Port Arthur Drive
Of all the convict related historic sites around Australia, none so graphically tell the story of Australia's convict past that the ruins of the convict settlement at Port Arthur. The place is a window into modern Australia's beginnings, and paints a vivid picture of the lives and times of those poor wretches who were transported to Australia from Britain to start a new life on the other side of the world.
After entering the Historic Site, visitors can either survey the site for themselves, or participate in guided tours of the Site, a harbour cruise, tours to the Isle of the Dead and Point Puer and evening Historic Ghost Tours. There is also a museum, containing written records, tools, clothing and other curiosities from convict times, a Convict Gallery with displays of the various trades and work undertaken by convicts, and a research room where visitors can check up on any convict ancestors. Visitor facilities include two cafes, a bistro that operates each evening, gift shop, and other facilities.
Where Is it?: Port Arthur is 95 km south east of Hobart. From Hobart, take the A3 to Sorell and then the Arthur Highway (A9) to Port Arthur.
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A centre serving a rich and well developed pastoral and agricultural region, Sorell also supports fishing and timber getting industries. Its name recalls William Sorell, who was Lieut. Gov. of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) between 1817 and 1824.
Where Is it? Sorell is located on the Tasman Highway at the junction with the Arthur Highway 13 km from Richmond, 25 km east of Hobart, 31 km from Dunalley, 53 km from Orford.
The arrival of cherry blossoms is a time for celebration at the Sorell Fruit Farm which has an annual Cherry Blossom Festival during September and October.
Most visitors to Tasmania know Sorell as a place they pass through on their way to Port Arthur from Hobart. Known for its interesting shops, pubs and eateries, Sorell also has a number of historic churches - St George's Anglican Church, Scot's Uniting Church and St Thomas's Roman Catholic Church. All three are three National Estate listed.
St George's Anglican Church: Gordon Street, Sorell. There are three National Estate listed churches in Sorell. Of the three, St George's Anglican Church is the most impressive. Built in 1826 and rebuilt in 1883, is of a gothic style, characterized by its gabled iron roof, with closed eaves and walls. The walls are made of coarse sandstone and have buttresses at regular intervals. As well as the church, there is an adjacent graveyard, featuring graves dating back to the 1830's, and grounds which now contains the Sorell Visitors Information Centre and a small park. Whilst the church is of a simple design, but up close the workmanship is outstanding.
A rural centre set among orchards, Copping is best known for supplying fruit for the tables of Hobart.
Where Is it?: Copping is 39 km east of Hobart ; 7.5 km north of Dunalley, on the Arthur Highway between Dunalley and Sorell.
Part of the Bream Creek district, it was named after Captain Richard Copping, who purchased a property here from George Moore in 1860 upon which he settled three of his half-brothers as tenant farmers. Captain Copping established his own property Rochford Hall nearby at Kellevie.
Copping gained notoriety when it was revealed that Port Arthur mass murderer Martin Bryant lived there for a number of years in the 1980s. Many properties were destroyed in Copping during bushfires in January 2013.
Colonial and Convict Exhibition: Not to be missed if you are passing through this village is the Copping Colonial and Convict Exhibition at the local museum. On display is an original cell door from the Port Arthur penal settlement, which was in use between 1833 and 1877, as well as thousands of other items relating to the convict era and the history of settlement in southern Tasmania. Housed in a big shed, the museum is open during regular business hours, seven days a week. Vines & Designs at the Copping Museum is a cafe, art galley and gift shop that also warrants a visit.
Forestier Peninsula is connected to mainland Tasmania at East Bay Neck, near the town of Dunalley at its northern end. At Eaglehawk Neck, the southern end of the Forestier Peninsula is connected to the Tasman Peninsula. It was at Blackman Bay on the shores of Forestier Peninsula that Dutch explorer Abel Tasman claimed formal possession of the land for Dutch Prince Frederick Henrijk on 3rd December 1642. After a failed attempt to land in the larger Marion Bay to the north on the previous day, the ship's carpenter, Pieter Jacobszoon, was given the task of swimming through the surf and planting a pole with the Dutch East Indies company mark carved into it, and the Prince's flag atop.
