Port Arthur Historic Site

Port Arthur Historic Site

Into the Wilderness

Entering the wilderness, heading south from Hobart its a long drive through an empty landscape dominated by dense Australian bush and high forest, the houses thin out as we circumnavigate Norfolk Bay and pass over Eaglehawk Neck a narrow strip of land separating the mainland from the Tasman Peninsula.  Port Arthur is a small village, linked only by the Arthur Highway or access from the sea. It’s raining and blowing quite strongly as we arrive but we head down the hill to the former Port Arthur Penal Colony, the site is impressive in scale, some of the buildings have been left as ruins whilst others have been restored to their original state. We join a short tour of the site which includes a 20 minute boat ride out into the bay to circle the Island of the Dead, the main burial ground for the settlement and to experience the site from the perspective of new arrivals.

Down by the Jetty
Out into Carnarvon Bay, the open Tasman Sea to the south of Port Arthur
Landing Jetty on the Island of the Dead
The First Glimpse of the Settlement
Rounding the Headland
The Ruins of the Main Penitentiary Building  
Ruins of the Hospital above the bay

Penitentiary Blues

The boat ride gives us a feeling of how remote this settlement was, rounding the bay’s entrance we turn towards the open sea, the only original access, it’s an eerie feeling.

The foreboding feeling doesn’t really leave us, when we come back the following morning, the sun is shining but the place still feels of ghosts and pain. The deprivation building are creepy, the cells only big enough to hang a bunk in lengthways, the is no view to the sky…the chapel is even stranger, piped musical hymns and the priest’s sermon relayed over the loudspeakers is almost too realistic. Within the chapel the prisoners had separated standing stalls, coffin like, here the prisoners had to stand to listen to the sermon, their faces covered with hoods, they were not allowed to speak to anyone, always alone, no wonder many went mad, the lunatic asylum was built next door…… for All the Madmen.

The main Penitentury Building restored after fire damage and collapse
The main bulk of the Penitentiary buildings are situated close to the landing docks.
The buildings have been partly restored after a bushfire.
Surviving chimney stack
The cell layout is depicted on the floor
Restored ground floor wall
The Individual cells in the Penitentiary Block are extremely small, the small vent is the only opening to the outside light
The structure is supported by the steel frame
Through the bars the view of the outside world
The Guards Town overlooking the Bay
The landing bay and Penitentiary as viewed from the Guards tower
Lookout lanterns poke through the roof to oversee the harbour loading bays
The kitchen chimney stack
Only the solid walls of the chapel remain

The grounds and gardens are still well tended, where the guides and solders used to relax away from the Penitentiary the restored Commandant house sits on the hill above the Bay, the doctor’s house and priest house are small but fully restored. The church build by the convicts across from the landing bay is only a ruin now many of the buildings suffered through bush fires after the end of the colony use.

The Warehouses harbours docks were built out over the water, the wooden structure has rotted away.

The area is beautiful, remote, dangerous,wild but fascinating, intrigued but I want to leave after two days to reach civilisation again.


Travelling Notes

Check out the visitors websitePort Arthur Historic Site you need at least four hours on site to see all the buildings, ride on the harbour boat or visit the Island of the Dead, at night there is a ghost tour !

Where : situated at the end of the Tasman Peninsula and Tasman National Park, southern Tasmania.

Travelling : 95 km from Hobart on the A3 and the A9 Arthur Highway, through Sorell, round Norfolk Bay, over the Eaglehawk Neck, tank up on diesel and stores in Sorell first, there’s not much out on the Peninsula itself.

Camping or Campervan: Big 4 Holiday Park, Port Arthur just five minutes drive from the entrance to the park.

Expect a visitor and Nut Thief whilst on the campsite

Don’t tell anyone: just through the trees from within the camping site you can access the beach on Stewarts Bay by walking through the bush, in the evening this is beautiful place with view stretching out across the bay to the hills of the  Tasman  National Park.

Stewarts Bay
Surrounded by the bush, Stewarts Bay has a peaceful beach

Next up: Standing on the Edge of a Cliff, Tasman National Park.

pjbourne is a full time architect, urban masterplanner and sustainability designer. In his free time he’s outside with a camera, running, wandering or mountain biking through the Alps where he lives or indoors in front of the iMac planning another long road trip in a campervan to the other side of the world.

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