The Port Arthur Historic Site is dominated by striking 19th century stone architecture, which contrasts with the Tasman Peninsula’s tranquil natural beauty.
A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is a truly unique tourism experience and a window onto our convict past. Here are some tips for things to see and do at the Port Arthur Historic Site.
Port Arthur is located on the Tasman Peninsula, 100 kilometres south-east of the Tasmanian capital Hobart. Named after George Arthur – the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania between 1823 and 1837 – the remote outpost was established in 1830 as a timber cutting station.
By 1833, the region had been deemed suitable for a penal settlement – both for criminals sent from Britain and repeat offenders from within the colonies. The peninsula is completed surrounded by water except for a narrow isthmus at its northern end. This ensured there was little, if any, chance for escape. At its peak, more than 1,100 inmates lived in this remote corner of Tasmania, sentenced to a life of back breaking work in what was reputed to be one of the harshest prisons in the world. The prisoners worked predominantly in ship building, logging and brick making.
The prison actually had a relatively short life and closed in 1877. Over the following decades, increasing numbers of tourists began to visit the site, keen to see the remains of the convict stronghold for themselves. The imposing main prison complex was designated a World Heritage site in 2010, and continues to bring the past to life for visitors.
Things to do at the Port Arthur Historic Site
There’s a huge amount to do at the Port Arthur Historic Site during your visit and you’ll need a full day to do it justice. A guided walking tour of the site is included in the cost of your ticket and it provides a broad overview of the key buildings. From there, you can explore at your own pace. Visit the fully restored Separate Prison complex, and learn why inmates had to remain silent for months at a time. Take an easy-guided stroll through the Government Gardens or check out the impressive stone convict church.
A boat cruise past the Isle of the Dead is also included in the ticket price. This tiny geranium-covered island was the final resting place of 1,646 convicts, soldiers and civilians.
If you have more time
Spend a day or two exploring more of the stunning Tasman Peninsula. Highlights include the natural symmetry of the Tessellated Pavement, the majesty of the sea cliffs and stacks at Cape Pillar and Cape Raoul, nature’s elegant architecture at Tasman Arch, the astonishing colours of Lime Bay, and the mysterious Remarkable Cave.
It’s also worth seeking out the ruins of Point Puer – the British Empire’s first jail for boys. This facility was located just a short distance from the main prison, and it’s estimated that some 3,000 boys aged between 9 and 16 endured stern discipline and harsh punishment here. Point Puer is an archaeological site and has no visitor facilities.
Need a place to stay?
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