the reception desk didn't seem to understand that we wanted the stuff and refused to give it to us and told us we could get it tomorrow morning. We left there feeling slightly annoyed, but still determined to enjoy the Port Arthur Historic Site.

Port Arthur is a small town and was a former convict settlement site, which has know been turned into an open air museum. The town was named after George Arthur, who was the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen's Land. The penal settlement started life as a small timber station in 1830. As Port Arthur grew in size and importance different industries including shipbuilding shoe making, smithing, timber and brick making were established. In the 1840s the industrial and penal nature of the settlement was consolidated as the convict population had now topped 1,100 people. The flour mill and granary were added to the site in 1842 and a hospital was constructed. The convicts sent to Van Diemen's Land were not bad criminals, they were more likely to be petty crooks, who had stolen livestock or some small thing. Most were poor young people from rural areas or city slums. Roughly, one in five was a woman and children were transported along with their parents.

We had wanted to do a walking tour of the gardens, but the guide changed the meeting point, so us and another couple were left behind. Once we realised what had happened we headed off down towards the jetty. It was cool seeing all the old stone ruins across the way. I was looking forward to exploring those later. Our first stop was the Memorial Garden, which is a very sombre place. The Memorial Garden sits on the site of the former Broad Arrow Café. On the 28th-29th April 1996, Martin Bryant, a native of Hobart, committed the Port Arthur Massacre. He killed 20 people at the café site in around 90 seconds and killed in total 35 people over the two days at the café and other places in Port Arthur. Bryant was sentenced to life imprisonment with no hope of parole. The massacre also lead to a tightening in gun laws, making Australia one of the strictest countries in the world. It was so sad to see the shell of the former café and the garden and pools behind it. I could imagine the café being really vibrant and full of life, with people enjoying their holidays. So sad that so many innocent people lost their lives.

We headed over to Canadian Cottage, which is just next to the Memorial Garden. There weren't many building on this side of the harbour until the late 1840s. A complex
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Port Arthur Historic Site
of buildings were built on this site in order to service the nearby quarry. The original buildings were demolished in 1889. The cottage that stands there now was originally next to the Visiting Magistrate's House and was known as Port Lookout Cottage. It was moved to its present site in around 1900 and was renamed Canadian Cottage, due to its prefab style which was most likely to be imported from Canada. It served as a craft shop and as the shopkeeper' residence for many years. The cottage is not open to the public, so we had to make do with a look around the outside. The cottage next door, Jetty Cottage, was also closed to the public as it is a private residence. Jetty Cottage was built in the 1920s and housed many fishing families. An interesting thing I found out was that there used to be a direct ferry/boat service from Port Arthur to Hobart, but as road conditions improved, there was no need for this service anymore. We continued our walk along this side of the harbour. We came to the Dockyard Slipway, which now contains a sculpture of the shell of a ship, showing the type and
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size of ships that were built there. Around 150 small boats were built there and 16 larger vessels. There was also a plaque which told the life story of Simon Hargreaves, a convict who escaped and continued to make many escape attempts in his time at Port Arthur. It was good to hear that he was a success story of the penal settlement as he changed his ways and settled down and devoted himself to hard work and good behaviour. In 1841, he received his ticket-for-leave and returned to the settlement in 1842, as a free man and as the Overseer of Boat Builder at Puer Point. Behind the dockyard slipway was the Clerk of Works' House, which had been built over the top of the blacksmith's shop in 1848. The house was occupied by a number of officials over the years. There was also another plaque about John Watson, who was the first Master Shipwright at Port Arthur. We also had a quick look at the Master Shipwright's House.

We headed down to the ferry dock to wait for the boat to do the Harbour Cruise that was included in the admission ticket. We were excited, knowing that
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we would be leaving from the same place the next day to start our Three Capes Hike. I wish I was rich and could have afforded to do the other boat tours that the place offers, but they were each over $50, and we had already decided to do the Ghost Tour. Just another reason to come back. The harbour tour was quite good. We headed out from the dock and took a short ride around the Isle of the Dead and to Puer Point. It was also really cool to see the Penitentiary from the water. The Port Arthur Historic Site reminded me a bit of Angel Island, which I had visited about six or seven months earlier. Back on land, we made our way to the Government Garden as the introductory walking tour was about to start. We made sure we were in the right place this time. The walking tour lasted about 40 minutes and took us around a few of the sights and gave us a good outline about Port Arthur. We walked through the Government Gardens first. The gardens were designed by Commandant William Champ as a place for the women and children of the
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settlement to take exercise. It looked very much like a typical English country garden, especially with the church in the background. It was so beautifully manicured that it is hard to believe that the gardens had fallen into disrepair until the late 1990s when action was taken to restore it to its original state.

