We recently did The Port Arthur Historic site as a day trip.
Port Arthur is definitely worth seeing, but make it a day trip ie 90 minutes each way traveling time, plus maybe 3 hours there potentially and then stopping for lunch on the way back.
Port Arthur was a penal settlement, on the Tasman peninsula, starting as a timber station in 1830 and soon a small town to house and punish convicts. Shipbuilding soon commenced and grew exponentially, giving convicts a trade to draw on once freed.
From 1830 – to 1877, there were said to be around 12,500 convicts serving sentences there.
Port Arthur interestingly, was the birthplace of rail transport in Australia in mid-1830s, no longer in operation.
The guided tour is highly recommended as you will be shown sites of significance and how things were when running as a prison. There were prisoners as young as 9yrs of age and various levels – the top floor being for lesser criminals – where there was also a library, as it was thought books and education would help the prisoners reform, right down to the basement/ground level for more “hardcore” criminals.
There is also a cruise, with glimpses of Isle of the Dead and Point Puer, where some 3000 boys were imprisoned in Britain's first purpose-built prison for children. The Isle of Dead is a cemetery island, for more than 1000 convicts, military and civil officers, women and children, who were buried here between 1833 and 1877.
It’s interesting seeing how the site was surrounded by water, said to be shark-infested, with the Eaglehawk neck, 30 meters and policed by half-starved dogs, soldiers, and traps – so chances o
f escaping were very slim, although a few tried and their stories are noted there.
The penitentiary on-site, was constructed in 1843, as a flour mill and granary, before housing hundreds of convicts in dorms and solitary cells. There was a separate prison you can visit and see in some of the cells, where there was psychological punishment – silence, darkness, and punishment of the mind. There is also the shell of the Convict church, built by inmates.
The prison closed in 1877 and then was put up for auction and sold in 1889. Wanting to almost bury the harsh and brutal treatment of many of its inhabitants, they were quick to tear much of it down, then fires in 1895 and 1897 swept through, destroying the old prison house. The town of Carnarvon was born. Finally, in the 1970s the National Parks & Wildlife Service began managing the site.
Open: 8 am – 5 pm daily (closed Christmas)
A 90-minute drive from Hobart, approx. 100km southeast. There is some lovely scenery along the way – beaches, coastline, and farmland.
Bring an umbrella – the weather can change quickly and it’s largely outdoors PLUS check the weather reports before setting off
Wear sneakers/sports shoes – as it’s on 100 acres of land.
In warmer weather, have a hat and sunblock – once again as above, it is largely outdoors
There is a café open 8 am – 3 pm on-site and a restaurant open from 5 pm Wednesday to Saturday and Sundays for lunch 12-3 pm.
There is also a gift shop near the visitor center, where you can pick up local goods eg. Choccies, hand creams, books, clothing, artwork and more!
Site Entry Ticket Prices
Adult $45 Child $20 Concession $36
Note, your entry ticket gives you two consecutive days to explore and enjoy Port Arthur Historic Site’s many sites, tours and activities including:
entry to the Port Arthur Gallery, which includes interactive exhibits and displays that tell the story of the Port Arthur Historic Site and its people,
a guided Introductory Walking Tour,
20-minute Harbour Cruise (*face masks are still required on board the MV Marana).
access to more than 30 historic buildings, ruins, restored houses, heritage gardens, and walking trails