Travel & Places Other - Destinations

Port Arthur - Iconic Penal Colony Landmark - eerie and tranquil

Port Arthur was named after Sir George Arthur (1784-1854) who was Governor of Van Diemen's Land from 1830 to 1887. The earlier name for the area was Carnavon which was the name "re-given" to the township in 1877 but that only lasted for a short while before reverting to Port Arthur in 1927.

All in all, 12,500 convicts passed through the gates in its time as a penal settlement. The penal settlement was originally set up as a timber sawing station in 1830 where the "most difficult" prisoners were sent.

In 1842 a huge flour mill and granary (later the penitentiary) was begun, as well as the construction of a hospital. 1848 saw the first stone laid for the Separate Prison, the completion of which brought about a shift in punishment philosophy from physical to mental subjugation.

The lash was outlawed as a form of prisoner punishment in 1848.

With the settlement's closure also came the first tourists, keen to see first-hand the 'horrors' of a penal station. Guiding, the sale of souvenirs and the provision of accommodation provided the experience that the crowds wanted, whilst creating a financial base for the fledgling community, as the tourists opened up an outlet for selling their local produce.

The original jetty was extended to accommodate the rapidly increasing numbers of tourists. By the 1920s and 1930s, the Port Arthur area had three hotels and two museums, not to mention guides, catering to tourism.

In 1979 funding was received to preserve the site as a tourist destination, due to its historical significance. The "working" elements of the Port Arthur community such as the post office and municipal offices were moved to nearby Nubeena.

Several magnificent sandstone structures, built by convicts working under hard labour conditions, were cleaned of ivy overgrowth and restored to a condition similar to their appearance in the 19th century.

Buildings include the "Model Prison", the Guard Tower, the Church, and the remnants of the main penitentiary. The buildings are surrounded by lush green parkland.

The mass graves on nearby The Isle of the Dead also attract visitors. The air about the small bush-covered island is variously described as possessing "melancholic" and "tranquil" qualities by visitors.

Point Puer, across the harbour from the main settlement, was the site of the first boys' reformatory in the British Empire. Boys sent there were given some basic education, and taught trade skills.

In 1996 Port Arthur was the scene of the worst mass murder event in post-colonial Australian history when a gunman went on a killing spree, murdering 35 people and wounding 21 more before being captured by Special Operatives Police.

This led to an Australia wide national ban on semi-automatic shotguns and rifles.

Whether you perceive Port Arthur as "melancholic" or "tranquil", Port Arthur is definitely a must see icon for visitors to our wonderful Island State.

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