Port Arthur | An enriching experience

  • Bunnik Tours
  • 22 Jul 20

Port Arthur, a place most people have heard of, yet few know the extensive history behind this fascinating Southern Tasmanian site.

Port Arthur, Tasmania by  Keith Davey

Port Arthur, Tasmania by Keith Davey

Situated on the Tasman Peninsula, Port Arthur is one of Tasmania’s most visited tourist destinations. Full of captivating history, cultural heritage and enriching personal stories, this compelling site is not only highly intriguing, but also educational. 

The historic Port Arthur tells the tale of Australia’s important, yet confronting, colonial history. Beginning as a small timber station in 1830, it turned into a penal settlement, growing increasingly important within the surrounding colonies. Within the first decade, various factories were introduced, such as ship building, shoemaking and brick making, providing the convicts with useful skills upon release.

Reaching a population of over 1000 convicts in the 1840s, the industrial and disciplinary aspects of the prison were combined. At the end of this decade, a separate prison was built, and Port Arthur saw a fundamental shift in punishment tactics from primarily physical to mental subjugation.

Photo credit: Alistair Brett


In the early 1840s, the old ‘assignment’ system was replaced with ‘probation’. Instead of forcing convicts to work, such as cutting timber, the settlement introduced five new stations, whereby prisoners worked on agriculture or just simply served time. Port Arthur also has an extensive history in ship building where it was introduced on a large scale. Utilised as another way to skill convicts, 15 large and 140 smaller vessels were launched from the docks; however, operations concluded at the end of the decade.

Unable to send convicts to the United States due to the American War of Independence, Britain began sending convicts to Australia in 1788. Majority of the convicts were convicted of crimes that would seem minor today, such as petty theft; however, Britain’s policy was to punish re-offenders strictly. With few ever returning home, it was known that one in five convicts were women. Many children were also relocated with their parents.

Photo credit: Joern Brauns

Photo credit: Joern Brauns


With it’s story continuing beyond the removal of its last convict, Port Arthur’s land was auctioned off, with many people choosing to reside within the old site during the 1880s. Determined to establish a new town, locals began building new infrastructure, such as a post office and various sports clubs (the essentials, right?!). Tourism began to soar with tourists allured to see the remnants and horrors of a corrective settlement. Attracting high quantities of tourists, Port Arthur had three hotels and two museums by the 1930s, built to cater for these rapidly growing numbers.

Fast track to modern times, Port Arthur is one of eleven historic places that form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property, which was also named on the UNESCO World Heritage-list in 2010! The eleven convict sites includes places in New South Wales, Western Australia, and on Norfolk Island; however, more than half can be found in Tasmania.

Photo credit: Martin Pot


Discover the stories of those who passed through this place and explore all of the rich history this historic site has to offer. Visit this world class destination on our 14-day Tasmania in Depth small group tour.