Established in 1830 the Port Arthur penal station developed to house over 2000 convicts, soldiers and civil staff a decade later. It was closed in 1877, lots were sold off, buildings demolished for their materials and the site was ravished by major bush fires in the 1890s. The fascination of the convict past remained and establishment as a tourist destination started the day the site closed.
The Church was built in 1837 with some 1100 people attending services which were compulsory as part of the convict reform program. The building was gutted by fire in 1884 with sections now rebuilt and walls stabilised.
Light and shade patterns in the interior of the church are abundant in the roofless building. Originally non-denominational, an anti-Catholic sermon by an Irish Protestant in 1843 saw the 185 Catholic prisoners refuse to attend his services.
Originally a granary and flour mill, then a store, this substantial building was converted into the Penitentiary in 1857 to accommodate convicts complete with library, bakery and Catholic chapel after the Catholic boycott of the Church in 1843.
The Asylum (1868) was built to house 100 patients from Port Arthur and throughout Van Diemen’s land. Fires in 1895 badly damaged the building which was then rebuilt as a Town Hall. Today it is a research centre, museum and cafe.
The Penitentiary is the prominent landmark of Port Arthur. 136 separate cells were on the lower two floors and 480 better behaved men shared a top floor dormitory. The hospital is on the hill behind, as seen from Mason Cove.
The 1842 Hospital was sited to catch healthy breezes and accommodated 80 convicts. The colony’s disease and death rate was much lower than a British city at the time. The 1890’s bush fires reduced it to a ruin after a period as a Catholic college.
The houses of Civil Row were built between 1842 and 1848 for free officers and their families to separate their private lives from the workings of the penal settlement. An elevated position with a view to Mason Cove was fitting for their status.
Some streets of the Port Arthur historic site are tree lined providing a contrast to the more open areas around the remaining prison buildings. The avenue to the Church runs beside the more open and formal Government Gardens.
Looking through an arch of the former hospital to the laundry. The dressed stonework of the prominent public building contrasts with simple brick and weatherboard laundry building. Asylum inmates and paupers worked in the laundry.
No effort was spared with free convict labour available for construction works. This garden wall dividing houses on Civil Row now blends with the landscape as time has weathering the surfaces enabling lichen to establish.
Houses of Civil Row. The Magistrate’s and Surgeon’s house to the left, Roman Catholic Chaplain’s House and the Junior Medical Officer’s house. The open landscape provides a superb setting for the remaining buildings of the settlement.
The memorial garden commemorates the shooting of 35 people and the injury of many more on 28 April 1996. The rustic cross with the names of the victims is in the shell of the former Broad Arrow Cafe where many died. (Sepia with colour.)
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