Port Arthur, Tasmania - Tourism Development

Tourism Development

Before Port Arthur was abandoned as a Prison in 1877, some people saw the potential tourist attraction. David Burn, who visited the Prison in 1842, was awed by the Peninsula’s beauty and believed that many would come to visit it. This opinion was not shared by all. For example, Anthony Trollope in 1872 declared that no man desired to see the “strange ruins” of Port Arthur.

After the Prison closed much of the property was put up for auction. However, most of the property was not sold until 1889. By this time, the area had become increasing popular and the prison buildings were in decay. As the Hobart Mercury proclaimed,"the buildings themselves are fast going to decay, and in a few years will attract nobody; for they will be ruins without anything to make them worthy of respect, or even remembrance."

The decay was seen as something positive as the Tasmanian population wished to distance themselves from the dark image of Port Arthur. Those who bought Port Arthur property began tearing down the buildings, the destruction was furthered by the fires of 1895 and 1897 which destroyed the old prison house, and earth tremors. In place of the Prison Port Arthur, the town of Carnarvon was born. The town was named after the British Secretary of State and the population was said to be “refined and intellectual.” The town brought in many visitors as they encouraged boating, fishing and shooting in the natural beauty of the Peninsula. They again wished to remove the negative connotation attached to the area.

Despite this wish, the haunting stories of Port Arthur prisoners and circulating ghost stories brought popularity to the remaining prison ruins. This was helped by the popular novels For the Term of His Natural Life (1874) by Marcus Clarke and The Broad Arrow (1859) by Caroline Leakey, which concerned themselves about convicts in Port Arthur.

In 1927 tourism had grown to the point where the area's name was reverted to Port Arthur. 1916 saw the establishment of the Scenery Preservation Board (SPB) which took the management of Port Arthur out of the hands of the locals. By the 1970s the National Parks and Wildlife Service began managing the site.

In 1979 funding was received to preserve the site as a tourist destination, due to its historical significance. The "working" elements of the Port Arthur community such as the post office and municipal offices were moved to nearby Nubeena. Several magnificent sandstone structures, built by convicts working under hard labour conditions, were cleaned of ivy overgrowth and restored to a condition similar to their appearance in the 19th century. Buildings include the "Model Prison", the Guard Tower, the Church, and the remnants of the main penitentiary. The buildings are surrounded by lush green parkland.

The mass graves on The Isle of the Dead also attract visitors. The air about the small bush-covered island is described as possessing "melancholic" and "tranquil" qualities by visitors.

Point Puer, across the harbour from the main settlement, was the site of the first boys' reformatory in the British Empire. Boys sent there were given some basic education, and taught trade skills.

After entering the Historic Site, visitors can either survey the site for themselves, or participate in guided tours of the Site, a harbour cruise, tours to the Isle of the Dead and Point Puer and evening Historic Ghost Tours. There is also a museum, containing written records, tools, clothing and other curiosities from convict times, a Convict Gallery with displays of the various trades and work undertaken by convicts, and a research room where visitors can check up on any convict ancestors. Visitor facilities include two cafes, a bistro that operates each evening, gift shop, and other facilities.

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