A landscape of contrast, between the regions harrowing past and the incredible natural beauty of its surrounds, Port Arthur is an intriguing destination with a rich convict history dating back to the 1830s. Located minutes from NRMA Port Arthur Holiday Park, the Port Arthur Historic Site is known as one of Australia’s most significant heritage locations. To help you learn a little more about this world-heritage listed site, we’ve put together the top five interesting facts –
BYO (Build your own) prison
First beginning life as a punishment orientated timber station in the 1830s the timber grown in surrounding forests of Port Arthur was not only the largest outsource for the penal colony, assisting it to become profitable and self-sufficient, but also built the foundation buildings on the site. It wasn’t until 1848 when more than 2000 detainees, soldiers, officers and their families called the settlement home that the first stone was laid. Brick by brick the prisoners built the prison, which still makes up the foundations of the central attraction of the historic site that stands today.
Shaping prisons today
Throughout the settlements 47-year history, more than 12,500 convicts served out their sentences at the site. Despite being one of the harshest prisons, it was also extremely innovative for its time and operated on the belief that prisoners could be reformed while still being punished. Trade training, education and religion provided convicts with the opportunity to reform while extending their skill set, a common practice still implemented in prisons across the world today.
A taste of history
Our very own NRMA Port Arthur played a key role in keeping the colony thriving from 1840 to 1877, the grounds were used to grow the main food source. Convicts would plough, sow and tend to the gardens, growing a wide variety of food that was then used when rationing meals. As the only source of fresh produce, the gardens were vital to fighting diseases such as scurvy which often ran rife throughout the prison. Though the gardens no longer exist, if you’re staying in park be sure to cook up a feast in the on-site pizza oven, made from the bricks of the convict site.
A haunting past
The often-harsh living conditions, punishing manual labour and limited medical services meant that many of the colony that once called Port Arthur home tragically died at the site. Today, it’s known as one of the most haunted places in Australia, explore the iconic site on a ghost tour. One of the most frequently spotted ghosts is the ‘Blue Lady’. Believed to be the wife of an accountant, she is often seen wandering the halls wearing a long blue dress looking for her child. Whether you believe in the legends of Port Arthur or not, it’s enough to make your spine tingle.
Set on the isolated Tasman Peninsula, the rugged surrounds and treacherous waters around the prison made for the ideal location to limit potential escapees. While guards were constantly on duty and an alert system of dogs was used there were still plenty of prisoners who tried their luck escaping. Many drowned in their attempts but one of the most infamous who survived was Martin Cash. Escaping not once but twice past Eaglehawk Neck, after his second successful attempt Martin went on to become one of Tasmania’s most well-known bushrangers.
Adventure to Port Arthur and experience history
Set on the tip of the Tasman Peninsula, NRMA Port Arthur Holiday Park is the ideal location to set up base and explore the area.Book now