Our next stop was the Government Cottage, which was just up the hill from the Government Gardens. It had been built to accommodate government officials and other important visitors to the settlement. The reason that so little of the building is left is because it was destroyed in a fire in 1895 and never rebuilt. A little further along was The Church, which is only a shell now. This was also irreparably damaged by fire in 1894, but when it was in use 1,100 people worshipped there. The people were a mixture of free people and the convicts. Interestingly, the church was never consecrated. I enjoyed looking around the church and hoped that we would come back here on the Ghost Tour as I think it would be quite spooky at night. We also passed by the smaller, St David's Church, which is part of
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the local Anglican parish. The church is still used as a place of worship today. I loved just walking around and talking in the views of the settlement. It had a good mix of everything; beautiful views, building ruins, preserved buildings and an interesting history. We continued on the tour past the Accountant's House and the Parsonage. Then we continued along Civil Officer's Row.

After, the tour ended we made our way towards the Separate Prison and Asylum. As we were waking to the buildings a plaque caught my eye. It explained an interesting facet of the prison's history. The Separate Prison was a completely silent place. Convicts were not allowed to speak unless addressed by an official and the guards used a form of sign language to communicate with each other. We went to the Asylum first. It had been built in 1868 to house the mentally ill convicts. It was destroyed in the 1895 bushfire and was later rebuilt as a town hall. It is now a café and a museum. We decided to have a late lunch in the café. We opted for meat pies with tomato sauce, a typical Aussie meal. Then we took a
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Port Arthur Historic Site
look around the museum before making our way to the Separate Prison. The Separate Prison had been built in 1848 and was based on Pentonville Prison in Britain with its central hub and four radiating wings. The cells looked quite nice inside as they were done out to show what it was like for the prisoners. I wouldn't have fancied being a guard though as the building was pretty eerie and I would have hated working there especially at night. Jeremy Bentham was a writer and philosopher, who came up with the Panopticon building, which was designed to control people's minds rather instead of using the lash. He based his idea on that of the prisoners being defective mechanisms that could be corrected by a controlled environment. Panopticon buildings were circular in design with the prisoners' cells occupying the circumference and they were secluded from any communication with each other. In the centre, there were the quarters of the inspectors (guards), who the prisoners would never see, but always feel like they were being watched. It really is very mind fucky. Luckily, the government decided that hard work and the word of the Lord, favoured by John Howard, would be
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Port Arthur Historic Site
a better way to reform prisoners. The other prison cells contained biographies of some the different prisoners that were detained there over the years. It was interesting to read their stories. The church, in the prison, was quite unusual. The pews were all staggered like seats in a theatre or auditorium. They also had dividers between them and were boxed in so that the prisoners could not see one another. I'm not a people person, but the lack of human contact shocked me. It just seemed unnecessarily harsh.

It was nice to be back outside after the harshness of the prison. Our feet took us along a path to the Pauper's Depot. The buildings are just ruins now, but in the past the complex consisted of dormitories for 140 people with access to kitchens, dining, washing and laundry facilities. The dormitory was built in 1863 as there were many men on the island, who had been in the system for many years and as ex-convicts or invalids found it hard to find work and had no family or community to support them. The Pauper's Depot ran until 1874 when it was closed and the men were sent to Hobart.
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Port Arthur Historic Site
Two years later the building returned to it original purpose as Hobart was overcrowded with invalids. However, this didn't last long as the Mess Hall was set aside to be school in 1877, and the 1895 bushfire destroyed the buildings. We walked over to the Hospital next. Port Arthur's first hospital was built in the 1830s and made of wood, and sat just below the site of the hospital we were now visiting. This hospital was completed in 1842 and had separated wards for soldiers and convicts. Normal people didn't go to the hospital and instead were treated in their homes. The most common illnesses treated at the hospital were scurvy, work related injuries and chest infections. After the closure of the penal settlement in 1887, the hospital building was bought by the Catholic Church so that they could turn it into a boys' home. It was gutted by the 1895 bushfire, but the walls were structurally sound, so the church decided to rebuild it, but it was again destroyed by a by a bushfire in 1897.

