Stepping back in time, become a Convict at Port Arthur, Tasmania


Port Arthur is one of Tasmania’s, if not Australia’s, best known historical sites to visit in a country where its European history was founded in what some would call exceptional circumstances. The UNESCO World Heritage listed site of the old convict town of Port Arthur was established in the then named colony of Van Diemen’s Land in the early 1830s and quickly gained a reputation as one of the harshest places in the world to end up in.


The scenic drive from the Tasmanian capital Hobart to Port Arthur takes about one hour and twenty minutes, but if you are heading there from Hobart allow extra time to make some stops along the way. Port Arthur is a good distance if staying in Hobart to make a day trip out of it, however, if you are looking at doing the Port Arthur ghost tour at night, you may want to consider finding accommodation for the night in Port Arthur itself.

Along the way, before arriving at Port Arthur you will drive through the town of Eaglehawk Neck which has its own story linked to the Port Arthur convict site. This narrow stretch of land is only 400 metres long and about 30 metres wide with ocean on each side making it a last line of defence for the British to patrol incase any convicts tried to escape from the prison. The key to making this narrow passage work was to have a line of guard dogs at one end of the narrow neck and an outpost of soldiers patrolling the area so that no one could escape.

This same area is also home to a natural wonder, the Tessellated Pavement which is a flat rock formation on the beaches of the Tasman Peninsula that consists of straight lines giving the effect of pavement that has been laid. During low tide water sits within the rectangular sections of rock and offers a great opportunity for photographers to get that perfect picture on the reflecting water, especially at sunrise.

The Port Arthur historic site has a large visitors centre that includes a cafe and an interactive display that visitors wonder through before heading out to the grounds. Visitors are given a playing card with a picture of a convict that is then used to trace the story of that particular person throughout the displays, a good way of creating a connection between visitors and the people that once occupied this area.

One of the many attractions at the site is to take a boat trip around the harbour with running commentary to understand what went on in the surrounding area and how the many small islands dotted around the harbour were used. Some were used to isolate troublesome convicts, whilst one of the islands was dedicated to being a cemetery. The boat also stops off at other ports along the journey where other visitors disembark and rejoin the cruise to take personalised tours of those islands that have been prearranged.

The iconic stand out structure within the grounds of the Port Arthur historic site is the main Penitentiary close to the waters edge and the focal point for most photographs of the site. Built in 1843 originally as a flour mill, it managed to house up to 480 inmates. The building was gutted by fire in 1897 and wasn’t used again. It stood in a state of disrepair until the 1960s when it was preserved for the historic park that stands today. During this visit the site was closed off to the public whilst a restoration project was in full swing to sure up the structure with steal so it will remain standing for future generations to come with work expected to be complete by early 2015.

Other sites to visit include The Separate Prison; a four winged isolated prison that was build to keep the worst offenders in isolation and also includes its own chapel. The Dockyard is just a short walk from where the ferry departs for the harbour cruise but can be viewed when taking the scenic harbour cruise. My favourite building was the Convict Church which appears to be one of the most intact ruined buildings at the higher end of the historic site, and then there is also the Hospital, Museum Houses and the surrounding gardens.

While the Port Arthur historic site saw many dark days in its early history, the site also experienced a dark day in its recent history that shocked Australia and the world. On April 28, 1996 a lone gunman murdered over twenty people within the Port Arthur historic site and furthermore, killed people outside the area including people he knew. Although a horrendous day, this day went down in Australian history as the turning point for Australian gun reform that is the envy of the rest of the world.

Today the location of the cafe where the gun fire broke out is no longer standing and has been turned into a memorial to remember those who perished on that day as a permanent reminder.

The Port Arthur historic site is a must visit cultural experience and provides an insight on how this country started out as a convict penal colony to becoming one of the world’s leading countries. The beauty of visiting the area is that you can spend as much or as little time as you like exploring the historic buildings at your own leisure. Entry price to the site includes access to all the grounds, a 40 minute guided tour of the site and a 30 minute harbour cruise with the Adult entry price costing $35.

For further information visit the official website:

There are many accommodation options in Hobart and Port Arthur, whilst staying in the region I chose to stay at Somerset On The Pier in Hobart of which you can read a full review of by clicking here.

Just your average guy doing his 9 - 5 job as a Senior Payroll Officer by day, writing about his travel adventures and hopefully giving you inspiration and ideas for your next travel adventure here at loneXplorer...

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