Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

Port Arthur - Penitentiary, Hospital & Barracks

Boat at Port Arthur

Jeff's Account

Our journey from Bruny took us through Hobart where we expected to find an Internet Café. After close scrutiny of our maps we ended up having a close look at some very nice houses in a residential area. They were very admiring of our fine van, or wondering who the idiot was who brought a campervan up and down their very narrow and steep streets.

On finding somewhere to park in the city, sticking out like a sore thumb amongst the cars, we found our Café and the Melbourne account was put into the site. The journey to Port Arthur was fine and scenic and we had time to suss out the Port Arthur Historic Site Visitors area before checking into a camp site for two nights. Visiting the site were two 'Potoroons', a small creature which runs very fast in the bobbing manner of a wallaby but when feeding looks more like a very big rat. I wasn't sure whether they were endearing or not. Our night sortie with the torches found two more Potoroons and nothing else.

Port Arthur was fascinating and the weather hot and wonderful; what a change to the normal weather which had resembled Scotland on cold and showery days, you know, March winds with April showers. You got a two day pass so people who travelled could stay overnight and finish off the next day. This entitled you to the exhibition, a boat trip round the bay circling the Island of the Dead and the island where the Boys Prison had been, a 45 minute tour with a guide and access to over 30 restored buildings including the maximum secure jail and the asylum.

Port Arthur was for men only and these were secondary offenders and came from all of the colonies of Britain and many were desperate men. Despite this it was a very innovative prison and offered training in 20 trades for the boys and 40 trades for the adults. Most of the skills were taught by prisoners who earned some remission, most prisoners could read or write. (85% of women and 75% of men having learned from others during transportation.) School classes could be attended in the prisoners' time on a night after the days work.

Sylvia's Comments

As you see Jeff is still hankering after his work again through visiting yet another prison. Perhaps I should return him to the Criminal Justice Service in Perth & Kinross Council. Comments invited.

Back to Jeff

On paying your money you were given a playing card which you matched with one of the 52 case histories in the exhibition and followed the progress through the rooms of the prisoner who's identity you had. Mine had done some moonlighting in flagellation and earned extra privileges, (along with another), flogging the errant prisoners'. Sylvia was not a very nice character and she had been flogged and eventually struck one of the floggers in the back with an axe and was hung for this. I couldn't believe the way she took this and still holds it against me.

Sylvia's comments

Imagine my horror to discover that my character had been flogged as part of his sentence. This was made even more so when I discovered that Jeff's character did the flogging. I sat on a different bench for my lunch and I did consider buying him a tent for the rest of the trip.

Back to Jeff

After seeing, reading, and walking everywhere we left at 5pm and used the barbecue facilities on the site and then sat on our loungers in the sun, reading and watching the seven parrots who were feeding on the grass near by. When night fell we returned to reception and joined the Ghost Tour. As we left the building the receptionist said to me, "Return safely". The history of Port Arthur is such that they don't need to make up stories or use actors, it is more of what should they leave out. The tour lasted nearly two hours, one of the houses was the doctor's house and we were in the basement where he swatted up on his anatomy doing his own vivisections on dead prisoners. The tour's last call was in the maximum prison where 'silent treatment' had been the order of the day and most ended up in the asylum.

No ghosts for us and we have different opinions as to which of us the ghosts were frightened of. We won't forget Port Arthur.

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