A visit to the Port Arthur Historic Site is mandatory if you are interested in the history of Australia. Our early history is gruesome as it was harsh for the convicts who for the most part were not hardened criminals but scapegoats for a country that needed to populate Australia and send back any riches available. That is my mini view but when you read of the crimes the convicts committed they would have been slaps on the wrist, warnings, or simple fines today.
Even poor children were sent out, poor in every sense of the word. They were put in a reform school here, some were orphans but those who had families were separated from them for life. When I read of children who died in these circumstances without any chance of a break in life I have very mixed feelings about the English. But we are all more enlightened today.
Back to the convicts. Or should I say the slave labour, yes Australia had slaves. The English social system was in a mess, we have been told there was not enough work, cities were overcrowded, the unskilled and uneducated were not given a fair wage and schooling or high schooling was only available for the well off middle and upper classes. But they took ownership of Australia and they considered this an answer to sorting out their unwanted. I do not have any convict history that I am aware of but I would be proud of them if they survived this penal colony even if they were a dastardly Fagin type of character. I am on a bit of a rant so I am going back to simply sharing our impressions and the photos I took with you.
You need to work out what you want to do, as there is a lot to see. You can select from a range of entry prices. Some include lunch, an option we took – but a mistake, once inside the cafe we were told which specific ‘snack’ foods we could choose from, we felt like we were on rations. The food choices were limited if you bought the entry/lunch combination ticket and absolute junk as far as the four of us were concerned. What a disappointment, next time I am bringing a picnic. And there will be a next time as I did not get to the Boy’s prison at Point Puer.
Convict made bricks and beautiful stone corner pieces. We hired the portable audio guides but in addition we were offered a general introduction by a trained guide to begin our visit. Our friends from Switzerland had trouble understanding his colloquialisms and of course he spoke too quickly for them to comprehend but at least they had the audio guides to catch up later.A trip on the boat was offered but you have to pay for a guided stopover, we took the option to alight at the Isle of the Dead, a cemetery for inmates and staff, burial places separated for the most part on two sections of the tiny island. Even in death the convicts were considered to be evil. The burial-place for the convicts were only visible by the mounds of earth to cover them, but in later years some families of the convicts were allowed to erect headstones to mark their graves.Entrance gate to Commandants House.The garden at the Commandant’s House is as it would have been complete with vegetables. Love the little animal proof fence made of tea tree branches.Entrance hall, as the family grew, more rooms were added to the rear and the house kept climbing up the back of the land.I was keen to see the interiors of the other houses that had been restored. This one has a hand-painted canvas mat.Kitchens are always of interest to me as I spend many hours in mine. As much as I love a flagstones, I think those floors would give me varicose veins.Time worn steps.A tranquil place these days and a World Heritage site.The formal garden path has been restored or recreated.Remains of the Government Cottage. Love the urn and amazingly there is another one on the other side of the steps, both survived the ravages of time whilst the cottage did not.The headstones of the officers and wives.
The boys from the Point Puer Boy’s Prison did most of the decorative stonework and joinery. The roof of the church has gone so now the floor of the church is a fresh carpet of flowers, it was alluring and I could imagine a stunning setting for wedding, although it may seem macabre to others.It was a tough life for the convicts and as the officers and their families all lived here so I can imagine how it must have been difficult to watch the ladies and children taking leisurely walks in the Government gardens.
I commend a project that is underway to identify every convict and free person who passed through Port Arthur between 1830 and 1877. If you think you may have a link here in the family, the Research Centre will offer advice and assistance with family history research. 03 6251 2324. There is a fee for a copy or transcript of a particular Tasmanian convicts record, I think it should be free. My last word on the subject.