On Monday morning we drove the 1 ½ hours down to Port Arthur. Port Arthur is a former convict settlement in Australia and a significant historical site, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is one of the best surviving sites representative of convict transportation and colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts. It was also the site of a mass murder attack in 1996 which killed 35 people and injured 23 people and which was the driver behind the Australian prime minister’s (then John Howard) decision to implement strict gun control laws. It was a complicated event and you can read more on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Arthur_massacre_(Australia).
The site was founded in 1830 and operated through to 1877 when the prison was closed. It was more than a prison, it was a whole community of people including convicts, government officials, and prison officials. Some of the buildings are originals, some are rebuilds.
The site is situated on the slopes of the hills at the end of a peninsula surrounded on 3 sides by unfriendly seas and a narrow “neck” joining it to the rest of the peninsula that was guarded by wild dogs. Escape was almost impossible. But, it is beautiful, and the convicts would have stood in their prison cells and looked out over the bay.
Although life was harsh, it was better in many cases than the life the prisoners were leading in England…and the convicts were all repeat offenders of secondary crimes. The site brought alive the conditions that existed in Britain with convicts, their transportation to Australia (as the guide told us “The US had had their war and didn’t want the convicts anymore, so the only place the British could send them was Australia.”), and the life that the convicts led when they got here. Some of the stories are heart breaking, some of them chilling, and others of them motivating. There were a total of about 160,000 convicts in total who were shipped out to Tasmania, including boys as young as 8 or 9, men, and women. When freed, most of them chose to stay in Tasmania.
When you start to imagine the immensity of the “punishment” it seems unbelievable and many of the prisoners never saw their families again.
The drive there and back was quite pretty, along narrow, windy, tree-lined roads, with glimpses of the bays and ocean that are such a prominent part of this part of Tasmania.
On the way back though, we hit into “rushhour” and sat in traffic for about 20 minutes before making it back to the apartment. We had about a 30 minute turnaround and Ray went down to pick up Peter and Sue to bring them back for a glass of wine and appies before we set off for dinner to Salamanca on the water front with its old sandstone warehouses now converted to galleries, pubs, restaurants, and a Saturday market.