Port Arthur

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DISTANCES: Hobart 102Km, Eaglehawk Neck 20Km, Sorell 75Km

Port Arthur, on the Tasman Peninsula about 100 km south east of Hobart, is perhaps Australia’s best known historic site, attracting more than 250,000 visitors a year.

Between 1830 and 1877, an estimated 12,700 convicts, all multiple offenders, passed through Port Arthur and its ‘satellite’ settlements scattered across the Tasman Peninsula. The first boys’ prison in the British Empire, Point Puer, was built here, and remains today as a fascinating glimpse into the ideas about juvenile crime and rehabilitation that have shaped today’s juvenile justice system.

The latter phase of Port Arthur saw numbers of mentally ill, disabled and aged convicts cared for under new and more compassionate regimes, the first time in Australia that the State took responsibility for these people. Transportation ceased in 1853 and the number of convicts in the system began to decline, Port Arthur eventually closed in 1877. Bushfires ravaged the area in the 1890s further destroying the remaining buildings, others were removed or destroyed.

Present day Port Arthur and its surrounds represent an incomparable combination of history, heritage, superb coastal scenery and a broad range of visitor attractions.

Ever since 1877, the convict ruins have been a major drawcard. The site has also become well-known for the high quality of conservation work and archaeology that have been carried on here since the 1980s. This has seen all the major ruins, including the graceful Church and the Penitentiary, opened to the public. A number of other buildings, including the Commandant’s House, have been fully restored and furnished appropriate to the period and are open for inspection daily. Perhaps the best known of all buildings from the penal colony era, is the beautifully proportioned Church constructed in 1835, but never consecrated. As with the rest of Port Arthur, time and fire have taken their toll and only the outer walls and tower of the Church remain intact. The Penitentiary is one of the ‘landmarks’ of Port Arthur. Commenced in 1842 as a granary, incorporating a mill driven partly by water and partly by a convict-powered treadmill, it was later converted into prisoner accommodation and occupied as such from 1857.

New developments include a Visitor Centre with the Interpretation Gallery where you can play “The Lottery of Life”, Museum, showcasing the important collection of convict-related material, a Study Centre where you can search for possible convict ancestors, a DVD interpreting the tragic history of the Asylum, and a new walking trail that will introduce you to the convict-built engineering marvel that delivered the site’s water supply.

As a premier Site, and winner of the Tasmanian Tourism Award’s Major Tourist Attraction for four years running, Port Arthur offers excellent facilities to cater for all your needs. Your Site entry package is an inclusive pass for many different activities and things to see including an introductory walking tour, a harbour cruise, plays and garden tours in summer, access to the Site and a shuttle service around the Site for people with restricted mobility.

Ghost tours of the site are also popular. The site is open every day of the year between 9am-5pm, however tours do not operate on Christmas Day. It is recommended that visitors plan to spend a whole day on site if all points of interest are to be explored.

Accommodation includes hotels, hotel-motels, a high standard caravan park and nearby villa units.