Dunalley is a fishing village built around the man-made Denison Canal, which has a swing bridge over it for road traffic. Dunalley is on the narrow land neck that connects Forestier Peninsula with the rest of Tasmania. Blackman Bay lies to the norh east; Dunalley Bay on Norfolk Bay lies to the south west. Dunalley is 57 km east of Hobart, 40 km south of Orford, 26 km south east of Sorell, 22 km north of Port Arthur, on the Arthur Highway.
As its name suggests, Eaglehawk Neck is a narrow bar between Pirates Bay to the east and Norfolk Bay to the west. It is made of sand carried by currents and waves from the floors of Pirate's Bay to the east and Norfolk Bay to the west. This isthmus joins the Forestier Peninsula and Tasman Peninsula and the former Port Arthur Penal Settlement on which it stands in a narrow strip of land which is less than 100 metres wide.
It was here, during the convict penal settlement days, that savage attack dogs were chained from one side of the neck to other within reach of each other to deter prisoners from attempting an escape by land. As a sombre reminder of the location's use, a bronze dog sculpture marks the spot where chained attack dogs were once stationed.
At the neck itself you can visit the Tessellated Pavement, while a short drive south are the impressive coastal rock formations of the Devils Kitchen, Tasman Arch and the Blowhole. The Totem Pole is an offshore favourite with rock climbers and kayakers further south.
By far the most well known feature of Forestier Peninsula is the Tessellated Pavement, situated a short distance from Eaglehawk Neck on the shoreline below the Lufra Hotal. This unusual geological formation gives the rocks the effect of having been rather neatly tiled by a giant. The pavement appears tessellated (tiled) because the rocks forming it were fractured by earth movements. The fractures are in three sets. One set runs almost north, another east north east, and the third discontinuous set north north west. It is the last two sets that produce the tiled appearance. This tessellated pavement is one of the largest in the world.
High on the hillsides above the Tesselated Pavement, Pirates Bay Lookout gives panoramic views down the east coast of Tasmania Peninsula with spectacular vistas towards Cape Hauy and Cape Pillar, which are both visible on a clear day. The lookout is on Pirates Bay Drive, the turnoff to the left off Tasman Highway being around 2 km before reaching Eaglehawk Neck when approaching from Dunalley. The lookout can also be accessed from Eaglehawk Neck. Simply take the Scenic drive past the Lufra Hotel.
Just passed Eaglehawk Neck, on the way to Tasman's Arch, the Blowhole and the Devil's Kitchen is the holiday village of Doo Town. The town dates back to the 1930s when in 1935, Hobart architect Eric Round began a custom that continues today. Round placed the name plate "Doo I" on his weekend shack. A neighbour, Charles Gibson, responded with a plate reading "Doo Me" then Bill Eldrige with "Doo Us". Eric Round later renamed his shack Xanadoo.
The trend caught on and most of the homes have a plate following the Doo theme: Gunadoo, Doodle Doo, Love Me Doo, Doo Us, Doo Me, Doo Nix, Wee Doo, Xanadu, Rum Doo and, the house which reputedly started the fashion, Doo Little a suitable name for a holiday home. There is one dissenting house in the town, daringly named Medhurst.
Tasman National Park protects diverse forest and spectacular coastline from Cape Surville to Waterfall Bay and Fortescue Bay; and from Cape Hauy to Cape Pillar and Cape Raoul. The park incorporates several off-shore islands, including Fossil Island, Hippolyte Rocks and Tasman Island.
It is an area of great beauty and natural diversity, including some of the most stunning coastal scenery anywhere in Australia. Not suprisingly, the park offers some of the best coastal walks in the country. Many interesting rock formations can be found along the coastline, while the southern end of the park has some of the highest and most spectacular sea cliffs in Australia. The park is also home to a wide range of land and marine animals, and several species of rare plant.
Where Is it?: Tasman National Park is located on the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas in south-eastern Tasmania. From Hobart, take the A3 to Sorell and then the Arthur Highway (A9) to Port Arthur. The park has several main access roads.
