Port Arthur Historic Convict Site: Part 2

port arthur play a boys life  

Three short plays were presented each day and we managed to see all three during our two-day visit. All were representative of a prisoner's life, their treatment and the reasons they were incarcerated. Part of the dehumanizing process at Port Arthur was to assign prisoners an identification number which replaced their names. The plays seek to humanize the people who lived and died here by telling their stories and restoring their identities as much as possible.


port arthur puer point ovens


We visited Puer Point by dinghy early one morning. Many people were originally “transported” from England and Ireland for minor crimes such as theft. Boys could be tried as adults at age 7 and theft of a toy was enough to warrant imprisonment at Port Arthur. Puer (Latin for “boy”) Point was established across the bay from the main settlement at Port Arthur as a reformatory specifically for juvenile delinquent boys. It was hard to believe that between 1834-1849, this lovely place with wildflowers in bloom and ducks swimming tranquilly in a marsh was once home to 3,000 boys, some as young as 9. A walkway leads past the scant remains of the buildings. David wandered into the old brick ovens, thick with cobwebs and a-buzz with flying insects.


port arthur isle of dead view from puer point


The Isle of the Dead, also across the bay, is a tiny, treed island that served as the settlement's cemetery. Convicts, military and civilian officers and their family members were buried here between 1833 and 1877. It was an eerie feeling to see row upon row of gravestones … some leaning, some crumbling. We wandered respectfully and quietly among them, reading the stones, wondering what their stories were and how their lives had ended. Of the 1,646 graves recorded, only 180, those of prison staff and military personnel, are marked.


port arthur isle of dead gravestones


The prison closed in 1877. Many of the buildings are believed to be haunted. Screams are said to be heard from cells and rocking chairs and objects can be seen moving. Ghosthunters International did a segment here and verified paranormal activity. We visited the Parsonage, said to be the “most haunted” of all the buildings on the site. We didn't see or hear anything paranormal, but in a black-walled, dimly-lit room, with a minister's sermon playing in the background, it certainly felt creepy.


port arthur parsonage creepy


We ended up spending two full days at the Port Arthur Convict Site including our side trips to Isle of the Dead and Puer Point in the dinghy. It is wonderful, eerie and sobering all at the same time. The cheapest admission price is $32 and includes two consecutive days entry, an orientation tour and a short harbor cruise. Several other activities including after-dark ghost tours are available for additional cost. We would definitely add Port Arthur to our recommended must-see list when visiting Tasmania.


port arthur church


For more reading on this subject, the crew recommends For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke, written in 1874. It's a free Kindle download.


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