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Thursday, 27 Mar 2014

On Port Arthurs Isle of the Dead Agnes and Nick meet Australia's first novelist

Church ruins at Port Arthur.
Church ruins at Port Arthur.

Agnes and Nick started their Port Arthur experience with an early lunch in the cafeteria. "Then we went on the Isle of the Dead tour on the boat, which was really interesting", Agnes said. "It is a very small island, there was a grave digger who lived there permanently in a little hut", she said.

"Most of the convicts, with a few exceptions, were buried without a headstone or marker, but the military and civil officers, their wives and children had headstones".

"Over 1100 people were buried on the island", Agnes said.

"One convict buried with a headstone was Henry Savery, who was Australia’s first novelist", Agnes said.

Businessman, forger, convict and author Henry Savery was born in Somerset, England the sixth son of a well to do banker John Savery.

In 1825 Henry Savery pleaded guilty to charges related to fraud and trading in forged Bills of Credit. He was sentenced to hang, but influencial friends intervened and he was transported to Van Diemens Land in 1825.

Savery undoubtledly received special treatment and worked for a time in the Colonial Secretary's Office and then the Colonial Treasury after he arrived in Hobart.

He wrote a series of sketches in prison which were published in the Colonial Times. The were published as a collection in the book The Hermit of Van Diemens Land. Savery used the pseudonym Simon Stukeley to avoid punishment as works by a convict could not be published in a newspaper.

Graves on Isle of the Dead
Graves on Isle of the Dead

Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence was published anonymously in 1831. By that time Savery's authorship was a public secret. But after a provisional pardon he returned to forgery was tried in 1840 and was gaoled at Port Arthur where he died in 1840. He may have taken his own life or his death may have been the result of a stroke.

The Isle  of the Dead  is an optional tour, requiring an additional ticket. Tickets can be purchased as part of an Experience Pass either online, at the Visitor Centre or from onboard the harbour cruise.

"Another tour available is the Point Puer Boys Prison which operated from 1834 to 1849 and was the first purpose-built juvenile reformatory in the British Empire. Most of the boys were aged between 14 and 17, with the youngest just nine years old", Agnes said.

In November 1833 the Executive Council of Van Diemen's Land recommended that a boy's prison be established on the north west coast of the Tasmanian Peninsula. On January 10, 1834, 68 boys arrived from Hobart Town to take up residence. Three thousand boys were sentenced to the Point Puer Boys’ Prison between 1834 and 1849.

"We walked around the site and saw the governor’s residence, the Separate Prison, and the museum with great displays and theatrette. The Separate Prison is an eerie place, and part of the Port Arthur Ghost Tour", Agnes said.

Port Arthur prison with hospital in the background
Port Arthur prison with hospital in the background

Port Arthur is a different place at night. The latern lit Ghost Tour benefits from exclusive access to the World Heritage listed site. The are no crowds or traffic to break the impact. The atmosphere of this experience brings the past close. In fact the presence of the past walks with you.

Port Arthur Historic Sites says brave souls who need more than a story and want the opportunity to do some serious ghost hunting at Port Arthur can join an exciting adults-only, late night Paranormal Investigation Experience. The World Heritage listed Port Arthur Historic Site includes what are reputedly some of Australia's most haunted buildings.

Visitors can learn how to conduct their own paranormal investigations using the latest scientific techniques and equipment, then test for evidence of paranormal activity.

The walking tour of Point Puer lasts about one hour, but allow two hours to include the return ferry trip.

Port Arthur is subject to sudden changes of weather. Port Arthur Historic Sites reports that the Point Puer Boys' Prison walking tour requires comfortable shoes, sun protection and wet weather clothing.

The tour departs either once or twice a day, subject to weather conditions and according to the season (except during August and on Christmas Day). Allow two hours. The Introductory Tour and Harbour Cruise are both wheelchair accessible. But the Historic Ghost Tour and tours to the Isle of the Dead and Point Puer Boys Prison are not recommended for those with mobility restrictions.

Port Arthur Museum
Port Arthur Museum

"When you first walk into the visitor centre at Port Arthur there is a gift shop and café, and downstairs there are displays of what life was like in different areas of the penal settlement".

"The penitentiary is currently being renovated and is closed to access at the moment", Agnes said.

"There is an old shipyard, a beautiful old church which although in ruins is still used for weddings".

"There is a golf buggy type cart driven by a guide which you can take to save some of the walking, which we gratefully took advantage of. The terrain is very steep in places", Agnes said.

