Port Arthur Historic Site
- what can we learn?

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The Port Arthur historic site was the one place I knew I must visit when in Tasmania. From all the documentaries I'd seen and articles I'd read, I knew that I must not miss it. It is Australia's most intact convict site.

Port Arthur Historic Site penitentiary

The penal station was first established in 1830. Over time it developed into a punishment station to which serious repeat offenders were sent from other Australian colonies.

By 1840 thousands of convicts as well as soldiers and civil staff lived at the settlement. Not only was it a penal station, it also produced a variety of goods including ships, clothing and furniture.

Port Arthur Historic Site - 4 of hearts card

On paying for admission you are given a comprehensive guide book and a playing card. Playing card? The card is associated with a convict who has actually lived at the settlement. You are invited to find out more about "your" convict during your visit. And you do...

Port Arthur Historic Site - view from Memorial Garden

What struck me first of all was the size of the Port Arthur Historic Site - it is huge. It covers 40 hectares (90 acres). You really do need to spend at least a day there to appreciate everything the place has to offer.

Port Arthur Historic Site church

It is not just a bunch of slabs in the ground and a few piles of bricks lying around that you can view in an hour. There are ruins yes, but there are also over 30 intact buildings, some of which have been restored. And these buildings are spread out. You walk around over long stretches of ground. You stop to admire and photograph the views.

Port Arthur harbour island

Included in the admission price is a cruise around the Port Arthur harbour. This allows you to view the site from the harbour plus visit islands. A cemetery is located on the aptly named "Isle of the Dead". On another island is the remains of the Point Puer Boys' Prison where teenage male convicts lived.

You can hire an audio player and listen to recordings which guide you around the site. I highly recommend the introductory walking tour, on which you are accompanied by an expert guide. There's nothing like learning from someone who has been trained in the history of the settlement, and who knows about what actually went on in all the different locations. You can get your questions answered plus talk to other people in the group - what a great way to learn and enjoy the experience too!

Port Arthur Historic Site - Thomas Fleet information

Yes I did find out who "my" convict was. In the "Lottery of Life" as it is called, I had been dealt the four of hearts. I discovered that this card was associated with Thomas Fleet. He tried to escape with 5 others but was caught and punished with 75 lashes. In a bid for revenge, he struck his overseer in the back with an axe. For this he was charged with attempted murder and executed. I wonder what his original crime was...

Port Arthur Historic Site - building corridor

At the end of my visit, I had mixed feelings. I was sad about the misery as well as the brutality. But I was also comforted by the stories of kindness and compassion.

Yes, the Port Arthur historic site provides us with opportunities to explore history. But at the same time we can reflect on lessons to be learnt.

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