t’s an eerie feeling walking into a
place with such a shadowy history
but there’s so much more to The
Port Arthur Histor...
Wandering The Separate Prison today and witness-
ing the daily lives of the criminals who dwelled there it is
clear that B...
of 2

Port Arthur

Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Source: www.slideshare.net

Transcripts - Port Arthur

  • 1. I t’s an eerie feeling walking into a place with such a shadowy history but there’s so much more to The Port Arthur Historic Site than the remnants of a prison. It’s the stories of the people who existed within those buildings that make it truly remarkable. Entering the Visitors Cen- tre gives the vibe of a modern day theme park but beyond the elec- tronic gates is a picturesque cove of lush green gardens, dark glassy waters and the overwhelming sense of peacefulness. Convicts were first sent to Port Arthur in 1830. It was a fertile site rich in timber and the coastal lo- cation made it ideal for colonisation and industrial development. Within a few years the station had developed as a strict penitentiary for the hard- est of criminals and repeat offend- ers. Boys and men were sent from Britain, Ireland and all over Australia to serve a life of heavy labour and brutal punishment. By the 1840’s Port Arthur’s population had grown to a colony of more than 2000 inmates, soldiers and civilian workers with families. A separate prison was built in 1850 to cope with the overflow of prisoners and was modelled on a revolution- ary English panopticon to house the most troublesome convicts. It was an institution that had been developed by English prison reformer and social theo- rist Jeremy Bentham. He described his method of reform as ‘a machine for grinding rogues into honest men’. The concept was that criminals could be rehabilitated psychologi- cally through separation, discipline, religion, mentoring and education. It was an experiment in social behav- iour and sparked a mixture of criti- cism and support. Port ArthurA past ahead of its time.
  • 2. Wandering The Separate Prison today and witness- ing the daily lives of the criminals who dwelled there it is clear that Bentham’s technique of “silent treatment” was not as easy as it seemed. Some critics deemed the practice as more torturous than a good lashing but experience of corporal punishment in other convict camps had proved counterproductive resulting in resentment and hostility rather than reformation. The building is alive, echoing the sounds of men coughing and at work in their solitary cells and the daily sermons from the chapel at the heart of the compound. The cross shaped layout of the building al- lowed constant surveillance and the solitary confinement gave prisoners time to reflect on their crimes. They were confined to the cells for 23 hours a day and lived in silence. Food was used as motivation for good behaviour and re- moved for bad. Inmates were brainwashed with stories of shark infested Antarctic waters and hills fenced by soldiers, man traps and starving guard dogs. Most of which was true but prisoners had little exposure to the outside world. Their only chance was a glimpse of sky beyond high stone walls bounding a small exercise yard. Along the corridor of Wing B are interactive windows into the lives of some of the men who had spent time in the separation ward. A memorable opportun- ist was Henry Singleton who made several ap- pearances at Port Ar- thur for various stealing offenses. He was ‘a bad character’ and was constantly in trouble for refusing to work, talking and be- ing disobedient and he received countless sentences to The Separation Prison. A number of times he was caught attempting to escape. On one occasion he convinced drunken wardens to give him the keys so that he could let them back into the prison when they were too inebri- ated to do it themselves. He took the opportunity to make his own copies and would let himself out of and into his cell whenever he liked. Eventually, riddled with guilt, he turned the keys in but was not punished. The wardens were sacked. Over time cracks appeared in the system and there was growing concern for the mental health of the men who had entered the prison as criminals but were now being treated as patients. Some, like Henry Singleton, were truly broken and beyond remorse and treatment. Others served their sentence and left the prison reborn with skills, educa- tion and opportunities they may never have dreamed of in their previous lives. Looking around the grounds today it’s hard to believe that anyone could have experienced life under such a tough regime. It was a place that took in the worst kind of criminals, used them for free labour but at the same time endeavoured to retrain and teach. Their crimes today seem minor and insignificant, stealing a hat, a loaf of bread and it’s tough to understand there was a need for rehab. The saying that time heals comes to mind. It is a place with a horrific history, during the days of early Australian colonisation and more recently too. What- ever your expectations may be when coming to a place like this, they’re easily overshadowed by the experience. You may enter with thoughts of balls and chains but you can’t help leaving enlightened by the spirits of the past.

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