The Pyderrairme people were the traditional owners of the area. However, Port Arthur settlement in Tasmania was first established as a small timber station in 1830, replacing the timber camp at Birches Bay. The colony soon morphed in to a penal station housing British and Irish second offenders after arriving in Australia. It was advertised much like Alcatraz as an inescapable prison. And much like Alcatraz, convicts proved how arrogant they were. Many prisoners found ways to escape to freedom.
Manufactures such as ship building, shoemaking, smithing, timber and brick making were also established. After a suggestion years prior, a flour mill and granary was constructed in 1842 and completed three years later. It housed a storehouse, wheel, machinery and a treadmill capable of taking up to 56 convicts at once. It's purpose was to satisfy the wants of the Convict Department as well as provide surplus for export. However, the infrastructure bringing the water to the wheel loss water to seepage and evaporation. A decade after its construction, the mill was converted in to a penitentiary.
The Separate Prison also known as The Model Prison was completed between 1853 and 1855. The building contained 80 cells in the shape of a cross with radial exercise yards around a central hall and church. The purpose was not to physically punish prisoners but hit them psychologically. The "Silent System" of punishment required prisoners to where a hood over their heads and remain silent while reflecting upon the crime which brought them there. Some view such methods as an enlightened view of imprisonment. However, critics viewed the psychological punishment combined with the no hope of escape as cruel. It is believed convicts committed murder, punishable by death, to escape the camp. The prison closed in 1877
In the 1860s, Port Arthur took a turn for the poor. A Pauper's Depot and an Asylum were built to accommodate the aging and infirm prison population. Many suffered from depression and/or mental disabilities. The asylum was constructed next to the Separate Prison in a cruciform shape. The wings were occupied by dormitories around a central mess hall. The building contained two additional 'L' shaped buildings, a Keepers' quarters and a bakehouse. To the rear was a long wooden building which served as separate apartments for the more rowdy occupants. The front of the asylum occupied an open veranda, with a large fenced garden replete with paths and ornamental plantings. Prisoners worked attending to the gardens and chopping firewood.
All those who met their demise at Port Arthur were taken to the Island of the Dead. There are reported 1676 graves on the small island. However, only 180 are marked, graves of prison staff and military personnel. Devastating bush fires gutted many of the buildings in 1895 to 1897 leading to a new town being established. Buildings including the "Model Prison", the Guard Tower, the Church, and the remnants of the main penitentiary are all that remains. Tourists soon replaced the nonexistent convict population.
If this location hadn't seen enough harsh conditions, it was also the site of a mass murder. Martin Bryant murdered 35 people and wounded 21 more on April 28, 1996. His rampage ranks among one of the most deadliest in the 20th Century. He provided conflicting accounts as to what led him to murder but it is believed his motives dealt with his social isolation and his need for attention. This tragedy led to a national ban on semi-automatic shotguns and rifles as well as created a relationship between the town and Dunblane, a Scottish town who experienced a similar incident earlier that year.
The first house built in Port Arthur was the Commandant's House. Inside sits a rocking chair supposedly known as the "Nanny Chair". Some believe this chair to be haunted. Witnesses have seen it rock on its own. Those who have sat on it have been touched by unseen hands or have strange feelings engulf them. On many occasions, those who try to photograph this chair experience equipment failure. The Parsonage is believed to be one of the most haunted building in Port Arthur. A Reverend George Eastman died in an upstairs bedroom. While trying to lower his body, within a coffin, out of a window, the rope broke, coffin flew open and his body fell in to a gutter. Witnesses have reported smelling a foul rotten odor, hearing moaning noises and seeing strange lights in the building ever since. A woman in a blue period dress is also seen wandering the building. Apparitions have been seen in the Junior Medical Officer's residence. It is believed his children (13 or so) are the culprits of footsteps, moving furniture and rattling windows. Private Robert Young drowned near the Jetty Cabin in 1840. Guests reported seeing a man with straight black hair and a ruffled white shirt in or near the cabin.
The dissection rooms under the Senior Surgeon's House are known for faces popping popping out of a hole in the wall only to disappear moments later. This hole was where the servants used to scrape the ashes from the fireplace down into the dissection room to soak up the blood. In the Separate Prison, visitors have heard the screams of a ghostly boy awaiting execution. In the very cell William Carter committed suicide by hanging, people have felt anxious or depressed. Mysterious lights have been spotted in the dark cells where prisoners were confined for long periods of time in total darkness and silence.
The very location of Port Arthur's cemetery has its own paranormal reports. A prisoner named Mark Jeffrey, serving time for manslaughter, lived on the island in a little hut as the resident gravedigger. One morning a signal fire caught the eye of the authorities and a boat was sent over to retrieve Jeffrey. He returned to the mainland with an unbelievable tale. The night before his hut had been shaken and rocked by an invisible force and a fiery red glow had lit up the walls and surrounding ground. Upon investigation, he was confronted by an creature with eyes smoldering, horns erect and encircled by sulfurous smoke. No one took his experience serious but visitors have felt an oppressive atmosphere on the Island of the Dead. Not surprising considering the many people buried there.
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