Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia


We approached The Port Arthur Historic Site by ship’s tender, entering Mason Bay with a view of the historic penal colony, Tasmania, Australia


The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Port Arthur Historic Site on the Tasman Peninsula is Australia’s most intact and evocative convict site.  The Historic Site has over 30 buildings, ruins and restored period homes set in 40 hectares (100 acres) of landscaped grounds.  Port Arthur was much more than a prison – it was a complete community, home to military personnel and free settlers.  The convicts worked at farming and industries, producing a large range of resources and materials.  Port Arthur is officially Tasmania’s top tourist attraction.  It is located approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of the state capital, Hobart.



The main penitentiary (1857) in the foreground with the hospital (1842) in the background, Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia


“Port Arthur was named after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Dieman’s Land.  The settlement started as a timber station in 1830, but it is best known for being a penal colony.  From 1833, until 1853, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British 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.



A view of the penitentiary and the penal colony through columns marking the edge of the community settlement of the military and free settlers, Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia



The Guard Tower (1835) in the foreground with the Senior Military Officer’s Quarters (1833) in the background, Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia


“Port Arthur was one example of the ‘Separate Prison Typology’ (sometimes known as the Model prison), which emerged from Jeremy Bentham’s theories and his panopticon.  The prison was completed in 1853 but then extended in 1855.  The layout of the prison was fairly symmetrical.  It was a cross shape with exercise yards at each corner.  The prisoner wings were each connected to the surveillance core of the Prison as well as the Chapel, in the Centre Hall.  From this surveillance hub each wing could be clearly seen, although individual cells could not. This is how the Separate Prison at Port Arthur differed from the original theory of the Panopticon.



Two prisoner cells in the main penitentiary building (1857), Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia; note that each cell is barely big enough for a cot and there was no heating in the building



The Asylum (1868) is now the site’s museum building, Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia


“The Separate Prison System also signaled 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.  For example, food was used to reward well-behaved prisoners and as punishment for troublemakers.  As a reward, a prisoner could receive larger amounts of food or even luxury items such as tea, sugar and tobacco.  As punishment, the prisoners would receive the bare minimum of bread and water.  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.  Many of the prisoners in the Separate Prison developed mental illness from the lack of light and sound.  This was an unintended outcome although the asylum was built right next to the Separate Prison.  In many ways Port Arthur was the model 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.” — Wikipedia



Government Gardens (1846) for the free settlers and military, Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia



A view of the main penitentiary (1857) through trees of the Government Gardens (1846), Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania, Australia


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