Incorporating a prison, asylum, hospital and cemetery amongst others, it has stories filled with pain and despair, along with the hauntings that go with them.
Hell on Earth
The site was chosen for the penal colony due to it's natural security. The mass of land where Port Arthur is located is almost entirely surrounded by sea. Only a thin strip of land known as Eaglehawk Neck joins the Tasman Peninsula to the main landmass of Tasmania. Eagle Hawk neck was fenced and heavily guarded meaning a convict attempting escape would do better to try the shark infested seas.
Starting from the mid 1850's prisoners were sent to Port Arthur from other prisons around Australia if they committed further crimes while they were doing time. A number of prisoners either from despair, the harsh conditions (prisoners labelled Port Arthur 'Hell on Earth') or ill treatment began to show signs of being insane. Soon an insane asylum was built on site to accommodate prisoners deemed too much of a lunatic to stay with the general population.
Other facilities in the penal colony included a boys prison where children as young as nine years of age would be put to labour for crimes committed. It was not uncommon for a boy to begin at the Point Puer Boys Prison to be moved to the main penal colony after their seventeenth birthday to finish their time. The labour was no more easy on for the children than it was for the adult prisoners.
A hospital was also built on site through 1841-42 and underwent many revisions and constructions over the years. The hospital would have treated all sorts of maladies including many that were fatal. It was not uncommon for sickness to strike the prison population but more prevalent were injuries sustained through the cutting of timber, the construction of buildings or worst of all from attacks from another inmate. Many a prisoner or free person died within the walls of the hospital and it is said to be one of the more haunted buildings at Port Arthur with the sound of children being heard playing amongst the burnt out ruins.
It is the isle of the dead where we find one of the earliest ghost stories of Port Arthur. 'Dead Man's Isle' as it was known in the 1830's was described as an oasis and a fitting place for someone to take part in their endless slumber.
The first mention of a spirit comes from an experience that took place on the evening of 5th Sep 1834. A team of gravediggers consisting a Corporal and three privates had chosen to dig a grave for a man due to be executed the following day. They had opted to dig during the night but soon wished that they had not. It was during the digging that they witnessed the figure of a man standing at the edge of a cliff. No one attempted to approach the figure and soon they made their exit. The figure was witnessed by several others after this event.
Reverend Eastman died in an upstairs bedroom of the parsonage in 1870 but unfortunately his coffin was hard to manoeuvrer through the building once he was placed within it. It was decided to lower him out of a window. However during the process of lowering him to the ground the rope snapped, the coffin fell and his body tumbled out and onto the ground. For years following the accident many acts of the 'supernatural' took place within the parsonage; the smell of rotting flesh, unearthly moans and strange lights have been witnessed. The haunting continues but has taken on a new form. Figures have turned up in photos taken inside the parsonage and women are said to be the target of much of the unexplained happenings.
Port Arthur closed as a penal colony in 1877. Although the area was renamed Carnavon and a small town was started tourism began almost as soon as the doors were closed. Preservation of the site began in the 1917 and in 1927 Carnavon was given back the name Port Arthur. Many people had heard the stories of the prison, the most feared in all the colonies and through either morbid curiosity or an interest in history Port Arthur has thrived as a much sought out tourist destination ever since.
With the many paranormal experiences that have taken place Port Arthur is also a sought out destination for many ghost hunters and people who want to experience the unknown. Apparitions both seen with the naked eye and recorded on film are not too uncommon as are the sounds of slamming doors, moaning and screaming prisoners and the almost constant eerie sensation of been watched by unseen eyes are some of the things a visitor can expect. If you take in one of the regular ghost tours you can hear of these experiences or for a more in depth encounter with the dead look into one of the group paranormal investigation activities.
The site is world heritage listed ensuring that, along with the work of the people who preserve the site, it will be there for future generations to enjoy and learn about the earliest years of Australian Penal Colony culture and history.
(This only just touches the absolute surface of the history and hauntings. Have a look further into it and you will find some absolutely fantastic stories online.)