PORT ARTHUR World Heritage Site is a very large convict ruin. It was once referred to as "the Hell they called Van Diemens Land". Here you can get a unique glimpse into the brutal convict past of Australia. Many people feel that it should be part of every Australian's cultural experience. It is also the site of the horrendous 1996 massacre. The historic site is a village with 30 buildings in various states of repair and disrepair. (See my list below.) You need at least a full day to check out the village of Port Arthur. The boat cruise to the out stations is also well worth taking, as many other things happened outside the main settlement. Every facility is available at the visitor centre and there is much accommodation in this area. It is also a good place to stay for seeing the other attractions of the Tasman Peninsula.
Port Arthur is located in the southern part of the Tasman Peninsula in the extreme south east of Tasmania. It is about 10 kilometres east of CAPE RAOUL and about 10 kilometres west of CAPE PILLAR. From Port Arthur you are 15 minutes from TARANA and 15 minutes from EAGLEHAWK NECK. Nearby places are described in the TASMAN PENINSULA REGION page.
View Region Tasman Peninsula 2 in a larger map
FACILITIES: There is a cafe, a petrol station and a tourist shop at Port Arthur. There are shops and a hotel at Eaglehawk Neck. There is accommodation at PORT ARTHUR and at EAGLEHAWK NECK.
TOURIST information is at the entrance to the historic site. The telephone is 1800 659 101or contact www.portarthur.org.au
For PRIVATE GUIDED TOURS telephone (03) 6251 2371
SIGHTS: The tour begins at the visitor centre, where there is a cinematic explanation of what happened here. You then choose how to tour the historic village with its 30 buildings in various states of repair and disrepair. You should allow yourself a full day to check it out. The boat cruise to the out stations of Port Arthur is also well worth doing.
Port Arthur was built in stages between 1833 to 1877. It was defined as being a place of secondary punishment. Most convicts worked on farms or on government projects, so a place was needed to punish those who did not give the required "deference" to their masters. It was a place to "...grind rogues into honest men".
By 1877 Port Arthur had become such an embarrassment that it was abandoned. Then in 1897 a bush fire destroyed most of the buildings. These were left derelict until the tourist boom of the 1960s changed people's attitude to the site. From the 1960s the buildings of Port Arthur have been progressively restored.
There are 30 buildings in the village to check out, plus there are trails and cruises. The most important sights are:
VISITOR CENTRE with its displays and ancestor tracking.
PENITENTIARY the largest building on the site,
CHURCH of St David which has lost its roof,
HOSPITAL which is largely in ruins,
SEPARATE PRISON with its infamous "silent' system,
ASSYLUM with its new study centre and museum,
COMMANDANTS HOUSE to see how the "betters" lived,
- PORT ARTHUR
1/ Port Arthur is in south east Tasmania. It is the site of the famous historic, penal colony and has 30 buildings to explore. The white house to the left is the Commandant's House, while the building to the right is the infamous Penitentiary.
2/ This shows the Guard Tower of Port Arthur framed through the ruins of the Commandant's Office. Note the great skill shown in the masonry.
3/The Guard Tower of Port Arthur demonstrates great masonry skill. This makes it look much older than it actually is.
4/ The arches and pillars of the Guard Tower show their professionalism in this well balanced shot.
5/ This is the path to the Commandant's house. It had a brilliant view of the Port Arthur harbour. From the verandah the governor would sip tea and ponder how to reform his prisoners.
6/ Many of the old buildings of Port Arthur have lost too much to be repaired.
7/ St David's is seen beyond the lawn of Port Arthur. This lawn once housed other lost buildings.
8/ St David's is now surrounded by lovely gardens. It was destroyed in the fire that destroyed the abandoned Port Arthur settlement in 1897.
9/ This photo shows you the view into the ruin of St David's framed through a small window.
10/ This shows another well framed view of St David's church at Port Arthur.
11/ This shows a long view of the infamous Penitentiary of Port Arthur. It was a very large, four storey structure.
12/ The Port Arthur Penitentiary was the largest building in the colony of Van Diemen's Land. Unfortunately, it has suffered massive damage.
13/ This view into the Penitentiary shows the damage. A walkway has been inserted to help protect it. It is a very interesting experience to walk through it.
14/ This shows the rear of the Penitentiary of Port Arthur. Note how much is missing from this view.
15/ This shows the stairway into the Separate Prison of Port Arthur. It has been very well restored and shows great symmetry.
16/ This shows another view of the stairway into the Separate Prison. Behind it you can see the barred cells.
17/ This shows the chapel of the Separate Prison at Port Arthur. Prisoners were prevented from talking or seeing any other prisoners by the boxes and were confined in separate silent cells. The only time they were allowed to talk was to sing and say prays during the service. This cruelty was supposed to reform!
18/ An office in the Separate Prison of Port Arthur. Note the fire place, which represented considerable comfort.
19/ Cells in the Separate Prison. Note the bland, soulless symmetry of the block. The lights on the ceiling are a modern addition to the otherwise dark corridor.
20/ This is an iconic view of the confinements of the jails of Port Arthur.
21/ The view of the Port Arthur harbour from this prison window is lovely. It adds to the effect of the punishment.
22/ Port Arthur is an unusual contradiction. In terms of nature it is a beautiful place, but in terms of history it is a horrendous place.
1/ The Port Arthur cafe is where the 1996 massacre took place. It is now a memorial.
2/ In the Visitors Centre is this model, which gives you a good glimpse into how large Port Arthur was in 1870.
3/ The Visitors Centre has many displays, which really help you to understand what happened at Port Arthur.