During the height of the Port Arthur penal settlement, Taranna was the terminus for a human railway which ran between the jetty at Little Norfolk Bay and the prison. This railway line was designed to carry passengers and supplies from the security of Norfolk Bay across the narrow isthmus to Port Arthur and Long Bay. The aim was to avoid the rough seas which characterised journeys from Hobart Town to Port Arthur which were forced to round Cape Raoul. The railway has the dubious distinction of being the first railway in Australia and probably the only one using human horsepower along its seven kilometre line.
Where Is it? Taranna is 87 km south west of Hobart, 30 km south of Dunalley, 10 km north of Port Arthur, on the Tasman Peninsula.
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When you visit the ruins of the Port Arthur Penal Settlement, be sure to include a boat trip out to the Island of the Dead if you haven't already been there. The cruise to this small island includes a guided tour, which presents Port Arthur s history from a totally different point of view to that which is normally told. The tour highlights the human side of the Port Arthur story by offering an insight into the lives of the people who lived and died there.
The Isle of the Dead is a small island located in the harbour off Point Puer adjacent to the Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania. It is a small, picturesque island roughly the size of Sydney's Fort Denison, and lies in the bay between the prison and the open ocean. Originally called Opossum Island, it was selected as a burial place by the Rev. John Manton in 1833. Between 1833 and 1877, about 1,000 burials took place on the island; The majority were convicts and ex-convict paupers who were buried mostly in unmarked graves on the lower part of the island.
The graves of free people - 180 officials, soldiers, women and children - were located in the higher side of the island and sometimes marked by elaborate headstones cut by the convict stonemasons. The island was originally name Opossum Island after a vessel, the Opossum, sought shelter near the island in 1827. It became the burial place for Port Arthur in 1831 (only months after the establishment of the settlement) and almost immediately was divided into free settler and convict burial grounds. At this time it was known simply as Dead Island.
The Isle of the Dead is far from being a gloomy place, though it must have been in Port Arthur's heyday. The novelist Anthony Trollope visited it in 1872 and was much taken by the grave digger John Barton who lived on his little island all alone. Trollope wrote: To the extent of the island he was no prisoner at all, but might wander whither he liked, might go to bed when he pleased, and get up when he pleased, might bathe and catch fish or cultivate his little flower garden. Twice a week his rations were brought to him and in his disposal of them no one interfered with him. Trollope was fascinated that the grave digger would grow flowers on his island but no vegetables, fearing no good would come of eating produce grown among such distressed bones.
Most visitors to the Tasman Peninsula are familiar with the role played by Port Arthur as a penal outstation in Van Diemen's Land, but few are aware of the numerous other convict stations in the area, most of which were on the shores of Norfolk Bay. Convict-built out-stations still stand at Saltwater River, Koonya, Premaydena and Taranna. At Saltwater River is the remains of another large convict station and a coal mine, with numerous buildings an a few mine shafts still intact. Interpretive signage details the story of the site, which is about a 25 minute drive from Port Arthur. Norfolk Bay is a large inlet off Frederick Henry Bay to the west of Forestier Peninsula and north west of Tasman Peninsula.
This was Tasmania's first operational mine, established as a much-needed local source of coal, but also as a place of punishment for the worst class of convicts. Along with the nearby Port Arthur Historic Site, the Coal Mines Historic Site is included in the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage listing.
At any one time, around 60 convicts were sent to work in the dark, hot damp tunnels of the mine which operated from 1833 to 1848. With its reputation for harshness and homosexual activity which was not always reciprocal, the mine contributed towards the failure of the probation system and its eventual demise.
At the site are remnants of the main settlement include the prisoners barracks, chapel, officers quarters and solitary cells. The ruins of the colliery, including the circular depressions of the mine shafts, can be viewed at close range. On the slopes above are the ruins of the military officers quarters and the remains of several stone cottages near Plunkett Point.
Many of the original roads and tramways have survived, including the formation of the incline plane, which extends from the 1845 shaft on Coal Mine Hill to remnants of jetties at Plunkett Point. Other remains include a lime kiln, which is largely intact, and a series of tan pits. The original adits and shafts are inaccessible, however the sites of the 1838, 1842 and 1845 main shafts and numerous minor shafts are readily apparent, as are the associated soil dumps and coal stockpiles. The extensive underground workings are inaccessible, but have interpretive signage.
