Port Arthur is a fascinating World Heritage Site, once home to some of the most notorious convicts in the British Empire. Famed for being inescapable, you can explore not just the lives of the convicts, but all those who lived and worked on this convict settlement. A variety of tours are available, and give an amazing insight into the experimental prison systems that were being trialled in the 19th century.
Port Arthur Historic Site
Port Arthur’s iconic heritage site is one of the most intact convict sites in Australia, made up of over 30 different buildings, as well as ruins and restored period homes. From 1833 to 1877, it was home to some of Britain’s worst criminals, and was thought to be inescapable due to its natural defences and high security.
The site also included the Separate Prison, which was infamous for its use of psychological techniques to control inmates. The prison that once held over 1,000 inmates is just as chilling today as it must have been for its new arrivals in the 19th century. The cross-shaped building was designed to allow a single watchman to oversee the entire prison population, and rumour has it that ghostly screams still echo down its long, stone corridors.
Port Arthur Ghost Tour
Guided ghost tours are a popular activity for visitors to the Port Arthur Historic Site. Visitors are led through the grounds after dark, seeing them in the eerie shading of darkness. Guides share stories of past inmates and ghostly sightings, leaving it up to you to decide whether it is merely fiction, or if the long halls echo with the screams of the dead. Some of the tales are legends, passed down from inmates and guards, whilst others are the equally-chilling tales of historically-documented events. It is the perfect way to experience the dark side of the Port Arthur Historic Site.
One important aspect of Port Arthur’s heritage is the amazing wildlife that can be seen all around, much of which is unique to the area. The best way to see the local wildlife is through an Unzoo experience, where visitors travel through the bush in four-wheel-drive vehicles, observing the animals in their natural habitat. Look out for the famous Tasmanian Devils and get up close and personal with them at the innovative Devil den, if you dare. Much of the wildlife is extremely rare, and even endangered, so this really is a once-a-in-lifetime opportunity.
Although ornamental trees were planted at Port Arthur as early as 1830, it wasn’t until 1846 that Commandant Champ developed the Government Gardens. These ornamental gardens were primarily planted for the enjoyment of the ladies of the settlement, and were much admired, reaching their peak in the late 19th century.
Various gardens within the site can be explored by visitors, including the Government Gardens and the Commandant’s Gardens that were originally planted in the 1850s. The orchard, flower and vegetable gardens at Trentham Cottage can also be seen, along with native Tasmanian species in the surrounding bushland. Entry to the gardens is included in the site entry, so enjoy discovering these wonderful gardens at your leisure.
Isle of the Dead Tour
Port Arthur’s cemetery island is almost as chilling as the prison itself, housing over 1,000 people, but comparatively few headstones, as convicts were simply buried in mass graves. A visit to the island gives you an amazing insight into the lives and deaths of the inhabitants of the unique area. Alongside the buried convicts are the soldiers who gave their lives to guard the prison, the powerful men who oversaw it, and the families they brought with them to the other side of the world. It’s well worth a visit, but bear in mind that the tour is conducted outdoors, so be sure to arrive prepared for the weather.
Point Puer Boy’s Prison Tour
Point Puer Boys’ Prison is quite a different experience to the main prison, as it was home to 3,000 young boys, the first separate boys’ prison in the British Empire. It was known for its strict discipline regime and the harsh punishments that were doled out on boys as young as nine. The tour includes the stories of some of the boys, and an insight into the difficult daily life of this experimental prison. Tours depart daily, except during August, and it is best to allow two hours to return to the island, which is located across the harbour from Port Arthur.
If our guide has whetted your appetite for a fascinating trip to this World Heritage Site, why not browse our range of cruises that stop off in the city, as well as many other exciting locations? Our full range can be seen online, or you can give our friendly sales team a call on 1300 857 345.