Experiences and activities:

Introductory Tour and Harbour Cruise

Isle of the Dead Cemetery Tour

Point Puer Boys' Prison Tour

Ghost Tour

Paranormal Investigation Experience

Convict to Coalface Tour

Audio Tour

Convict Water Supply Trail

The Coal Mines Historic Site tour is a window into a hell near Saltwater River where the worst of the worst convicts suffered. In a peaceful bush landscape about 30 minutes’ drive from Port Arthur, this exclusive tour allows participants to experience the Port Arthur Historic Site and the Coal Mines Historic Site, two of the 11 sites that make up the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage property. This tour is only available to groups by prior arrangement.

Ensuite site at Port Arthur Caravan Park
Ensuite site at Port Arthur Caravan Park

"We stayed at the Port Arthur Holiday Park just near the settlement in an ensuite site". "This park is very beautiful, lots of trees, just like being in a huge park in a forest. Friendly rosellas (I think) land on you if you have any bread, they are so tame!", Agnes said.

"When you first register you are given a visitor guide, and a playing card. When you go

downstairs to the interpretive centre you can match the card to one for a prisoner, and follow his life.

"There were three classes of convicts. Those that were violent and hardened criminals were kept in isolation at the Special Prison". "Those who were reasonable were housed in the Penitentiary, and taught trades such as shipbuilding, logging, gardening, shoemaking and blacksmithing. "The convicts with minor offences were given domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning and were often assigned as servants to free settlers", she said.

"Life for a convict was very harsh, as cruel punishments were the order of the day for the slightest offence, their lives were at the mercy of their overseers.

The Commandant was Port Arthurs most senior official. A residence befitting this rank and position was erected on high ground in 1833 and housed five of Port Arthurs 10 Commandants. The Law Courts introduced convicts to Port Arthur’s regime of ‘ceaseless vigilance’, discipline and punishment designed for grinding rogues into honest men.

Port Arthur guard tower
Port Arthur guard tower

During its 15 years of operation the dockyard produced 16 large decked vessels and around 150 small open boats. At its peak, more than 70 men worked there. The precinct included a blacksmiths shop, two sawpits, two steamers for bending timber, a rigging shed and several other workshops.

The Welfare Area, consisted of the Hospital, Paupers Depot and the Asylum.

In the Hospital convicts were commonly treated for conditions including respitory or rheumatic ailments contracted from working outdoors, sleeping in cold cells and wet clothing.

By the early 1860’s many convicts were housed and treated in the Paupers depot or the Asylum, according to new ideas that included creating a calm environment. The Asylum now includes a Museum, Convict Study Centre and the Museum Coffee Shop.

The Port Arthur site is a place of national and international significance –a part of the epic story of the settlement of Australia.

Port Arthur was much more than a prison. It was a whole community- home to military personel and free settlers.

The convicts worked at farming and industries producing a large range of resources and materials.

Port Arthur Historic Site contains more than 30 buildings, extensive ruins and beautiful grounds and gardens. A short ferry ride from the Site is the Isle of the Dead cemetery and Point Puer Boys’ Prison both important parts of the Site

Governors dining room
Governors dining room

Editors note: Since its creation in 1987, the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority (PAHSMA) has been responsible for preserving and maintaining one of Australia’s most important heritage sites and major tourism destinations, the Port Arthur Historic Site on the Tasman Peninsula, about 100km south east of Hobart, Tasmania.

In 2004 the Authority was also given responsibility for the Coal Mines Historic Site, located near Saltwater River, about a half hour drive from Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula. During 2011, the Authority was also given management responsibility for Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, in South Hobart.

All three sites under PAHSMA's management are included on the World Heritage List as three of the eleven sites that constitute the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property, inscribed in 2010.

During 2014, the Penitentiary at Port Arthur, one of the most recognisable structures in Australia, will be undergoing a program of conservation works to ensure that it remains standing to be visited and studied by future generations. This will involve several months of major structural engineering works in and around the Penitentiary precinct.



For more information
contact: Garth Morrison
Editor Go See Australia and Go See New Zealand Directory
Cell in the Separate prison
Cell in the Separate prison
Church in the Separate Prison
Church in the Separate Prison
Governors house kitchen
Governors house kitchen
Governors study and retreat
Governors study and retreat
Home made doll in Governors house
Home made doll in Governors house
Port Arthur Isle of the Dead
Port Arthur Isle of the Dead

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