Port Arthur is a small town and former convict settlement located on the Tasman Peninsula. It is a location drenched in grim history and is Tasmania’s post popular tourist attractions.
Established in 1830, Port Arthur started off as a timber camp that used convict labour. In 1833, it was promoted to a punishment station for repeat offenders.
The model for Port Arthur was taken from an English prison, which was described as ‘a machine for grinding rogues into honest men’. A combination of punishment, discipline, religion, instruction, separation and education either broke or rehabilitated the convicts, and turned many of them into skilled blacksmiths, shoemakers or shipbuilders.
A large penal colony requires military personnel and free people to run it, and the ones that lived at Port Arthur lived very different lives to the convicts. They had parties and picnics, played in the gardens and the children of the settlers went to school within the settlement. On the other hand, the convicts worked on farms and in industries to produce important resources and materials for the community.
By 1840, there were over 2000 residents at Port Arthur and it had turned into an industrial settlement. Convicts stopped arriving to Tasmania in 1853 so Port Arthur became a place for aging and ill convicts, and by 1877, the penal settlement was closed.
Over the following decades, many buildings were dismantled or burnt down in bushfires, but there was still a drawcard for tourism so any buildings that remained were transformed into museums, hotels or shops.
In 1996, Port Arthur gained another chapter in its grim history when gunman Martin Bryant opened fire at the historic site killing 35 people and injuring another 23 people. This is the biggest massacre by a lone gunman in Australia’s history. The site of the massacre has been turned into a memorial and now has its own place in the historical significance of the area.
The Ghost Tour
The Port Arthur ghost tour has been running for over 20 years and starts after dark.
Port Arthur is one of Australia’s most haunted places and it’s believed to be because of the violent and cruel history of the site, as it’s where some of the worst criminals ended up.
It was very dark during the tour and we only had a few torches to light the way, which made the tour that much creepier because the mind can be quite inventive in the dark. Our guide had a very deep and sombre voice, and by incorporating sudden volume increases, stomping on wooden floors or hiding in shadowed corners, he was able to create quite a reaction.
Our tour went through the Government Gardens to the Church, then onwards to the Parsonage house where the ghost of the settlement’s priest lived. This is apparently one of the most haunted buildings in Australia. We then made our way down to the basement of the Junior Medical Officer’s House, where autopsies were conducted on convicts to find out if there was an anatomical reason for their criminal inclinations.
We were then taken to the Separate Prison, or Silent Prison, where the prisoners were isolated and locked away for 23 hours a day. The 24th hour was reserved for exercise in the yard – alone. Convicts that were sent to the Silent Prison were given numbers instead of names, and if they left the prison for whatever reason, they wore masks – so they were faceless and nameless.
This was the last stop of our tour and thus the end of our time at Port Arthur.