Day 10 of our cruise and we’ve arrived at the historic heritage site of Port Arthur. Port Arthur is a small town and former convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, in Tasmania, Australia. Port Arthur is officially Tasmania’s top tourist attraction. It is located approximately 60 kilometers south east of the state capital, Hobart.
The site forms part of the Australian Convict Sites, a World Heritage property consisting of eleven remnant penal sites originally built within the British Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries on fertile Australian coastal strips. Collectively, these sites, including Port Arthur, now represent, “…the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts.”
From 1833, until 1853, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. Rebellious personalities from other convict stations were also sent here, a quite undesirable punishment. In addition Port Arthur had some of the strictest security measures of the British penal system.
The peninsula on which Port Arthur is located is a naturally secure site by being surrounded by water (rumoured by the administration to be shark-infested). The Island of the Dead was the destination for all who died inside the prison camps. Of the 1646 graves recorded to exist there, only 180, those of prison staff and military personnel are marked. The prison closed in 1877.
On 28 April 1996, the Port Arthur historic site was the location of a killing spree. The subsequently convicted perpetrator murdered 35 people and wounded 23 more before being captured by the Special Operations Group of the Tasmania Police. The killing spree led to a national ban on semi-automatic shotguns and rifles. The perpetrator, Martin Bryant, is currently serving 35 life sentences plus 1,035 years without parole in the psychiatric wing of Risdon Prison in Hobart, Tasmania.
However, despite this rather tragic history, it has a very tranquil atmosphere and is a beautiful place to visit.