Friday, May 9, 2014

Port Arthur, Tasmania

On Monday, April 28, we flew from Port Moresby to Cairns, and then on to Melbourne. Leaving late from Cairns meant missing our connecting flight to Hobart. We caught another flight to Hobart, but arrived there without our luggage. We rented a car at the airport, stayed in a nearby hotel, and received our luggage the following morning.

Having made the mistake of flying into Hobart instead of into Launceston, we took the opportunity to do some sightseeing in the southern part of the island, and what better tourist place to go to than Port Arthur.

Since Port Arthur is an interesting historical site, let me tell you a bit about it. Port Arthur, located on the southern tip of the Tasman Peninsula, was a penal station in the 1830's, set up as a timber settlement. British convicts, mostly repeat offenders, were shipped there when prisons became overcrowded in England, and had to work hard getting timber, building houses, bridges, ships, mills, soldiers' quarters, prisons, a hospital, a church, an asylum, etc. The lifestyle of these convicts can best be described as "a machine for grinding rogues into honest men." They worked hard all day, received up to 100 lashes for any offence, and were expected to attend classes into the evening and learn a trade. Winters were cold and harsh. Escape was virtually impossible. In all, 12,000 men and boys worked at the settlement in the course of 44 years in the 1800's. The goal was to make them into honest men with a skilled trade, but conditions, expectations, and punishments were so severe that many wanted to escape or die, and some, when they became mentally disabled, ended up in the asylum. In the Separate Prison, convicts were confined to isolation and solitude for 23 hours a day. Even the guards wore masks and wore slippers to make sure no contact was made with these prisoners.

Since Jerry was sick on Tuesday when we arrived at the motel, I went sightseeing alone, and then we went back there together on Wednesday morning. We followed the introductory walking tour where we learned about their history, after which we went on the harbour cruise. We passed the island of the Boys' Prison, where juvenile offenders were separated from the older convicts to protect them from criminal influence. Most of the boys were aged between 14 and 17, but the youngest was 9 years old. He was sent to this island for having stolen some toys. In all about 3000 boys were sent here. They worked hard, studied long, were disciplined sternly, and punished harshly. Nearby was the Isle of the Dead, a cemetery with 1100 graves. The military men and free settlers got a tombstone, but the convicts didn't. 

The Isle of the Dead

The prison, renovated for sightseeing - looking a lot cleaner and warmer than it originally was

There were some humorous stories from the institution as well - like the one about the man who caught a kangaroo, skinned it, dressed himself in the kangaroo skin and tried to hop his way out of the prison area - until a guard was out hunting and thought he'd shoot a kangaroo...!

All in all, though, it was really disturbing to see how this well intentioned institution went so wrong and actually ruined the lives of many men and boys who seem to have been pretty minor offenders. A very sad chapter in Australia's history. 

We really enjoyed visiting this historic site and learning about the brutal colonial life here in the 1830's. Now I am looking forward to reading the historical novel For the Term of his Natural Life by Marcus Clarke.

The weather was cold and rainy both days, quite the change from PNG! I thought we wouldn't ever complain about the cold again after being in Cairns and PNG, but the difference was just too great. Back to jeans, sweaters, and jackets!

1 comment:

  1. Looking at you Rev in that monk outfit I knew you had special talents!!
    Cheree !!