We resumed the experience of Port Arthur today by looking at Pat Jones’ cottage which was the residence of the last permanent resident of the site.
It was a rude hut made of corrugated iron from benzene drums and built on foundation blocks salvaged from the prison. By all accounts she had a remarkable garden and to us it is further proof that even with these most basic of living quarters a person can be contented and prosperous.
We then stolled through the beautiful Government Gardens to the Paupers hostel.
As the convicts got older and were released into society many could not make it in the world of freemen in Hobart and the government in its wisdom decided they had a responsibility to look after these men, the flotsam of years of incarceration in this place.
Many were only able to be looked after in the Asylum but those that had somehow kept their minds intact were sent to the Paupers Hostel where, although discipline was still strict, they were looked after.
We then moved to the hospital where all maner of illness and injury were treated and it seems this was a particularly modern hospital for its day.
One horrific part of it though was the doorway through a main wall leading out onto an expanse of ground. This is where the regular flogging took place before flogging was discontinued as a punishment.
The convict stripped to his waist, stretched tight against a vertical “A” frame and received anything from 10 to 100 lashes with the notorious Cato’ Nine Tails.
If the prisoner passed out he would be taken through this door, immersed in a bath of cold salt water and revived after which time the punishment would resume.
Every prisoner was assembled on this now peaceful grassy knoll to watch.
One prisoner, Dennis Docherty is said to have received over 3000 lashes during his time here and could take 100 lashes without so much as a cry of pain.
Behind the hospital we examined the original laundry and the convict built dam which once housed a huge water wheel that drove the flour mill that was built on site. It was a failure and the mill became the penitentiary that we were yet to visit.
Next we came across the little cottage that was built to house Smith Obrien who was an Irish political prisoner who was leader of the Young Ireland movement which started a rebellion in Ireland. He was regarded as. “So dangerous to good order”, that he was imprisoned in this cottage with in a now mostly disappeared walled garden. It must have been a lonely internment for an obviously highly intelligent and motivated man.
The Officers Quarters and the Guard house with its watchtowers still intact followed and then it was into the Commandants House that is virtually as it was at the time the settlement closed, including the servant’s quarters, carriage house and stables.
It was easy to go back in time and “live” in this place as everything is much as it would have been at the time, even the original kitchens, pantries, bedrooms, drawing room and dinning room.
It was a simple but elegant style of living and you could almost hear the humdrum of the household in its daily routines.
A short walk back down what once the main road we saw the Law Courts where the Commandants Office was and the administrative offices for running the settlement. Outside this building new arrival would be lined up after being released from the chains they were transported in, washed, head shorn and Port Arthur clothing issued.
They would be read a list of rules that took over an hour to recite. It would have been impossible to remember 10% of them.
Then it was down to the solemn and awful Penitentiary, our last stop.
The most unmanageable and dangerous convicts were housed on the first 2 flors of this 4 story building in cells that were just as long as a tall man and about double the averaged sixed mans width.
Although this building suffered heavily in the 1897 bush fires the cells shelving and hammock hooks are still visible. What a fearsome place this must have been.
It was easy to hear the sounds of despair, violence and hopelessness that would have been the backdrop to life here.
The kitchens are still clearly visible as are the baker’s ovens that produced over a thousand loaves of bread every day.
It was time now to leave the settlement.
The whole day was accompanied by icy rain which never ceased the whole 2 days and nights we were here but somehow this added to the feelings and emotions that overcame us during this visit, realising how the weather played its own part in completing the sheer misery which would have been life in this settlement.