Port Arthur

Port Arthur chapel

Port Arthur Chapel with individual cells

Port Arthur street

Port Arthur street looking towards the Church

Port Arthur is located about 60 k (37 mi) south east of  Hobart on the Tasman Peninsula.  Port Arthur itself is a small town of about 500 inhabitants and has as its attraction, the former convict settlement of the same name. This ex convict site is one of the best tourist attractions in Australia, with one of the most notorious past convict regimes.

The penal colony was named after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land.  The settlement started on this fertile peninsula, as a timber station in 1830, but soon developed into its present status.  Because of its secure location, with the sea on its flanks, and the only entry to the peninsula was through a very narrow strip of land it soon became the home of some of the worst criminals. Prisoners from other prisons were also sent here if they didn’t follow the instructions of their guards.   The prison grew between 1833 and 1855 as did its reputation for severity.

The plan of the prison was in the shape of a cross, with exercise yards, chapel and hospital.  The layout allowed supervision of all areas.  To begin with corporal punishment was common, however, as time went on, the prison developed a psychological rewards and punishment system using food and solitary confinement and hoods.  In the Chapel, prisoners would not be able to see other prisoners and isolation techniques were used.  The isolation techniques were administered in a separate prison where light and sound were excluded.  The idea was for them to have time to reflect on their wrong doings, although the unintended consequence was mental health issues.  The prison thought of everything and put the Asylum in the adjacent building.

A visit to the prison ruins and other accommodation areas is always a haunting experience, but just to add to this effect, Port Arthur runs evening ghost tours of some of the most reputedly haunted areas.  I personally had access to the prison for an ‘over nighter’ with a film crew and researchers, a not to be missed and not to be repeated experience!  Port Arthur is one very unsettling place, with its stories and general atmosphere.

The video below will give you some idea of the visit.