The Lime Bay Nature Reserve is seldom visited, but contains a surprisingly large network of trails linking together some beautiful beaches and lagoons with some great convict history thrown in. The reserve is a popular spot for camping, boating and walking. Facilities include toilets, picnic tables and fire places. It is advisable to bring your own water and firewood. There are two tranquil beaches: Lime Bay is next to the camping area, while the picturesque Lagoon Beach lies in the lee of Sloping Island, an easy 40 min walk.
The out-station at Cascade (now Koonya) was neat and compact. From it, convicts were employed in felling timber, which was believed to be the best on the peninsula. Most of it was used for shipbuilding in Hobart. The many buildings which are still standing were arranged on either side of a main street in an area between two streams. The old road has vanished without trace; the current road runs inland between the hospital and penetentiary. The waterfall after which the settlement was named can be seen where the present road crosses the western of the two streams.
Known in convict times as Impression Bay, this was the most important out-station on the peninsula after Port Arthur. It opened in 1841, initially growing vegetables, and by 1846, there were 445 convicts based at the station and four doctors were employed here. A long tramway ran through the middle of the settlement to a jetty on Premaydena Bay. The foundation logs of a trestle bridge that carried the railway across mud flats are still visible at low tide. Most buildings were situated on a hill on the north western side of the valley. A lage brick and stone prison was set into the side of the hill. Only a handful of the buildings remain.
Situated in a fertile valley, the station was a base for timber milling (primarily used at the Saltwater River coal mine) and wood manufacturing until the local timber ran out in 1857. For six months it became a quarantine station for 300 passengers from the migrant ship Persian affected by typhoid fever. The land was then sold and the area changed its name to Premaydena.
Nubeena is a small, sleepy and attractive holiday and fishing village, in spite of being the largest town on the Tasman Peninsula. Nubeena lies at the head of Wedge Bay on the western flank of what is virtually an island guarding the eastern entrance to Storm Bay. Further offshore is Wedge Island which is an important nesting habitat for the shearwater.
Where Is it?: Nubeena is 113km south east of Hobart and 12 km from Port Arthur. The town is halfway along the west coast of Tasman Peninsula, on Parsons Bay, which is a narrow continuation of Wedge Bay. From Port Arthur (A9) it on a circuit drive - via Saltwater River - back to the main road at Taranna (B37), a picturesque alternative to driving straight from Port Arthur to Taranna.
Most people who visit the Port Arthur Historic Site simply head back the way they came when they leave, not realising that there is plenty more to see in and around the peninsula beyond Port Arthur. Turning left upon leaving Port Arthur onto Safety Cove Road, rather than right, leads you to some quite different coastal scenery to that found around Eaglehawk Neck and Pirates Bay. These include some quite unique and amazing rock formations, the most remarkable of them all being the appropriately named Remarkable Cave. It is remarkable not only for its unique form, but also because its opening, when viewed from the observation platform, is the shape of Tasmania.
Five hundred metres past the turnoff to Port Arthur Historic Site, down a gravel road, through a pear orchard, two hours' walk along a trail flanked by scrub, down a cliff and beyond a series of truck-sized boulders, you'll find Australia's biggest waves. This rugged headland on the Tasman Peninsula is generally accepted as being the most challenging surfing location in Australia. Below the bluff, heaving swells hit a reef head-on, causing a huge body of water to arc up seemingly out of nowhere. In recent years, this churning swell has attracted elite surfers from around the world, dominated the surf media and set the bar for extreme surfing in Australia.
Tasman Island stands defiantly beyond the tip of Cape Pillar, a rugged, desolate and windswept rock; it was named after Dutch seaman Abel Tasman who cautiously skirted its thunderous shores in 1642. Like a fortress, its grey basalt columns rise 240 metres straight out of the sea. Above is a plateau of only 50 hectares, pock-marked with sink holes, caves and small clumps of windswept vegetation.
The Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas are situated to the south east of Hobart. As well as being home to the Port Arthur convict settlement ruins, they offer the most diverse day walking options in Australia. The Tasmanian Coastal Trail is one of 35 fantastic walks in and around Tasman National Park, from which one can select a short easy family walks of 15 minutes right up ones with hard, steep, rough tracks for the more adventurous. The Cape Hauy Track falls midway between the two extremes.
