History: Australia and Convicts How did we get the modern day Australia?
Geography The continent of Australia, with the island state of Tasmania, is approximately equal in area to the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). Mountain ranges run from north to south along the east coast, reaching their highest point in Mount Kosciusko (7,308 ft; 2,228 m).
The western half of the continent is occupied by a desert plateau that rises into barren, rolling hills near the west coast. The Great Barrier Reef, extending about 1,245 miles (2,000 km), lies along the northeast coast. The island of Tasmania (26,178 sqmiles; 67,800 sq km) is off the southeast coast.
History The first inhabitants of Australia were the Aborigines, who migrated there at least 40,000 years ago from Southeast Asia. There may have been between a half million to a full million Aborigines at the time of European settlement; today about 350,000 live in Australia. Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish ships sighted Australia in the 17th century; the Dutch landed at the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1606. In 1616, the territory became known as New Holland.
The British arrived in 1688, but it was not until Captain James Cook's voyage in 1770 that Great Britain claimed possession of the vast island, calling it New South Wales. A British penal colony was set up at Port Jackson (what is now Sydney) in 1788, and about 161,000 transported English convicts were settled there until the system was suspended in 1839.
Free settlers and former prisoners established six states: New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland. Various gold rushes attracted settlers, as did the mining of other minerals. Sheep farming and grain soon grew into important economic enterprises. 1901 Australia became a country separated from England but still part of the Common Wealth.
Port Arthur is a small town and former convict settlement on the Tasman Peninsula, in Tasmania, Australia. Port Arthur is one of Australia's most significant heritage areas and an open air museum.
The site forms part of the Australian Convict Sites, a World Heritage property consisting of eleven buildings originally built within the British Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries. Port Arthur represents, "...the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts."
Port Arthur is officially Tasmania's top tourist attraction. It is located approximately 60 kilometres (37 mi) south east of the state capital, Hobart. Port Arthur was also the destination for juvenile convicts, receiving many boys, some as young as nine. The boys were separated from the main convict population and kept on Point Puer, the British Empire's first boys' prison.
Like the adults, the boys were used in hard labour such as stone cutting and construction. One of the buildings constructed was one of Australia's first non-denominational churches, built in a gothic style. Attendance of the weekly Sunday service was compulsory for the prison population.
Escape? Despite its reputation as a pioneering institution for the new, enlightened view of imprisonment, Port Arthur was still in reality as harsh and brutal as other penal settlements. Some critics might even suggest that its use of psychological punishment, compounded with no hope of escape, made it one of the worst.
The Island of the Dead Some tales suggest that prisoners committed murder (an offence punishable by death) just to escape the desolation of life at the camp. The Island of the Dead was the destination for all who died inside the prison camps. Of the 1646 graves recorded to exist there, only 180, those of prison staff and military personnel, are marked. The prison closed in 1877.
Tourism In 1979, funding was received to preserve the site as a tourist destination, due to its historical significance. Several magnificent sandstone structures, built by convicts working under hard labour conditions, were cleaned of ivy overgrowth and restored to a condition similar to their appearance in the 19th century. Buildings include the "Model Prison", the Guard Tower, the Church, and the remnants of the main penitentiary. The mass graves on The Isle of the Dead also attract visitors. The air about the small bush-covered island is described as possessing "melancholic" and "tranquil" qualities by visitors.
Point Puer Point Puer, across the harbour from the main settlement, was the site of the first boys' reformatory in the British Empire. Boys sent there were given some basic education, and taught trade skills. After entering the Historic Site, visitors can either survey the site for themselves, or participate in guided tours of the Site, a harbour cruise, tours to the Isle of the Dead and Point Puer and evening Historic Ghost Tours.
There is also a museum, containing written records, tools, clothing and other curiosities from convict times, a Convict Gallery with displays of the various trades and work undertaken by convicts, and a research room where visitors can check up on any convict ancestors. Visitor facilities include two cafes, a bistro that operates each evening, gift shop, and other facilities.
Massacre In 1996 it was the scene of the worst mass murder event in post-colonial Australian history. On 28 April 1996, the Port Arthur historic site was the location of a killing spree. The subsequently convicted perpetrator murdered 35 people and wounded 23 more before being captured by the Tasmania Police. The killing spree led to a national ban on semi-automatic shotguns and rifles. The perpetrator, Martin Bryant, is currently serving 35 life sentences plus 1,035 years without parole in the psychiatric wing of Risdon Prison in Hobart, Tasmania.