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Port Arthur
Tasmania
PortArthurPenitentiary.jpg
The iconic view of the penitentiary originally built as a flour mill, across the water.
Port Arthur is located in Tasmania
Port Arthur
Population: 499 [1]
Established: 1830
Postcode: 7182
Coordinates: 43°09′S 147°51′E / 43.15°S 147.85°E / -43.15; 147.85Coordinates: 43°09′S 147°51′E / 43.15°S 147.85°E / -43.15; 147.85
Elevation: 192 m (630 ft) [2]
Location:
LGA: Tasman Council
State District: Lyons
Federal Division: Lyons
Mean Max Temp Mean Min Temp Annual Rainfall
14.8 °C
59 °F
8.2 °C
47 °F
1,148.8 mm
45.2 in
Location of Port Arthur.

Port Arthur is a small town and former convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, in Tasmania, Australia. Port Arthur is one of Australia's most significant heritage areas and the open air museum is officially Tasmania's top tourist attraction. It is located approximately 60 km south east of the state capital, Hobart. In 1996 it was the scene of the worst mass murder event in post-colonial Australian history.

Contents

Location

Port Arthur is located approximately 60 km south east of the state capital, Hobart, on the Tasman Peninsula. The scenic drive from Hobart, via the Tasman Highway to Sorell and the Arthur Highway to Port Arthur, takes around 90 minutes and covers approximately 96 km. Transport from Hobart to the site is also available via bus or ferry, and various companies offer day tours from Hobart.

At the 2006 census, Port Arthur and the surrounding area had a population of 499.[1]

History

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Australia's largest penal station

Port Arthur Prison Colony site

Port Arthur was named after Van Diemen's Land lieutenant governor George Arthur. The settlement started as a timber station in 1830, but it is best known for being a penal colony.

From 1833, until the 1850s, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British and Irish criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. Rebellious personalities from other convict stations were also sent here, a quite undesirable punishment. In addition Port Arthur had some of the strictest security measures of the British penal system.

One example is the "Separate Prison" system based on Pentonville prison in London. The Separate Prison (sometimes known as The Model Prison) was completed in 1853 and extended in 1855. The 80 cell prison was built in the shape of a cross with radial exercise yards around a central hall and chapel.[3] It signalled a shift from physical punishment to psychological punishment. It was thought that the hard corporal punishment, such as whippings, used in other penal stations only served to harden criminals, and did nothing to turn them from their immoral ways. Under this system of punishment the "Silent System" was implemented in the building. Here prisoners were hooded and made to stay silent, this was supposed to allow time for the prisoner to reflect upon the actions which had brought him there. In many ways Port Arthur was the pin-up for many of the penal reform movement, despite shipping, housing and slave-labour use of convicts being as harsh, or worse, than others stations around the nation.

Inside the separate prison, Port Arthur, Tasmania

The peninsula on which Port Arthur is located is a naturally secure site by being surrounded by water (rumoured by the administration to be shark-infested). The 30m wide isthmus of Eaglehawk Neck that was the only connection to the mainland was fenced and guarded by soldiers and half-starved dogs.

Contact between visiting seamen and prisoners was barred. Ships had to check in their sails and oars upon landing to prevent any escapes. However, many attempts were made, and some were successful. Boats were seized and rowed or sailed long distances to freedom.

In 1836, a tramway was established between Taranna and a jetty in Long Bay, north of Port Arthur. The sole propulsion was convicts[4]

A postcard depicting a convict team ploughing a farm at Port Arthur, dated 1926

Port Arthur was sold as an inescapable prison, much like the later Alcatraz Island in the United States. Some prisoners were not discouraged by this, and tried to escape. Martin Cash successfully escaped along with two others. One of the most infamous incidents, simply for its bizarreness, was the escape attempt of one George "Billy" Hunt. Hunt disguised himself using a kangaroo hide and tried to flee across the Neck, but the half-starved guards on duty tried to shoot him to supplement their meager rations. When he noticed them sighting him up, Hunt threw off his disguise and surrendered, receiving 150 lashes.

Port Arthur was also the destination for juvenile convicts, receiving many boys, some as young as nine arrested for stealing toys. The boys were separated from the main convict population and kept on Point Puer, the British Empire's first boys' prison. Like the adults, the boys were used in hard labour such as stone cutting and construction. One of the buildings constructed was one of Australia's first non-denominational churches, built in a gothic style. Attendance of the weekly Sunday service was compulsory for the prison population. Critics of the new system noted that this and other measures seemed to have negligible impact on reformation.

