In 1830, PORT ARTHUR was selected to host a prison settlement on the “natural penitentiary” of the Tasman Peninsula, its “gate” at Eaglehawk Neck guarded by dogs. It was intended for convicts who committed serious crimes in New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land after transportation. The regime was never a subtle one: Van Diemen’s Land Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur believed that a convict’s “whole fate should be … the very last degree of misery consistent with humanity”. However, his aim was to create “a machine to grind rogues honest”. This was rehabilitation rather than punitive punishment; work with the system and your years would slip past, fight it and you would be crushed.

The first 150 convicts established a timber industry, then Port Arthur became a self-supporting centre of industry, with shipbuilding, brickmaking, shoemaking, even agriculture. In a separate prison for boys at Point Puer, inmates were taught trades. Meanwhile, prison officers and their families enjoyed gardens, a drama club, a library and regular cricket. After transportation ended, psychological punishment replaced physical. The Separate Prison, based on Pentonville Prison in London, opened in 1852, where prisoners were held in tiny cells in isolation and silence, always referred to by numbers and hooded whenever they left their cells. The idea represented progressive penal ideas that let convicts contemplate their misdeeds, but by the time Port Arthur closed in 1877 it had its own mental asylum full of ex-convicts, as well as a geriatric home for ex-convict paupers.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Australia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The rebirth of Perth: how the city got cool

The rebirth of Perth: how the city got cool

Sun-soaked and healthy? Perhaps. A decent gateway to Western Australia? Definitely. But a cool place to spend a few days? Until recently Perth just couldn’t …

27 Apr 2017 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
12 tips for backpacking Australia

12 tips for backpacking Australia

Backpacking Australia will almost certainly exceed your expectations. It’s not just that the places you’ll see will be more stunning than you had imagine…

09 Mar 2017 • Ros Walford insert_drive_file Article
26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month