Port Arthur Historic Site and environs

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The Port Arthur Historic Site is the primary destination for anyone interested in convict history in Tasmania. The guides were excellent and only the weather caused us problems, cold, wet, and too windy to take the boat trip to the Isle of the Dead. Still, there was so much to see here, so here are views of some of the buildings, carefully restored once Tasmania recognised the value of its convict past. The original convicts had to clear the forest, make bricks, build accommodation, raise crops and mill flour, etc. Everything to make a viable community out of nothing.

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The convicts built a church which was non-denominational so that any preacher could use it; weekly church attendance was compulsory.

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English-style gardens were built so that the wives and children of the administrators and officers could stroll in a safe distance from the convicts. The gardens were lovely although most of the plants there now were distinctly Australian.

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But the most interesting part of this site was the Separate Prison, or Silent Prison, as shown below.

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It was no coincidence that the Separate Prison was located next to the lunatic asylum! The original purpose of these prisons was reform, to provide a trade/skill in the new colony for when/if the convict became a freeman. But then the religious zealots took over and inmates were deprived of all human contact, for their own good! They were supposed to spend time on self-reflection and reading the bible. Their cells were sound-proofed, the corridor floors were matted and guards wore slippers so the convicts could not hear them coming. Any exercise time was also spent entirely alone. When convicts walked outside their cells, they had to wear these masks (see photo on right below) so they could not communicate with others.

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When they went to church, they sat in segregated pews so they could not see their neighbours, only the preacher.

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There was a lot about the history of the penal colony system and how it relates to prisons today, and this was fascinating. Perhaps the pouring rain kept us inside reading for longer than most, but this really was the most depressing story of man’s inhumanity to man.

In the evening we returned for the Ghost Tour as this site is supposed to one of the most haunted sites in Australia! Our guide was very theatrical in his presentation of stories and totally convincing. We even have certificates to prove that we completed the Ghost Tour with bravery and courage!


On the northwest coast of the Tasman Peninsula is the Coal Mines Historic Site. These coal mines were not a great success and were greatly feared by the convicts in Port Arthur. Today the site is mostly derelict but the bush walk was rather peasant.

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In our bush walks, we often encountered echidna (spikey anteaters). Once they heard us, they would immediately put their heads in the sand and hope we’d go away. Which we did!

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On the return trip, we passed by White Beach (disappointing) and stopped at the Remarkable Cave. The scenery here was great but the tide was out so the cave was less impressive than it could be. The shape of the opening at the end of the cave (bottom right) is supposed to represent Tasmania.

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Our journey continued to Carnavon which we discovered was just across the bay from Port Arthur.The seaweed on these beaches arranges itself quite artistically! Ladies in the colonial times would collect and dry these fine seaweeds and use them to make pictures to decorate their homes.

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© Helen Gray 2021