Convict-built church at Port Arthur

Despite its reputation as a pioneering institution for the new, enlightened view of imprisonment, Port Arthur was still in reality as harsh and brutal as other penal settlements. Some critics might even suggest that its use of psychological punishment, compounded with no hope of escape, made it one of the worst. Some tales suggest that prisoners committed murder (an offence punishable by death) just to escape the desolation of life at the camp. The Island of the Dead was the destination for all who died inside the prison camps. Of the 1646 graves recorded to exist there, only 180, those of prison staff and military personnel, are marked. The prison closed in 1877.

Today Port Arthur is home to many reputed cases of haunting and ghosts – particularly of convict origin. These include cases of cells with ghostly screams and empty rocking chairs that move.

From hellhole to haven: tourism development

After the closure of the penal colony the site was renamed to "Carnavon". During the 1880s the land in and around the site was sold off to the public and a community was established. Devastating fires tore through the area in 1895 and 1897 gutting the old prison buildings, leading to the establishment of the new town, with post office and other facilities.

Panorama of the Port Arthur site

Tourism started up almost as soon as the last convicts had left, supplying the new residents with a source of income, part of it undoubtedly due to its unsavoury past, and the ghost stories that accompany it. In 1927 tourism had grown to the point where the area's name was reverted to Port Arthur. 1916 saw the establishment of the Scenery Preservation Board (SPB) which took the management of Port Arthur out of the hands of the locals. By the 1970s the National Parks and Wildlife Service began managing the site.

Port Arthur as a busy port in the 1870s
Port Arthur, Tasmania

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.

Gravestones on the Isle of the Dead

The mass graves on The Isle of the Dead also attract visitors. The air about the small bush-covered island is 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.

After entering the Historic Site, visitors can either survey the site for themselves, or participate in guided tours of the Site, a harbour cruise, tours to the Isle of the Dead and Point Puer and evening Historic Ghost Tours. There is also a museum, containing written records, tools, clothing and other curiosities from convict times, a Convict Gallery with displays of the various trades and work undertaken by convicts, and a research room where visitors can check up on any convict ancestors. Visitor facilities include two cafes, a bistro that operates each evening, gift shop, and other facilities.

Since 1987, the site has been managed by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority,[5] with conservation works funded by the Tasmanian Government and the admission fees paid by visitors.

Island of the Dead

Massacre

On 28 April 1996, Martin Bryant went on a killing spree at Port Arthur, murdering 35 people and wounding 21 more before being captured by Special Operatives Police. This led to a national ban on semi-automatic shotguns and rifles. However, there was never a trial or coronial inquest. A positive from the event was that it forged a relationship between the town and Dunblane, a Scottish town which suffered a similar incident earlier that year.

References

  1. ^ a b Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Port Arthur (State Suburb)". 2006 Census QuickStats. http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/ABSNavigation/prenav/LocationSearch?collection=Census&period=2006&areacode=SSC65951&producttype=QuickStats&breadcrumb=PL&action=401. Retrieved 2007-11-11. 
  2. ^ Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
  3. ^ The "Separate" or "Model" Prison, Port Arthur – Ian Brand ISBN 0-949457-33-7
  4. ^ "The Convict Tramway at Port Arthur" Eardley, Gifford Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, April, 1954 pp3740.
  5. ^ Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, Port Arthur Historic Site

Further reading

  • Barrington R (n.d.) Convicts and Bushrangers, View Productions, Sydney
  • Kneale, Matthew, (2000) English passengers London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0241140684
  • Smith R (1987) The Birth of a Nation: Australia's Historic Heritage — from Discovery to Nationhood, Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, ISBN 0-670-90018-4

External links

See also


Simple English

Port Arthur
Tasmania
File:Port Arthur
Port Arthur
Population: 499 [1]
Established: 1830
Postcode: 7182
Elevation: 192 m (630 ft) [2]
Location:
  • 95 km (59 mi) SE of Hobart
  • 19 km (12 mi) S of Eaglehawk Neck
LGA: Tasman Council
State District: Lyons
Federal Division: Lyons
Mean Max Temp Mean Min Temp Rainfall
14.8 °C
59 °F
8.2 °C
47 °F
1,148.8 mm
45.2 in

Port Arthur is a small town on the Tasman Peninsula, in Tasmania, Australia. It is about 80 km south east of the state capital, Hobart. It was settled as a penal colony (a very large prison for convicts). Port Arthur is now one of Australia's most important historic areas. It is officially Tasmania's top tourist attraction. In 1996 the worst mass murder in Australian history took place here.

