Australia’s Convict Past in Tasmania

There’s 11 convict sites around Australia that are heritage listed and 5 of these are in Tasmania. In Tasmania they include Port Arthur, Coal Mines Historic site, Woolmers Estate and Brickendon, Cascades female factory and Darlington Probation station. Visiting a few of these will give you great insight into the nations past. If you can’t visit them all, certainly consider at the very least Port Arthur, as it is well worth the visit.

Convict history is certainly interesting and often difficult to understand that people were transported from Britain to the colony (Australia prior to it being Federated) for something as small as stealing a loaf of bread, handkerchief for example. But England was poor, people were struggling to get by and stealing was rife. Gaols (or Jails as they’re often known today) were overcrowded and the decision was made at the time to transport criminals to Britain’s colonies around the world, one of which was the land now known as Australia.

Port Arthur

A scenic 1.5 hours drive from Hobart you will find Port Arthur, which is a famous site in Australia’s history and also identified as a world heritage site. Tasmania originally began as a penal settlement and Port Arthur was one of the largest sites in Tasmania where the convict prisoners lived and worked. It is one of 11 convict sites around Australia.

It was originally used for convicts to gather timber and later became a punishment station for convicts from around Australia who repeatedly committed crimes. It became an industrial area, producing a range of goods for the colony.

The site also housed the military personnel and officers, as well as their families and free settlers. There was also a church for the families who lived there and also designed to reform convicts. A school was there to teach the children of the settlers and also some of the convicts.

Although it as a penal colony in 1877, shortly after it became a museum and settlement. One of the largest buildings is the penitentiary.

The site today is amazing, not only for its historical significance, but how it has been transformed and reconstructed into an open air museum with over 30 historic buildings, reconstructed interiors and buildings, as well as beautiful grounds and gardens.

Your entrance ticket gives you entry to the site, a guided tour and a short ferry ride around the bay, by the Isle of the Dead cemetery and Point Puer Boys Prison. There’s an interactive museum and living history demonstration. It’s an enormous site and if you do all the activities and visit each of the buildings, it could easily occupy a whole day. But your ticket is useful for three days so you can come and return as you please. At dusk you can also do a ghost tour.

Whilst on the site you can also eat at the cafe with fresh food and coffee or in the restaurant.

There’s good access for those with mobility concerns, including lift, flat areas and ramps, as well as courtesy buggies with a pick up and drop off service.

The drive to Port Arthur is picturesque and you can stop at wineries, distilleries, the Tasmanian Unzoo and plenty of beautiful stops along the way.

The Historic site management authority should be highly congratulated for such a fabulous display of the nations history. It’s been done very well.

Open 9:30-6:30pm daily.

Cascades Female Factory (or prison as they are known now)

This site is where numerous female convicts were transported in the 18th-19th century. Three of the five original factories remain.

It is a much smaller site than Port Arthur and only ten minutes from Hobart. It is more of an interpretive site, as the site is basically empty and lacking signage. You can read through the brochure, or it would be recommended to have a guide. There is a tall stone wall surrounding the site and is a museum in the old cottage or Matron’s quarters.

What was once a house with a bedroom and kitchen, is now is the only remaining building with replicas, artefacts and information about the site.

There’s some interesting signage about women who were on site, as well as some bonnets they wore whilst there.

Some parts of the site were used to send women into solitary confinement for disrespectful behaviour.

The factory was made a goal in 1856 (when the penal colony ended and it was sold off in parts in 1905. Between the 1970’s and 2008, it was repurchased by various groups and made into the historic site.

These are the two sites we visited and if you’re interested in the nations history, these are worth checking out.

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