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Port Arthur, Tasmania

Most of people know in early days Australia was a British colony for prisoners. This is largely true, however number of convicts was different from state to state. For instance in South Australia (capital: Adelaide) there were no convicts at all.

Half of all Australian prisoners was held in Tasmania, the smallest Australian state. Tasmania is an isolated island, separated by Bass straight from mainland Australia. This makes ideal prison location.

Penitentiary ruins
Penitentiary ruins



The biggest colony in Tasmania was located in famous Port Arthur - remote and isolated part of Tasmania. So, Australia was isolated from Mother England, Tasmania was isolated from Australia and Port Arthur was isolated from Tasmania... That was literally “the end of the world”.

From 1830 to 1877, Port Arthur was one of the world's harshest prisons. It was build for the most dangerous criminals, including those who had escaped from other prisons.
Nearly 13,000 convicts were "doing their time" in Port Arthur, and about 2,000 died here.




The colony was huge, but unfortunately it was badly damaged during the bushfires. There were lots of timber workshops where prisoners were working, none of these exists today. What's left is brick buildings such as penitentiary, colony hospital, lunatic asylum, church and administrative buildings.
Model of Port Arthur site
Model of Port Arthur site
Model of Dockyards
Model of Dockyards


One of the stories we heard at Port Arthur was about prisoners tried to escape. Location of the prison makes escapes pretty difficult, three sides of isle was water and here was only narrow line of land connecting Port Arthur with the rest of Tasmania.

Some convicts tried to escape but very few actually made it.

Most prisoners were from poor labor suburbs of Great Britain cities. After long weeks of travel to Australia, they where afraid of the ocean. Very few could swim, the water here is cold even during summer, and the guards were telling rumors that the bay around the prison is full of sharks.




Prisoners were so scared of ocean, they have not tried to swim away from Port Arthur. The only way to escape was through narrow line of land. This place was heavily guarded, there was a permanent patrol with horses and dogs.

One of the prisoners who tried to escape had a very adventurous plan. He found a dead kangaroo, and ripped off the animal skin. He waited until the dusk, then put the skin on himself and jumped across the field near the guards. He hoped the guards would think he is a kangaroo and would not pay attention.

He nearly has made his escape. Unfortunately, that day one of the guards was going to shot a kangaroo for dinner. He has taken his gun and pointed it to the prisoner. The runaway saw it and cried: don’t shoot, I’m a not a kangaroo, I am a prisoner! Obviously, he was caught.




In the early days the punishment for the prisoners was flogging, but later it was replaced by solitary imprisonment.
Prison corridor
Prison corridor



Inside of the church prisoners can not see each other. Each prisoner has his own little box with the door.





In Port Arthur actors presents scenes from convict's life.



Hospital ruins
Hospital ruins






Away from convict barracks there was Commandant's Residence, with nice views and a garden. Officers and guards lived in Port Arthur with their families, and they tried to build "a normal life" in this scary place.
Commandant
Commandant's garden
Commandant
Commandant's Residence





There is a beautiful cathedral build by convicts. It was never consecrated, because it was used by all denominations of Christianity.







Port Arthur is one of the greatest tourist attractions in Tasmania. If you are going to visit it, allow the whole day for the exploration. Port Arthur web site: www.portarthur.org.au
More photos:
Hobart, Tasmania
Launceston, Tasmania

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