At the 2006 Census, Port Arthur and the local area had a population of 499.[1]

Contents

History

Australia's largest penal colony

Port Arthur was named after Van Diemen's Land lieutenant governor George Arthur. It started as a place to cut down timber from the forests in 1830. It is best known for being a penal colony. From 1833, until the 1853, criminals from United Kingdom and Ireland were sent to Port Arthur as convicts. The prisoners were kept busy ship with jobs including building the prison, shoemaking, smithing, timber and brick making[3]. In the 1840's there were more than 1100 prisoners[3]. In 1842 the prisoners built a hospital and a big flour mill and grain store. At the time it was built, it was the biggest building in Australia.[4] This was later turned into a cell block. After 1853 convicts from other prisons in Australia were sent to Port Arthur if they did more crimes, or would not behave properly.

In 1864 they started building the Asylum to hold the prisoners who had become insane. During the 1860's and 1870's the prisoners left at the prison were either too old, too sick, or insane to keep working. The prison closed in 1877[3].

The Separate Prison

Port Arthur has the best example of a "Separate Prison" system. This system was started at Pentonville prison in London. The Separate Prison (sometimes called the Model Prison) was started in 1848, finished in 1853 and made bigger in 1855[3]. It has 80 prison cells built in the shape of a cross. In the centre is a hall and a chapel. There are exercise yards built between the arms of the cross.[5] The Separate system was a change in the way that prisoners were treated. Instead of physical punishment the system used psychological (mind) punishment. It was thought that physical punishment, such as whippings, only made prisoners worse. It did not turn bad people into good people. In the Separate prison they used the "Silent System". Prisoners wore a hood over their heads. They were not allowed to talk or make any noise. The guards wore special shoes and walked on mats so they wouldn't make any noise[6]. Even in the chapel, each prisoner was kept in a separate wooden box where they could only see the altar. The prisoners were supposed to use the quiet time to think about the bad things they had done. Port Arthur was seen as the best prison in Australia.

An Inescapable Prison

Port Arthur was a natural prison. It is on the Tasman Peninsula which is almost completely surrounded by the sea. It is joined to the rest of Tasmania by a small narrow piece of land about 30 metres wide. This is called Eaglehawk Neck. The Neck had a fence, prison guards, and savage dogs to stop prisoners from leaving. There was no contact between visiting seamen and prisoners. Ships had to give the guards their sails and oars when they arrived to stop people leaving without permission. A semaphore message system was also set up between Port Arthur and Hobart. Messages could be sent in just 15 minutes[7].


Escape from Port Arthur was said to be impossible, like Alcatraz Island in the United States. Some prisoners did try to escape. One prisoner, George "Billy" Hunt, covered himself with a kangaroo skin and tried to get across the Neck. The hungry guards on duty tried to shoot him to make an extra meal. When he saw them pointing their guns, Hunt gave himself up. He was whipped 150 times. Bushranger Martin Cash successfully escaped along with two others.

The Boys' Prison

The British Empire's first boys' prison was built on Point Puer, 3 kms across Opossum Bay from Port Arthur. Puer is the Latin word for boy. It was for young boys, some as young as 9, like James Lynch, arrested for stealing toys [8]. The boys were kept away from the main convict area. About 3,500 boys were sent to Point Puer. Like the adults, the boys were given hard work such as stone cutting and building. There was also a school run by 2 ex-convicts. [8]. One prisoner was James Gavagan. When he was 11 he stole some umbrellas. He was sent to Tasmania for 7 years. He arrived at Point Puer in 1835. When he turned 17, he was sent to the main prison at Port Arthur. He was released in March 1842.[8]. There is only a few stones left to mark the site of the boys' prison. | Point Puer Excavation

The Church

The convicts built one of Australia's first non-denominational churches, built in a gothic style. All prisoners had to go to the church every Sunday. People who did not like the new prison system said that this did not seem to make the prisoners into good people.

Isle of the Dead

Port Arthur was seen as a much better prison, and would make the convicts better people. But life at Port Arthur was just as hard and brutal as other penal colonies. Some critics might even say that its use of psychological punishment, together with no hope of escape, made it one of the worst. Some stories say that prisoners would murder others to escape the prison. Murder would be punished by death. Isle of the Dead is a small island in the bay near Port Arthur. Everyone who died at the penal colony was buried on the island. There are 1646 graves on the island, but only 180, mainly those of prison staff, have a headstone.

