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"A Mill To Grind Rogues Honest"

Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania

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View New Zealand & Australia 2009 on usroyal's travel map.

Note: This blog entry is based on our visit to Port Arthur, the penal colony near Hobart. We spent a complete day at Port Arthur and enjoyed the historic site, the most visited tourist attraction in Tasmania. In this blog we've summarized some of the history and social significance of Port Arthur.

Also please note that the pictures included are thumbnail entries and can be enlarged by clicking on each photo.

The English prison reformer Jeremy Bentham described his penitentiary - London's Pentonville Prison as 'a machine for grinding rogues honest'.

Port Arthur penal colony was based on Pentonville Prison.


The cogs of this 'machine' were discipline and punishment, religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, training and education.

It was an ambitious experiment. Its methods seem cruel today, and many men were broken. Some were absorbed into other experiments - the beginnings of the modern welfare system and of the modern asylum.

But some men did leave equipped for a future that they could not otherwise have dreamed of.

In stark contrast to the convict experience, a community of military men and free officers with wives and families tried to make normal lives. They held parties, regattas, cricket matches and literary evenings. Their children played and went to school.

Port Arthur was the cradle of modern Australia's adult and juvenile prisons. The principles of classification, relentless surveillance, in Port Arthur as a coherent and deliberate system are still the cornerstones of modern penal systems.

Port Arthur History

Port Arthur penal station was established in 1830 as a timber-getting camp, producing sawn logs for government projects. After 1833 it became a punishment station for repeat offenders from all the Australian colonies. It also managed a number of outstations that produced raw material like timber and food.

By 1840 over 2000 convicts, soldiers and civil staff lived here. It had become a major industrial settlement, producing ships and shoes, clothing and bells, furniture and worked stone, brooms and bricks.


Convicts were transported in ships from from Great Britain, sentenced to seven years, fourteen years or for life, most for petty offenses. Surprisingly, one in four convicts were Irish, many seeking "voluntary" transportation to escape religious and political persecution and the potato famine at home.

Prisoners could earn their "Ticket Of Leave" by conforming to the system and completing their sentences. Most acquired skilled trades and went on to lead fruitful lives in their new country. Few made it back home to the British Isles. Your outbound ticket was paid for but you were on your own when it came down to repatriation!

"The Isle Of The Dead" is a small island which lies in Mason Cove served as the cemetery for Port Arthur. About 1100 people were buried on the island. Even in death, strict social order was maintained. The higher ground is occupied by free men and women , military and civilian, in marked graves. The lower half of the island was reserved for convicts, lunatics, invalids and paupers who were buried in unmarked plots.


Transportation to Van Diemen's Land [the original name for Tasmania] ended in 1853 and Port Arthur began to enter its welfare phase. It housed the wreckage of the convict system, men too physically or mentally disabled to look after themselves.


By the time penal settlement finally closed in 1877, after forty seven years, over 12,000 men and boys, had passed through what was commonly regarded as the harshest institution of its kind in the British Empire.

Many of the settlement's buildings were subsequently pulled down or gutted by fire. Others were sold to private settlers and gradually a small town, named Carnarvon, was established. Carnarvon was named in an attempt "to erase the hated stain" but subsequently resumed its former name of Port Arthur.

More Tragedy At Port Arthur

On Sunday 28 April 1996, the Port Arthur Historic Site was the scene of a devastating violent crime, when a single gunman armed with automatic weapons shot to death 35 people, including visitors and staff, wounding many more. The gunmen was apprehended, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to imprisonment for life with no eligibility for parole. A memorial garden, incorporating the shell of the Broad Arrow Cafe in which more than twenty victims were killed, was established in April 2000.

Personal Note: A search of the Port Arthur criminal database revealed that Frederick Lawton, Police No.25655, arrived at the penal colony of Port Arthur on the ship "Fairlie" on July 4th, 1852.

I intend to conduct further research into this individual in an attempt to prove that this was not in fact my Dad, Fred Lawton. If "Frederick" and "Fred" were in fact the same person, my Dad was actually approximately 167 years old when he passed away in 1999! If so, I hope I inherit his longevity genes!

G'day Mates!

Trevor & Rebecca

Posted by usroyal 17:52 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites

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