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Port Arthur

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The British penal colony of Port Arthur is the most visited site in all of Tasmania. More than 200,000 visitors each year make their way through the ruins of what had been a penal colony at the end of the world.

Port Arthur 2
By Dr Rocks from Canberra, Australia (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
PortArthur Tasmania
By Grizzy Kret [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

The penal colony functioned for 48 years, from 1830 to 1878. In that time it is estimated that 12,000 men and boys passed through its walls.

This was however, a fraction of the total prisoners sent to Tasmania (said to be some 57,000) and was reserved for those considered to be the most hardened criminals, re-offenders and troublemakers. The prison was for the time considered to be a “model,” where brutal corporal punishment had been set aside and trouble was met with solitary confinement. For those who still rebelled there was the option of being shipped off to the infamous Sarah Island.

Port Arthur Seeseite.jpg
Public Domain, Link

Prisoners would be kept busy with the upkeep of the colony itself, building and learning some trades during their time there. There was even a 7 kilometer wooden-railed tramway that ran across the Port Arthur peninsula carrying freight and passengers with prisoners as the motive power.

However, many worked in the adjacent coal mines spending much of their time mining and living in cells underground in horrible conditions. The mine operated from 1834 to 1842 and the mine ruins can still be seen north of the colony on Norfolk Bay.

Port Arthur inside Modell Prison.jpg
Public Domain, Link
By JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons
Convict Church, Port Arthur
By D. Gordon E. Robertson [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

The remains of the church that at one time could seat 1,100 prisoners.  Seen as necessary in reforming the inmates, the church was often used and survived intact until the colony closed in 1878 but was damaged by an 1884 fire.

Paupers Mess, Port Arthur.jpg

The Paupers Mess was where former convicts were housed, who, having completed their sentences were without wherewithal or simply were so damaged by their incarceration they could not transfer into living in the society at the time.