Convict Railway

The first railway in Australia was a human powered railway at Port Arthur[9]. The railway was built in 1836. The line ran from the beach at Taranna, Tasmania for 7 kms to Port Arthur. It carried both people and supplies. It meant that ships from Hobart could unload in the calm water and not have to travel right around Cape Raoul to Port Arthur through rough seas. The carriage was pushed along the tracks by 4 convicts. Very little sign of the railway has survived [10]. The State Library of Victoria has a drawing of the convict railway. [1]

Convicts to Tourists

When the penal colony closed in 1877 the area was renamed "Carnavon". During the 1880s the was sold and a small town was started. Many buildings were pulled down and the bricks sent to make new buildings in Hobart. Fires burned the area in 1895 and 1897 and ruined many of the old prison buildings[11]. Some buildings were changed for the new town to make a post office and town hall.

Tourism started as soon as the prison closed. This brought money into the new town. Some of the old convicts gave guided tours of the prison. In 1927 tourism had grown so much the area's name was changed back to Port Arthur [11]. 1916 saw the start of the Scenery Preservation Board (SPB) which looked after the Port Arthur site. By the 1970s the National Parks and Wildlife Service took over the site.

In 1979 the government gave money to protect the site as a tourist area, because of its historical importance. The post office and town hall of Port Arthur were moved to nearby Nubeena. Several grand sandstone buildings, built by convicts were cleaned up. These buildings include the Separate Prison, the Round Tower, the church, and the remains of the main prison building. The buildings are surrounded by green grass.

The mass graves on The Island of the Dead also attract visitors. The air about the small bush-covered island is described as being sad and peaceful by visitors.

Tourists can either walk around the area themselves, or go on a guided tours. There are also late night "ghost tours". There is a museum, with written records, tools, clothing and other interesting things from convict times.

Since 1987 the site has been managed by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, paid for by the Tasmanian Government.

Massacre

On 28 April 1996, Martin Bryant killed 35 people and hurt 37 others at Port Arthur[6]. He was captured by the police. This is now called the Port Arthur massacre. This led to a national ban on semi-automatic shotguns and rifles. It also made a link between the Port Arthur and Dunblane, a Scottish town which also had a shooting that year.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (25 October 2007). "Port Arthur (State Suburb)". 2006 Census QuickStats. http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/ABSNavigation/prenav/LocationSearch?collection=Census&period=2006&areacode=SSC65951&producttype=QuickStats&breadcrumb=PL&action=401. Retrieved 2007-11-11. 
  2. Bureau of Meteorology. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "History - Convict Life". Port Arthur Historic Site. http://www.portarthur.org.au/pashow.php?ACTION=Public&menu_code=400.100. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  4. Lane, Jacqui; II O'Flahertie, Susan, III Elder, Bruce, IV Thoerning, Peter (2001). The Great Australia Gazeteer. Edgecliff NSW: Focus Publishing. ISBN 187535980X. 
  5. The "Separate" or "Model" Prison , Port Arthur - Ian Brand ISBN 0-949457-33-7
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Inescapable Always". The Age Travel. http://www.theage.com.au/news/tasmania/inescapable-always/2006/04/21/1145344225560.html?page=2. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  7. "Semaphore". Queensland Telecommunications Museum. http://www.telemuseum.org/Semaphore.html. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Crime and Punishment: Convicts and Port Arthur". National Centre for History Education. http://hyperhistory.org/index.php?option=displaypage&Itemid=569&op=page. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  9. "Taranna, Tasmania". Sydney Morning Herald Travel. http://www.smh.com.au/news/Tasmania/Taranna/2005/02/17/1108500205988.html. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  10. "Redefinition survey of a convict railway near Port Arthur, Tasmania". Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=2185877. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Inescapable always" (The Age Travel). http://www.theage.com.au/news/tasmania/inescapable-always/2006/04/21/1145344225560.html?page=3. Retrieved 2008-08-13. 

Further reading

  • Barrington R (n.d.) Convicts and Bushrangers, View Productions, Sydney
  • Kneale, Matthew, (2000) English passengers London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN 0241140684
  • Smith R (1987) The Birth of a Nation: Australia's Historic Heritage — from Discovery to Nationhood, Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, ISBN 0-670-90018-4

Other websites

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Coordinates: 43°09′S 147°51′E


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