The Sal's Tassie Adventure

Day 11 – Tuesday, 7th October  2003

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Every person who comes to Tasmania must see Port Arthur. [Map] It was convict settlement where convicts who re-offended or did not follow the rules in other parts of the colonies, were sent. Here a man could either accept the system, do as they are told, work hard and eventually be set free. Or life could be very difficult indeed. Punishments included floggings, being kept in irons, loss of privileges, longer sentences, extreme hard labour, kept in solitary in the Separate Prison. 

The Separate Prison was a facility where the most difficult prisoners were sent and it was set up to replace floggings. Here a prisoner would never hear their name uttered. A place of total silence, the guards communicated by hand signals and every one walked in felt slippers. When a prisoner was taken out of his cell for exercise, for the one hour a day, he had to wear a hood with slits for the eyes and never see other prisoners. So you virtually didn’t exist, even in the chapel you were segregated from the others, standing in your own cubicle. [Photo

But Port Arthur was mainly a place for prisoners to reform and if you behaved yourself you were given more privileges and you could learn new skills. The library in fact held 13000 books. The more trust one built the higher up one went in this society, and eventually freed. 

Religion played a big part in a convict’s rehabilitation so the church was one of the first buildings erected, it burnt down in 1884. [Photo1, Photo2, Photo3, Photo4, Info] The penitentiary originally was a flourmill but they soon discovered that wheat couldn’t be successfully grown in this climate. The cells were very small

The Port Arthur site is one of great beauty. The ruins of the penitentiary, the garrison, the church and other ruins act to highlight the natural beauty of the surrounding forest, and the harbour. The gardens are expertly maintained. [Photo1, Photo2] It is difficult to fully describe the scene but you can feel the history flowing around you. [Photo1, Photo2

Port Arthur is also infamous for being the site of Australia’s worst mass murder when on 28th April 1996 a deranged lone gunman killed 35 people and wounded dozens of others. 20 were killed in the Broad Arrow Café, which now has been stripped of everything except the walls. The remnants are part of a permanent memorial to all those affected on that tragic day. A Pool of Reflection and extensive landscaping complete the memorial. [Photo1, Photo2

The Commandants house, started out as a four-room house and ended up with 22 rooms over the life of the settlement, and has been extensively refurbished. [Photo1, Photo2] The Lunatic Asylum has been turned into a museum and café and several of the original houses used by the free people are open for inspection. 

The entry fee included a guided tour of the site with an excellent talk given and a ferry trip around the Isle Of The Dead. While on the ferry we had the opportunity to tour the island, at extra cost, with a guide who entertained us with stories about the people buried there. Only free people or convicts, who had someone pay for one, had headstones and generally in the middle of the island on the higher land. The other convicts were buried in mass graves in the lower land, so even in death the segregation continued. [Photo1, Photo2, Photo3, Photo4

We had lunch and then spent the afternoon exploring the site. It was a great trip down memory lane for Darani who was last here 20 years ago. All in all we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and were very impressed by the very high standard maintained by the Port Arthur Authority. We left tired but satisfied and stopped at Macca’s at Sorrell for a refreshing cuppa, ice cream and rest. Back home for dinner and getting ready for Queenstown tomorrow.

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