Friday, July 13, 2018

Tasmania, Day 3: Port Arthur

Our big excursion today was our visit to Port Arthur. Port Arthur was named after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land. The settlement started as a timber station in 1830, but from 1833 until 1853, it was the destination for convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having re-offended after their arrival in Australia. Rebellious folks from other convict stations were also sent there.

We started out by taking an approximately 30-minute ferry ride around Carnarvon Bay, where we were introduced to some of the general history of Port Arthur, after which we took a tour, where we learned more about those who were sent to Port Arthur, and the timeline. Our first stop was the penitentiary. In the early days of the penal settlement, convicts were housed in rough timber huts in the area next to the police station. As convict numbers increased, the flour mill and granary was converted into a four-story penitentiary. The penitentiary's two lower floors contained 136 cells for "prisoners of bad character." The top floor provided space for 480 better-behaved convicts to sleep in bunks.
the Penitentiary

The trees and grounds are very well kept, and because it's winter here at the moment, the trees are stark but still beautiful, with trees growing around what remains of ruins, such as the Paupers' Depot. By the early 1860s, many convicts were housed and treated in the Paupers' Depot of the Asylum, according to the new ideas that included creating a calm environment.

Paupers' Depot

Port Arthur had some of the strictest security measures of the British penal system and was an example of the "Separate Prison Typology," which signaled a shift from physical punishment to psychological punishment. It was thought that the hard corporal punishment, such as whippings, used in other penal stations, only served to harden criminals, and did nothing to turn them from their immoral ways. For example, food was used to reward well-behaved prisoners and as punishment for troublemakers. As a reward, a prisoner could receive larger amounts of food or even luxury items such as tea, sugar, and tobacco. As punishment, prisoners would receive the bare minimum of bread and water. Under this system of punishment, the "Silent System" was implemented in the building. Here prisoners were hooded and made to stay silent; this method of punishment was supposed to allow time for the prisoner to reflect upon his actions. Many of the prisoners in the Separate Prison developed mental illness from the lack of light and sound. This was an unintended outcome although the asylum was built right next to the Separate Prison. In many ways Port Arthur was the model for many of the penal reform movement, despite shipping, housing and slave-labor use of convicts being as harsh, or worse, than others stations around the nation.

In its day, Separate Prison was believed to be enlightened. The institution’s design stemmed from English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s theory of the Panopticon: a building that allowed all inmates to be observed at once by a single watchman. In the case of Separate Prison, this resulted in a cross-shaped building that allowed watchmen at the core to see down each wing.

the view down one corridor

The Separate Prison was designed to deliver a new method of punishment, of reforming the convicts through isolation and contemplation. Convicts were locked for 23 hours each day in single cells. Here they ate, slept, and worked, with one hour a day allowed for exercise, alone, in a high-walled yard.
one of the exercise rooms
in the Separate Prison 

On our way to the Government House and the Gardens, we passed by the Church. The foundation stone of the Church was laid in 1836 by Lt. Gov. George Arthur on his final visit to Port Arthur. Although constructed by the convicts, much of the stonework and paneled pew fronts were prepared by the boys from the Juvenile Establishment at Point Puer. The first service was held in 1837. The Church was never consecrated, partly to allow use by several denominations and partly due to disagreements between the various church authorities. It had a wooden steeple that blew down during a gale in 1876. In 1884, sparks from a fire lit to clean up around the Parsonage caught the old shingles on the Church roof, the result being the irreparable damage to the Church.

a view from the inside of the Church

1 comment:

  1. What happened to prisoners after their sentences were up?