[ New Search ]


Port Arthur Historic Site

Source: Go to the National Heritage List for more information.
Identifier: 105718
Location: Arthur Hwy, Port Arthur
Tasman Municipality
State: TAS
Country: Australia
Statement of
The Port Arthur Historic Site is a significant national example of a convict site demonstrating, with a high degree of integrity and authenticity, an aspect of the British strategy of convict transportation to Australia.  This type of coerced migration had a major impact on the formation of Australia and the Australian psyche.  As one of a few major sites now surviving to evidence the secondary punishment aspect of this penal system, Port Arthur Historic Site ably demonstrates the evolution of penal system to suit Australian conditions.  Also, because of its long years of operation, 1830-1877, which included the cessation of transportation to Tasmania, it provides valuable and tangible evidence of the physical form and evolution of the penal system in Australia and, in particular, in Tasmania, over these years.
Port Arthur was also a key part in the Probation System phase of the Australian convict story.  The Probation System of the 1840s was unique to Van Diemen’s Land and Norfolk Island, although short-lived in the latter, involving less direct physical punishment and more persuasion to reform through education, isolation, work and religion.  The solitary punishment process apparent in British penal thinking of this era is particularly well-illustrated by the Port Arthur Separate Prison – a relatively rare surviving example of this type of facility in Australia, especially in this kind of setting.  Similarly, the Point Puer boy’s establishment provides a demonstration of the spread of British ideas on the treatment of boy prisoners.  The evidence of work and religion at Port Arthur still dominates the landscape with the large number of buildings (and their respective functions), major site modifications, known past industrial site functions and related areas, and religion-related elements and buildings evident.
The cessation of transportation to Tasmania in 1853 and the decline in the need for Port Arthur for convict use saw this use gradually replaced by a social welfare role with facilities being given over to, or built for ex-convicts, convict invalids, paupers and lunatics, demonstrating the legacy of the convict system.  The Port Arthur Asylum (1868) is a rare example of this type of facility.
Port Arthur Historic Site is a significant, very rich and complex cultural landscape, the primary layers of which relate to the convict era (1830-77) and subsequent eras as a country town and tourist site, including a State National Park and a major historic site under conservation management.  It combines the contradictory landscape qualities of great beauty and association with a place of human confinement and punishment.
A gunman took the lives of thirty-five people and wounded nineteen others on 28 April 1996 - an additional layer of tragic significance was added to the place.  This tragic loss of life on this scale, and its effect on Australians, led to changes in Australia’s national gun laws.
Port Arthur Historic Site has extensive research potential primarily related to the convict experience because of its relative integrity and authenticity.  This is enhanced because of the extensive other sources of evidence of the past history of the place including documentary, collections, structures, archaeological and landscape evidence.
Port Arthur Historic Site is outstanding in demonstrating the principal characteristics of an Australian convict site related to classification and segregation; dominance by authority and religion; the provision of accommodation for the convict, military and civil population; amenities for governance, punishment and healing, and the elements of place building, agriculture and industry.
Port Arthur Historic Site is a landscape of picturesque beauty.  Its ruins and formal layout, in a serene setting, and the care with which this is maintained, symbolise a transformation in Australia from ‘hated stain’ to the celebration of a convict past.  The picturesque setting of the place, recognised (and in certain areas consciously enhanced) since the early days of the settlement, features buildings in a landscape of hills with valley, edged by harbour and forest, is a very important aspect of the place’s significance.  The parkland of today’s Port Arthur Historic Site is, in part, an accidental and deliberate artefact of park management practices, in the context of ruined buildings and mature English trees, which now seems to project an idealised notion of rustic contentment contrasting dramatically with Port Arthur’s known penal history.  This apparent conflict and contrast is a critical element of the place’s significance.  This complex, ambiguous character has been further strengthened as a result of the April 1996 shooting tragedy, creating, for many Australians, a more immediate poignancy and symbolism attaching to the values of the place. 
Port Arthur Historic Site has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place's special association with British convicts in Australia and their administrators in the period 1830 to 1877, exemplifying a world-wide process of colonial settlement.
There are many significant people associated with the place from those who developed the penal philosophy used at Port Arthur to people who managed the convict system, those who lived at Port Arthur and ran the establishment, and those incarcerated there.  These include John Howard, Jeremy Bentham, Joshua Jebb and the Prison Reform Movement; Governor Arthur, the Governor of Van Diemen’s Land at the time that Port Arthur was established as a penal settlement and the person after whom it was named; Sir John and Lady Franklin; the Corps of Royal Engineers; Commandant Charles O’Hara Booth, Commandant William Champ, Superintendent James Boyd, Thomas Lempriere, Commissariat Officer at Port Arthur; political prisoners William Smith O’Brien: the leader of the Young Ireland Movement ticket-of-leave, John Frost and Linus Miller.
Description: The Port Arthur Historic Site contains the major and several ancillary sites of the Port Arthur penal settlement which operated between 1830 to 1877.  The main penal settlement at Mason Cove was later transformed into a small rural township, tourist destination and a nationally recognised historic place.  The core of the Historic Site is contained within a natural amphitheatre formed by Mount Arthur and Mount Tonga encircling the protected cove, freshwater creeks and the basin floor.  Forest covered hills provide the backdrop to the west of the Historic Site.  To north is Garden Point, the east are the sheltered waters of Mason Cove, the sandy shores of Carnarvon Bay and Point Puer, and the broad expanse of the harbour known as Port Arthur.  The forested eastern shores – now part of the Tasman National Park – include the distinctive silhouette of Arthurs Peak and the heathy vegetation and high sea cliffs of the sea entrance to Port Arthur - Cape Pillar, Tasman Island and Cape Raoul.
This setting of forest, harbour, mountains and sea cliffs contrasts strongly with the Historic Site at Mason Cove, with its cleared parkland character, exotic trees and plants, historic buildings and ruins, and modern tourism facilities.  The regrowth vegetation and geology of Point Puer and the Isle of the Dead blend more easily with the surrounding natural landscape – revealing evidence of their place within the penal settlement system only on closer inspection.
The Port Arthur Historic Site also holds several important collections - the Port Arthur Historic Collection, the Port Arthur Archaeological Collection, published records, manuscripts, databases, and architectural, photographic, and archaeological records.

Report produced : 29/7/2015
AHPI URL : http://www.heritage.gov.au/ahpi/search.html