Port Arthur village is a fascinating historic site set in southern Tasmania. Sitting on a picturesque peninsula, it was originally a 19th century penal settlement which now acts as an open-air museum, drawing in visitors who want to learn more about the region’s lengthy criminal past.

Today, the ruins of the site include the impressive prison, as well as the remains of the Convict Church, which was built by the prisoners. In addition to the main part of the prison, there was also the Separate Prison, where inmates were sentenced to solitary confinement and mental punishments.

The Penitentiary dates back to 1843 when it was a much more innocent flour mill and granary. It wasn’t until 1857 that it was turned into a prison that could house more than 480 convicts at any given time in a range of dormitory style accommodation and isolated apartments.

It is surrounded by the Watchmen’s Quarters, and visitors can explore the mess room, library, Catholic chapel, and workshops when visiting the site. In 1897, the entire building was torn down by a fire, and it lay untouched for numerous years until a conservation program to renovate it came into play in the 1960s.

Over the years, the prison site has been extensively renovated to make it the place it is today. It was reopened to the public in 2014 after a year of being closed, and work still continues today, as information signs are added and archaeological excavations take place in the ablutions block.

The Separate Prison

Perhaps the most famous part of Port Arthur Prison is the on-site Separate Prison, which was used for corporal punishment at the time. Food was often used as a reward system rather than a basic human right, and prisoners were regularly isolated for weeks at a time on their own in the dark so they could reflect on the crimes they had committed.

The “Silent System” was in full enforcement in the Separate Prison, where inmates were forced to wear hoods when others were around, were identified by numbers rather than their names, and were forced to keep quiet. At the time, this form of punishment was considered an advancement in prisoner reformation.

Visiting the Port Arthur Prison is a fascinating experience that provides a dark and interesting insight into the prison world during the 1800s. Exhibits showcase some of the more unimaginable aspects of prison life, while information and stories are dotted around for visitors to discover.

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