The Port Arthur penal settlement began life as a small timber station in 1830 and quickly grew in importance within the colonies. Ship building was introduced on a large scale to Port Arthur as a way of providing selected convicts with a useful skill they could take with them once freed. The 1853 cessation of transportation resulted in fewer transportees arriving at the station. However, the 1850s and 1860s were years of remarkable activity, that aimed to make the station economically sustainable. Port Arthur’s story did not end with the removal of the last convict. Almost immediately the site was renamed Carnarvon and, during the 1880s, land was parcelled up and put to auction, people taking up residence in and around the old site.
WHY THIS PLACE
Port Arthur Historic Site is a large site holding a great many stories. Places like the Penitentiary, which was originally constructed as a flour mill and granary in 1843, before it housed hundreds of convicts in dormitories and solitary cells; or the much-feared Separate Prison, where harsh physical punishment was replaced with punishment of the mind; and the unconsecrated Convict Church, where authorities sought to reform Port Arthur’s convicts through a regime of religious instruction and worship.
Many of the people who have passed through Port Arthur throughout its history have left a mark that lives on to this very day. People like 20-year old Private Robert Young, whose devotion to duty led to a tragic end. Young William Thompson, who was transported for burglary and endured the horror of the underground cells of the Coal Mines; headstrong convict servant Margaret Dalziel, who couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble, and left a record of her offences for posterity; and Commandant William Champ, whose vision for a shady refuge for the ladies of the settlement still endures in Port Arthur’s beautiful gardens.