2019 Tas An Afternoon at Port Arthur

Sat 11 Jan 2020 22:20

Position Update 43:40.51S 146:32.02E

An Afternoon at Port Arthur

It is not surprising the site is so well organised as it was recognised as a place of ‘historic interest’ over a century ago. It is impressive in many ways, not just in size, more than 30 historic buildings, ruins and restored museum houses and gardens fill the 50 plus acre site, but also in the quality of maintenance and the skill of the guides to convey the history in ways palatable to all ages. But that is all since it closed.

Young lads, often of Irish descent, born in the slums of London who were coerced into stealing by Fagin types were sent here to the boys prison on Point Puer Island where, despite or perhaps because of a strict regime they were educated and taught trades so that 75% became successful in their chosen trade and never re-offended. Rob felt strongly that teaching trades in the form of apprenticeships guides youngsters away from a life of crime and I agree with him. We could do with lots more of that policy at home.

The construction of the buildings and many industries including logging, brickmaking, ship building, gardening, clothes and furniture manufacture were all done by the prisoners.

Various philosophies were employed including, obviously discipline and punishment but also religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, training and education. I liked the fact that bumptious Lord John Franklin, referred to as ‘old granny’ by the inmates was married to the enlightened Lady Jane who set up a ‘ladies society’ for the reformation of female prisoners. Oh to have been a fly on the wall when they were having dinner.

Our entertaining and informative American guide, Andrew listed the origins of the prisoners from NZ, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, India, South Africa, Mauritius, Aden, Gibraltar, Malta, Canada and the Caribbean in other words our colonies, but mostly from the UK. You can see him standing in one of the 136 tiny cells on the ground floor which housed men in heavy irons in the long building that started life as a flour mill and granary and was designed to be water-powered. When the water supply was found to be inadequate prisoners walked the treadmill, one of the harshest punishments at Port Arthur.

The white building is the most prestigious on the site to reflect the high status of the Commandant. I wandered the wattle fenced garden before I went in and found the delightful story of unreformable Ebenezer Brittlebank, who, after many counts of stealing was given the opportunity to work in the garden. Not one to learn from his mistakes he was then caught stealing leeks and turnips and sent to the invalid gang to make broom handles instead.

I wonder how effective the new style lunatic asylum was that set out to heal mental disorders with kind treatment and a pleasant environment. At least it wasn’t physically brutal as they had been previously.

The last few photos show the beautifully laid out restored gardens designed for the free people to find relaxation and sanctuary. The ruined building in the penultimate picture is the ruins of the Broad Arrow Café where in 1996 a gunman slayed 20 people, he killed another 15 around the site and injured 19. The area of flat paving and the raised shallow geometric pool are part of the garden created to allow peaceful remembrance and reflection of the tragic events of that dark day.