Just minutes away from Sea Change Safety Cove, the Tasman Golf Course is a wonderful 9 hole course, nestled in the tranquil and historic environs of Point Puer, has plenty to offer both the casual golfer and the more serious player. For pure spectacle,you can't beat the amazing par 3 eighth hole at the Tasman Club, near Port Arthur - your tee shot has to reach a pocket-handkerchief green on the far side of a deep chasm, where vertical sea cliffs plummet down to surging ocean swells and tossing bull kelp, far below. Telephone (03) 62502444.
The penal settlement of Port Arthur, built on the shores of Masons Cove, was named after Van Diemen's Land lieutenant governor George Arthur, under whose governorship the settlement started as a timber station in 1830, and grew into the largest penal colony in the British Empire.
From 1833, until the 1850s, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British and Irish criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. Rebellious personalities from other convict stations were also sent here, a quite undesirable punishment. In addition Port Arthur had some of the strictest security measures of the British penal system.
The peninsula on which Port Arthur is located is a naturally secure site by being surrounded by water (rumoured by the administration to be shark-infested). The 30m wide isthmus of Eaglehawk Neck that was the only connection to the mainland was fenced and guarded by soldiers and half-starved dogs.
Port Arthur's reputation was that of an inescapable prison, much like the later Alcatraz Island in the United States. Some prisoners were not discouraged by this, and tried to escape. Martin Cash successfully escaped along with two others. One of the most infamous incidents, simply for its bizarreness, was the escape attempt of one George 'Billy' Hunt. Hunt disguised himself using a kangaroo hide and tried to flee across the Neck, but the half-starved guards on duty tried to shoot him to supplement their meagre rations. When he noticed them sighting him up, Hunt threw off his disguise and surrendered, receiving 150 lashes.
Port Arthur was also the destination for juvenile convicts, receiving many boys, some as young as nine arrested for stealing toys. The boys were separated from the main convict population and kept on Point Puer, the British Empire's first boys' prison. Like the adults, the boys were used in hard labour such as stone cutting and construction. One of the buildings constructed was one of Australia's first non-denominational churches, built in a gothic style. Attendance of the weekly Sunday service was compulsory for the prison population. Critics of the new system noted that this and other measures seemed to have negligible impact on reformation.
Despite its reputation as a pioneering institution for the new, enlightened view of imprisonment, Port Arthur was still in reality as harsh and brutal as other penal settlements. Some critics might even suggest that its use of psychological punishment, compounded with no hope of escape, made it one of the worst. Some tales suggest that prisoners committed murder (an offence punishable by death) just to escape the desolation of life at the camp. The Island of the Dead was the destination for all who died inside the prison camps. Of the 1646 graves recorded to exist there, only 180, those of prison staff and military personnel, are marked. The prison closed in 1877.
After the closure of the penal colony the site was renamed Carnarvon. During the 1880s the land in and around the site was sold off to the public and a community was established. Devastating fires tore through the area in 1895 and 1897 gutting the old prison buildings, leading to the establishment of the new town, with post office and other facilities.
Tourism started up almost as soon as the last convicts had left, supplying the new residents with a source of income, part of it undoubtedly due to its unsavoury past, and the ghost stories that accompany it. In 1927 tourism had grown to the point where the area's name was reverted to Port Arthur.
By the 1970s the National Parks and Wildlife Service began managing the site. In 1979 funding was received to preserve the site as a tourist destination, due to its historical significance. The working elements of the Port Arthur community such as the post office and municipal offices were moved to nearby Nubeena. Since 1987, the site has been managed by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, with conservation works funded by the Tasmanian Government and the admission fees paid by visitors.
Several magnificent sandstone structures, built by convicts working under hard labour conditions, have been cleaned of ivy over growth and restored to a condition similar to their appearance in the 19th century. Buildings include the Model Prison, the Guard Tower, the Church, and the remnants of the main penitentiary. The buildings, now open for inspection by visitors to Port Arthur, are surrounded by lush green parkland.