The unescapable Port Arthur and the convict tramway, Australia

The penitentiary building at Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia. Photo credit:

The penal colony of Port Arthur is located on the Tasman Peninsula, southeast of Tasmania. Surrounded by supposed shark-infested waters, the convicts were completely isolated from the rest of the region. The only way out, was a heavily guarded strip of land called Eaglehawk Neck. Throughout the 19th century, convicts held here were subjected to a psychological punishment, which included social isolation and deprivation of basic needs. Most convicts either died or went insane (and conveniently, there was also an asylum within the premises). Port Arthur was also full of natural resources, like timber and coal. So, convicts were used as a manual labor manual labor.

Inside the prison in Port Arthur. Photo credit: Paul Carmona/Flickr

In 1835, 5-mile long convict tramway was built. The tramway consisted of roughly strewn pieces of timber, in order to form the tracks. Convicts manually pushed four-wheeled open carts, along tracks. This tramway was often used by government officials, who came to visit. While it was completely human-powered, the convict tramway of Port Arthur may be considered Australia’s very first railway. Besides transporting passengers, the tramway was also used to transport goods and resources from Norfolk Bay, towards Port Arthur via the Eaglehawk Neck.

The convict tramway. Colorized from the original sketch by Colonel Mundy

The rails of the tramway. Photo credit:

Today, the last remnants of the convict tramway can be viewed at the Federation Chocolate Factory in Taranna. The prison facility closed down in 1877 and since the 1970’s the land has been taken over by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Port Arthur. Now known as a UNESCO World Heritage of Australia, Port Arthur has become a tourist attraction for many avid history fans. It is also known to be one of the best preserved convict sites in Australia. Today, you can visit the site and have guided tours across the prison grounds and the Isle of the Dead, an unmarked grave site, where the convicts were buried. During the day, you will be able to view the prison grounds and marvel at the architecture and structure of the prison. However, fans of mysticism will enjoy a lantern-lit ghost tour of the grounds, where you can learn various tales and legends.

Besides that, there are also an array of facilities for photography and dining options. Visitors are able to take a tour of nearby attractions, like the Coal Mines Historic Site or the Tasman National Park. Accessibility to Port Arthur isn’t as difficult as it was back then. It is now accessible by car and only takes a 90-minute drive from Hobart. The grounds of Port Arthur are expansive and it will serve as a great day-trip for families. The trip is not only for the historic and mystifying tales lovers, but also a great place to spot Tasmanian wildlife.

So, if you’re up for an adventure into the history of Australia’s convict sites and want to feel what the 19th century was like, pack up and head over to Port Arthur.

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