We walked over to Smith O'Brien's cottage, which was behind the hospital. The cottage was originally built as a stable but was converted by one of Port Arthur's most famous political prisoners, William Smith O'Brien. He was a member of the British Parliament and leader of the Young Ireland Movement. He led an unsuccessful rebellion near Kilkenny and after originally being sentenced to death, he was given a reprieve and was sent off to Van Diemen's Land along with six other Young Irelanders. O'Brien was first sent to Maria Island and then sent to Port Arthur in 1850. During the 1950-70s, the cottage was used as a youth hostel as rooms had been added. However, in the mid 1980s, the restoration work began to turn it back into a convict period cottage. We then took a walk across the field and came across a plaque that told us what had previously been on the land. It was a set of military barracks. There had been three military barracks at Port Arthur. The first was a simple timber building that accommodated 15 men and one sergeant but as the number of convicted men being transported here and the number of soldiers stationed there grew, so did the need for bigger barracks. By 1840, a new stone barracks was built further up the hill
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and the old one was demolished and the land was used to play skittles on. By 1844 3 officers commanded over 249 men and even larger barracks were needed. The new barracks were deemed too ornamental. By 1853, the number of soldiers and convicts began to decline. The garrison was sent to New Zealand in 1863 and the barracks were used as storerooms and the associated buildings were demolished. After Port Arthur closed, the barracks were sold and demolished, much of the brick and stone was recycled to make houses in Hobart. It's nice to know that the materials are used elsewhere. I wonder what stories they carry with them. There was also a free school in the vicinity for the children of the officials and military. The name did not mean that the school was free, children, or rather their parents, had to pay for it. The name meant it was a school for the free (people). Educated convicts were initially used to teach the children, but that didn't work out, I wonder why? So a married free couple were employed; the husband taught the children and the male prisoners in the evening, while the woman taught the female
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children. Later, the building was used as a home for the sergeant or senior constable.

The Officer's Quarters was our next port of call. Some married officers were accompanied by their families when they moved to Port Arthur. Therefore they couldn't live in the barracks and these little cottages were built. At first, military families lived in them, but later, civil officers and overseers occupied them, too. From the cottages, we headed through the Guard Tower. It kind of looked a bit out of place. It looked rather grand and medieval, like it belong on a castle, not in front of a couple of cottages. The Guard Tower was, of course, used for surveillance as it had great views across the harbour, and over the convict work and accommodation areas. We also happened across the Semaphore Signal Station. The semaphore network had been established across the Tasman Peninsula to communicate rapidly with Hobart Town, Eaglehawk Neck and the Coal Mine settlement. The semaphore stations were built on high ground around the Peninsula and the masts could be as high as 25 metres and were often built on top of tree trunks. Bear the semaphore signal stations, there were small
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huts, which housed the semaphore operator. The operator was usually a well behaved convict. The system was needed to maintain security and order at Port Arthur and an experienced crew could send a message to Hobart in as little as 15 minutes. It is crazy to think how far technology as come as now we can send a message instantly, but 15 minutes was quick for back in those times.

We took the path towards the Commandant's House. The house is open to the public and done out how it would have been back in the day. I enjoyed our walk around the house. The house is one of the oldest in the settlement and set on a hill away from the other buildings. The house was originally a four roomed timber cottage, but evolved along with its gardens to meet the needs of the families that lived there and the social status of the five commandants that lived there. The house became the Carnarvon Hotel in 1885, quite a few years after the penal settlement closed. Later, it was a boarding house and then a private residence before being restored in the 1980s. From the Commandant's House, we decided to take a walk back to our hotel. We checked into our room, which was pretty nice. I think it was the fanciest place we stayed on our trip, which probably doesn't say much for us. The hotel had a bar and restaurant, so we headed over there for some dinner. There was a good choice of food an wine on the menu. I can't remember what I had now, so it probably wasn't amazing, but decent enough to fill me up. I felt sorry for the young waitress as she had only been doing the job for a few weeks and was rushed off her feet. She was really sweet.

After dinner, we headed back into the historic site. We passed the Church, which was now free of people and the Accountant's House. The house was originally built to house the Junior Medical Officer in 1843. Then it was occupied by the officer in charge of the Commissariat stores who was known as the Accountant. It was a school and was saved by the 1895 bushfires by Mr. A. Blackwood. I really liked walking around the historic site as dusk was setting in. The crowds of people had gone and it felt really peaceful and a little spooky. It was really setting the atmosphere for the Ghost Tour. We headed down to the harbour and had a quick look at the Penitentiary, before heading up the visitor centre to meet the guide and the rest of the group. Well, it seemed that the woman at the reception desk had finally understood why we wanted our Three Capes booklets early. No apology, but we were able to get to the books to do some bedtime reading. We met up with the guide and the other people on the tour. I instantly took to the guide, he had a great personality and a flair for the dramatic, perfect for giving ghost tours. We went to a few different sites on the tour and the guide told us some stories in each location. The church looked pretty eerie, as the turret was lit from within with a red light. The prison was spooky and we went to one of the houses on Civil Officer's Row. We went down into the basement at the back of the house. I can't remember what happened in the room, but it felt very spooky as we all crowded around the table in the middle and the guide turned off the lantern. I was really hoping that we would experience something, but it was not to be. Anyway, the tour was a lot of fun and worth the money.

