Because why not visit a former prison and ghost-ridden cottages?
The Port Arthur Historical Site is one of the oldest convict sites in Australia. It became the main penitentiary site for repeat convict offenders. The guides really stress that part: repeat offenders. Over the years it’s become well known that some convicts were shipped off for “stealing a loaf of bread” but our guides assure us that, while that might be true, it’s because he continually stole bread or other objects. In fact, with the industrial revolution happening, many people thought it would be a better deal to get sent off to one of the settlements, hopefully the Caribbean or the like. Somewhere nice and tropical. I feel a little sorry for those people who ended up in Tasmania instead… just like England, it’s drizzly and wet, but you still have to deal with our wildlife! Like the Tasmanian Devils….
The penitentiary was surprisingly one of the better choices you had as a convict. They believed in rehabilitating people, and treating those with madness with care and gentle living. It really shows the human nature throughout the years when, upon the closure of the penitentiary, something like half the people in the asylum were miraculously cured of their illness. I’d choose pretending to be mad over having to build my own prison as well!
Located in Port Arthur, the historic site is about an hour and a half drive from Hobart. Well… that’s if you don’t stop along the way! There’s a few nice spots to check out the Tasman Arch and the Tessellated Pavement but it goes a little out of the way. The only way to reach the site is to go across the neck, a long piece of land only a few metres in width, and it used to have a long line of guard dogs tied up to discourage escapes! I think it was eventually changed to a line of soldiers; a story tells us of one man who tried to escape by pretending to be a kangaroo. He used a kangaroo skin to try and hop past the guards. The problem was, “he was so convincing one soldier decided he fancied some kangaroo for dinner and turned his gun on the convict, who immediately put his arms up in defeat and said, ‘don’t shoot!’”
It was a miserable rainy morning when we set out but since Port Arthur is a popular site for visitors, we figured we would visit again so the rain wouldn’t bother us. However, we were quite lucky with the weather. While the day only reached around ten degrees, the sun came out! Tasmania has some wild weather patterns; it can snow, rain, be blustery and be sunny all in the one day. Today, it drizzled miserably until about midday, when we ‘reached our destination’ (I hope you read that in a GPS voice!). The sun felt incredible after being rained on. If anything, the rain was a blessing in disguise. There were very few people out and we just meandered around, checking out the cells with a tour guide, wandering around the grounds and the cottages, and basically just appreciating the site.
We took a cruise around the bay and watched a seal showing off with a fish he caught, teasing all the birds that were around. A tour guide showed us around the main prison block and told us about the haunted houses (that I subsequently refused to enter, despite all the cheery flowers and the pretty pain). It is really interesting seeing the cells. While Port Arthur took care of it’s “mad” inmates, they also had a cell block where they would use psychological torture. It was completely silent, and if the guards did address you, it was by convict number or cell number. Solitary confinement, zero noise, zero contact with anyone but perhaps the guard now and then… no wonder it was so close to the asylum.
Port Arthur is a beautiful place to visit. I would suggest taking a picnic and sitting on the edge of the bay to watch the birds, and definitely make sure your camera is charged! Despite the efforts of erase the penitentiary, which includes natural fire, the auctioning off of land, and the invitation to take the bricks to build your own home, it is still one of the most intact sites in Australia.
*~To learn more about Port Arthur, you can visit www.discovertasmania.com.au!~*