I checked out of my motel and drove to Port Arthur, about 20 minutes down the road. Port Arthur is an old convict settlement where you can tour the buildings that are still around, the grounds, and hear stories. It was crowded for the regular admission, but for an extra $30, I could go on a VIP tour. My time was limited, and I wanted to hear stories, so I paid the additional $30.
The first part of the tour for our small group of four was to join the crowds on the boat. In the group, there was a couple from Brisbane and a woman from the Gold Coast. The boat drove around the harbor while giving some historical information of when the convicts arrived.
Port Arthur was a convict settlement from 1833 until 1853 when the prison was completed. Then it operated as a prison until 1877. The colony had some of the harshest rules because this is where they sent dangerous offenders and second offenders (convicts sent to Australia who committed a crime in Australia). Port Arthur still had more than ten buildings intact, which was interesting to see. Some were damaged heavily, while others were in astonishingly good shape. The prison looked like an old school building with wings on both sides.
They made and sold cheap boats at Port Arthur because they could send convicts to get more timber and build the ships. They sold them at cost using their free labor until other shipyards complained because they couldn’t compete. The shipbuilding was then shut down.
Port Arthur was the location of the first juvenile detention center in the British Empire. The announcer on the boat explained that the kids were mixed with adults. At ten years old, they were legally responsible for their own actions. It was sad because most of them were just trying to survive the streets of London and were homeless.
They tried to reform the kids with education. In the settlement, they taught 22 different trades. In total, 3,000 boys passed through the settlement. It was so successful that they put one in England too.
The brochure that I picked up said, “Port Arthur was built on a philosophy of discipline and punishment, religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, training and education. Many men were broken by the system; others left rehabilitated, educated, and skilled.”
Port Arthur is and was a town as well. The peninsula was beautiful. The surrounding waters were 45 meters (147 feet) deep. Submarines cruised under the water because of its depth.
Once the boat ride was finished, my small tour group hopped on a golf cart where a tour guide drove us around the massive property while telling us stories and information. He explained that within 80 years, 165,000 men, women, and children came to Australia, and 7,000 of them were in Port Arthur.
They had the first flour mill with a water wheel at the site, but the water wasn’t consistent. The men had to step in it to get it to run. It was painful, so they assigned the worst of the worst to do the job.
Many convicts slept in hammocks. The worst criminals slept in tiny cells, while 400 better-behaved men slept on the top floor. We walked around the inside of the main building that was half torn apart. The tiny cells were lined up in a row, with crumbling walls all around them. Each one must have been two feet wide by five feet long. No wonder people went insane.
We walked around the stone and brick buildings while the tour guide talked about the conditions. They used a lot of psychological punishments, using food or lack of food as rewards or punishments. It was fascinating because there was a prison where life was tough. Yet, the guards, politicians, and civilians lived next door in beautiful, well-preserved houses. The landscaping surrounding the waterways looked like the Castle of Versailles in France.
The brochure talked about life for convicts and civilians, “Port Arthur’s community of military and free people lived their lives in stark contrast to the convict population. Parties, regattas and literary evenings were common, and beautiful gardens were created as places of sanctuary.”
There was a grand, stone church that had a medieval look about it. The exterior walls were all still standing, but the inside was gutted. Grass and a walkway now connect the interior for guests to view inside. There was no longer any glass in the grand windows, and instead, it was open-air, with just the architecture around the frames. Convicts were required to attend church every Sunday.
I looked through the brochure and one page described the ending of Port Arthur, “With convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land ceasing in 1853, Port Arthur became an institution for aging, and physically and mentally ill convicts. The penal settlement closed in 1877 and many of its buildings were dismantled or destroyed in bushfires. Others were sold and the small town was renamed Carnarvon in an attempt to erase the hated ‘convict stain’. Tourism began almost immediately after the closure of the penal settlement.”
I continued to walk the vast grounds and browsed through a garden. Flowers were in bloom, and my favorite was the long stems with purple flowers. It was beautiful outside now that the rain went away, but it was still cold.
Port Arthur was such an interesting place. It was a beautiful landscape with a dark history. One sign about a boy read, “Nine-year-old James Lynch was convicted of stealing three boxes of toys in 1843. During his trial James stated a man named James Tucker used to ‘come out with him in the day and send him thieving.’ If he got a ‘good thing’ he would receive two or three pence. While it is clear that James was under the influence of much older and more nefarious criminals, the court in Victorian era London would not excuse this crime, and for this third conviction, James received a sentence of seven years transportation. During his time in the convict system, James spent time at both Point Puer and in the Port Arthur Separate Prison.”
Another sign talked about a woman named Ann Wilson, who was only 22 years old. The sign read, “Convicted in: October 1819 for stealing from a person
Sentenced to: Transportation for life
Sent to Port Arthur: Assigned to work for Commissariat Officier Thomas Lempriere.
During her time working for the Lemprieres, Ann was reprimanded and punished several times for offences including being drunk and insolent to her mistress, and being absent without leave, taking her master’s child with her and returning after dark.”
Port Arthur has a more recent dark past. The brochure read, “On Sunday 28 April 1996, a tragic chapter was added to Port Arthur’s history when a gunman took the lives of 35 people and physically wounded 19 others in and around Port Arthur Historic Site. Within days, employees, community members and the State and National governments were working towards reopening the site to visitors.”
I needed to keep moving along because I needed to drive to Hobart by that evening. Port Arthur is so big; I could have stayed another couple of hours walking around and learning about it.
I drove to the Coal Mines Historic Site. There was a walking path around the ruins with some informational signs. Most of it was just mounds of rubble, which reminded me of rubble that I saw at various sites in Vietnam. Some buildings had one or two walls still standing amongst the fallen bricks.
Next, I drove to Tasmans Arch. There were a few parking spots off the road. I walked along a path towards a massive rock arch that had formed. I could see the ocean water below, and trees were growing on top of the arch.
Next, I drove a couple of minutes to Devils Kitchen. I stood on top of a cliff and looked below into the steep cavern. The rock wall was cut, exposing many different layers. Ocean waves crashed against the rocks and into the cavern.
I looked into the distance and was treated to sweeping views of the ocean. Tasmania has a lot of mountains, and in this area, the hills stretch to the ocean. The bright blue sky was now sprinkled in a handful of white clouds.
I continued driving to Hobart, and the sun began to set. It illuminated the grass fields and pastures. I crossed a bridge and, once in Hobart, continued to my Airbnb. I arrived at 6:00 pm and checked out my suite in the backyard of the house. There was a bed, bathroom, living room, and kitchenette.
I met the homeowner and asked where the washer was so that I could do laundry. The woman showed me the washer and dryer that I could access through a door on the lower level of the main house. She had a dryer, which wasn’t very common in Australia. She also had lines outside to dry clothes, and I got the impression she didn’t want me to use the dryer. She said what I’d heard before in Australia, “It’ll ruin your clothes.” It was cold and raining off and on, so I used the dryer anyway.
I ordered food from Uber Eats for dinner and relaxed. I only had a day and a half to explore Hobart before my flight would send me back to the U.S. I wanted to hold on to the moment before it was gone. This would be my last accommodation in Australia.
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