4th Feb: We were up early as we wanted to see all the sights we hadn't seen the day before, before we got the boat to start our Three Capes trek. The hotel provided breakfast, so we headed over to the dining room. The breakfast selection was pretty lacklustre, I definitely think they could have added some better options as it was so basic. We headed back to the historic site to take a look around before it got busy. We made our way down to the workshops, which had been adjacent to the penitentiary. Port Arthur had been established due to the easy access to timber. Saw pits and timber yards had been built on the foreshore n 1831 and followed by a series of workshops. The workshops contained all kinds of enterprises including carpenters' shops, coopers' workshops, a blacksmiths' shop, a tailors' shop, and a bootmakers'. I tried to imagine this now derelict and barren site being the hive of activity it was. The buildings were demolished in the late 1880s. Next, we headed over to the Penitentiary. This building kind of dominates the landscape in front of the harbour, and we had seen it many times and photographed it a lot, too, but we hadn't had the chance to explore it until now. In 1845, the building was constructed to serve as a flour mill and granary. The land it is built on is reclaimed land. The building was converted into accommodation for convicts after the mill and granary failed. The conversion took three years, staring in 1854 and finishing in 1857. The clock tower and a two storey wing containing the bakehouse, kitchen, laundry and storerooms were also added in 1857. There were 136 separate cells on the bottom two floors, which were reserved for the prisoners with 'bad character and heavy sentence', and the top floor was a dormitory for 348 men, who were of better character. The penitentiary also contained a dining room, which doubled as a schoolroom, a library and a Catholic chapel. I enjoyed angering around the penitentiary and trying to imagine how the different parts of it would have looked in the past. I think I would have preferred to be locked up there rather than in the Separate Prison. I loved photographing the windows empty windows, which had a gorgeous deep blue sky behind them.

We had a quick look around the laws courts. The building originally housed a court room and administrative offices, before being extended in the 1850s to a civil officer's library and a post office. The building was gutted by fire in 1897 and then was refurbished as the Hotel Arthur, before being destroyed by another fire two years later. We headed over to the Police Station, which we had skipped the day before. The building was built in 1936. The building is now a gift shop and we took a look around it. The staff there were really lovely. Outside, we headed over to the single cell in the garden. I think it looked a bit like the Tardis. Our walk took us to Trentham next. This building was also open to the public and was done out to show what it was like in the past. The house was built in post convict Carnarvon style and at the back of the house there was an orchard, which has been replanted with what was originally grown there. We headed back to Civil Officer's Row, so we could get a better look at the buildings in daytime and read about them. I loved that there was so much information about. We came to the Visiting Magistrate and Surgeon's house. The cottage was built for the Visiting Magistrate in 1847. He assisted the Commandant with disciplinary matters. Several senior officials lived here as staff moved around the Tasman Peninsula. One such official that lived there was the Senior Medical Officer. He was responsible for the overall management of the hospital and performed surgical procedures, operated an outpatient clinic and visited sick families in their homes. He also had to inspect the prisoners hen they first arrived on the island and this took up a lot of time. When the penal settlement was closed, the house was leased and run as a private hotel. The next house was the Roman Catholic Chaplain's house, which had been built especially for the first Roman Catholic priest at Port Arthur in 1844. The year before Roman Catholic prisoners had refused to continue to attend Protestant sermons. Father William Bond was then appointed to the settlement. The house was rather small with only four rooms. The houses were beautiful and loved the colour of the paintwork.

We headed back in the direction of the Accountant's House because we wanted tot take a closer look at the Parsonage next door to it. The Parsonage was built in 1842-3 and was occupied by Reverend Durham and his family for ten years. The next family to occupy the house was Reverend Eastman with his wife and ten children. Reverend Eastman died in the house and was buried on the Isle of the Dead. We had been here the previous night for the Ghost Tour, as the house gained a reputation for being haunted in the 1870s, when Reverend Hayward and his family moved in. They reported several paranormal events including ghostly apparitions. After the damage caused by the 1895 bushfires, the Parsonage was rebuilt as a Post Office. I liked looking around the old post office and seeing all the things from yesteryear on display. I did like the returned brick wrapped in a note. The brick was returned by a woman, whose husband had stolen it in the 1980s as he wanted a bit of memorabilia to take home and a convict brick was perfect. She'd always felt guilty for her husband's actions and returned it once he died. The last place, we wanted to visit was St. David's Church. I liked the church, it was small and cute, and I could imagine it feeling very homely when a service is taking place. We had seen as much as we could at Port Arthur. I would definitely like to return, but now it was time to move one. We headed back to the hotel to pick up our bags and then took them to the visitor centre as there was a place we could leave them for the duration of our trek. Then we headed down to the ferry dock to wait for our boat.


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