By the time we arrived at Port Arthur Historic Site, it was around 12.30pm. James, our tour guide, gave us our entry pass and map, and provided some information on the main highlights of the site. The 20-min harbour cruise would depart at 1.40pm and we could also join the 40-min guided walking tour to learn more about Port Arthur, its people and its past. Otherwise we can roam around freely in the compounds and gather back at the main entrance at 4pm.
The Port Arthur Historic Site is a place of national and international significance, being part of the epic story of the settlement of Australia. It was home to military personnel and free settlers, not just for prisoners. The convicts worked at farming and industries, producing a large range of resources and materials.
Everyone was given a playing card at the beginning of the tour. Each card represents a convict so we could use the card to find out more of the crime he committed and the specific punishments he went through, at the Convict Gallery and Lottery of Life, just 1 floor below the visitor centre.
I followed through the trail and realised that George Hunt was a man who took the system on and suffered the consequences. He tried to escape twice but was caught both times. Even when he was sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour in chains after being caught, he refused to work on the first day of sentence and was punished further with the lash. If he had been less rebellious, he might have been “promoted”. The Convict Gallery and Lottery of Life was quite interesting as we could read about the types of crimes the convicts committed such that they were transported to Van Diemen’s Land back in 1800s, their punishments and how the convict system worked then.
The Penitentiary used to be a flour mill and granary in the early days of the penal settlement, but was converted to 4-storey penitentiary as convict numbers increased and its failure to supply adequate flour for the settlement. From pictures of the penitentiary before the conservation project started, the building looked quite magnificent. Too bad I was not able to take a nice photo of it with all the works going on.
The Commandant was Port Arthur’s most senior official. A residence befitting his rank and position was erected on high ground on the fringe of settlement in 1833. The Commandant’s House, originally built as a simple wooden cottage, had a commanding view over the rest of the settlement. It evolved over the years to become a many-roomed complex fringed by ornate gardens and pathways and separated from the rest of settlement by high masonry walls. When the penal settlement closed in 1877, the house became the Carnavon Hotel in 1885, later a boarding house, and then a private residence in 1940.
I took the 20-min harbour cruise passing the Dockyard, Point Puer Boys’ Prison and the Isle of the Dead. There was a guide on board the cruise narrating the history of Port Arthur throughout the cruise. I didn’t take many photos here since it’s more of a history lesson than nice scenery here. 😛
The Isle of the Dead is the final resting place for military and civil officers and their families, and convicts. Between 1833 and 1877 around 1,100 people were buried here. The most common causes of death among convicts were industrial accidents and respiratory disease. Too bad we didn’t have time to tour this isle…
Other significant landmarks in Port Arthur Historic Site include:
Up to 1,100 people attended compulsory services at The Church every Sunday. It played an important role in convict reform at Port Arthur. Much of the decorative stonework and joinery in the church was crafted by boys from the Point Puer Boys’ Prison.
This little church was just next to The Church. I thought the structure looked beautiful so snapped a shot. 🙂
The Soldiers’ Memorial Avenue was created in September 1918 by the Tasman Council to honour men connected to the Carnarvon and Oakwood districts who had served or died during the Great War, 1914-1918. It was a simple but thoughtfully made avenue planted with numerous trees along both sides.
The Separate Prison, located in a corner of the Port Arthur, was designed to deliver a new method of punishment, to reform the convicts through isolation and contemplation. Convicts were locked for 23 hours daily in single cells where they ate, slept and worked, with just 1 hour a day allowed for exercise, alone, in a high-walled yard. With no one to talk to or interact with, sounds like hell isn’t it? Many of the convicts who were placed here apparently ended up in the asylum just beside the Separate Prison…
Perhaps because I did not join the 40-min guided walking tour, I finished touring the significant landmarks by 3pm and felt kinda bored already.:P Even had time for some tea at the cafe near the Separate Prison and tour the reconstructed Government Gardens, originally established in the 1830s. I wondered if visitors would really need to make use of the 2-day pass to return the next day to complete touring the entire site or not? Maybe I won’t be able to understand as I am not really a “history-person”.:P
At 4pm, all of us returned to the tour bus at the Port Arthur Historic Site main entrance to continue the rest of our tour. We stopped by at the Federation Chocolate Factory, which was a very small factory and heritage museum. I didn’t take any photos there as the factory had already stopped production by the time we reached and the heritage museum only had a few timber artefacts and machinery from yesteryear on display. There were free tastings of all the chocolates they make though, with some unique flavours like apple, liquorice lane and ginger chocolates. I bought 1 bar of apple milk chocolate and 1 bar of plain dark sugarless chocolate (total A$10.50, abt S$12.40) as both flavours were quite good.
After that, we headed back to Eaglehawk Neck where the infamous Dog Line is. Back in the penal settlement times, there were only 2 ways for convicts at Port Arthur to abscond successfully to the mainland. First was either to swim in the shark-infested water to cross over to the mainland, or second, to escape via the only connection to the mainland – the 30m wide isthmus of Eaglehawk Neck, fenced and guarded by soldiers, man traps and half-starved dogs. Thus the line of 18 ferocious dogs was formed and called the “Dog Line”.
The Eaglehawk Neck is indeed a narrow strip. Not sure if you can tell from the collage pic of the road and the bronze dog statue. As it was almost 5pm, the sun was about to set so we were able to view it from the Eaglehawk Neck lookout. Beautiful scenery but it was so chilly and windy I only managed to stand there for 5 min!
Our last stop before the end of the tour was the Hobart City lookout from some mountain I guess. James told us that Mount Wellington was just behind us when we arrived at the lookout. Too bad the sun had already set so it was too dark to see Mount Wellington up close…
The view was wonderful from the lookout! We could see the Tasman Highway on the right of the photo, and the left is the CBD area. Actually I stitched up 2 photos I took to get the panorama view above hehe. I guess being on elevated grounds means the temperature was even lower than earlier in the day. We were all so cold that after some quick shots of the night view, we all rushed back to the bus for some warmth. Lol… nonetheless it was worthwhile coming up here for a great view. 🙂
It was a packed day tour filled with splendid views of Tasmania’s eastern coastline and a sad “history lesson” of its convict past. I think I enjoyed myself more in the morning and late afternoon as I guess I am more of a scenery rather than history person. Besides, I didn’t get to interact with other tour members in the group since there was no formal introduction at the beginning of the tour by the tour guide. He also did not give a lot of information at each attraction we went.
To conclude, being the last day tour I had in Tasmania, I feel Tours Tasmania pale in comparison with the other tour operators I signed up with in my earlier day tours in Tasmania. It is not that bad, but I would only give it an average rating because it was the scenery and history that made the trip nice, not Tours Tasmania.