Van Dieman's Land was hell-on-earth and the centre of that godforsaken cess-pit was Port Arthur named after the Governor of the Colony Colonel George Arthur. The lush, green, serene memorial that stands today bears stark contrast to the conditions that existed during its active years - 1830 to 1877 - of initiation, incarceration and punishment.
John Barnes: a 17 year old labourer from Northampton who received 15 years transportation for burglary. His last record shows him to be an invalid in Launceston in 1890.
William Curtis: house painter and brick layer from Bristol. Transported in 1844 at the age of 22 for stealing. In 1856 sentenced to life at Port Arthur for murder. After two sessions in the Separate Prison, was released in 1875.
James Foley: A city sweep from Cork who was sentenced at the age of 26 to transportation for stealing. Later charged with being in a brothel and stealing. While at Port Arthur he was charged with a number of offences including neglect of duty, flour improperly in his possession, and misconduct in talking to an officer's son without authority. He was released in 1875.
Port Arthur is a mesmerising memorial to the past of our country. I spent two entire days there: it is open from 9am to 5pm and the Bronze Ticket-of-Leave is good for two days and for return visits within two years. An Introductory Walking Tour came with the Bronze ToL as did a cruise around the harbour. To this I added a guided tour around the Isle of the Dead. There are information panels scattered throughout the buildings and grounds together with old photographs some occupying half a wall. Thankfully there are no reenactments or blaring commentaries. There are audio guides which few people were using.
John Kerswell: A Welsh plasterer transported in 1828 at the age of 20 years to 15 years for stealing. Absconding four times and charged with being drunk three times, granted ToL in 1856 and Conditional Pardon in 1857. However, he received 20 years imprisonment for attempting to stab a policeman. He was released from Port Arthur in 1875.
William Forster: At age 17 years was transported for ten years for stealing a box writing desk. Misdemeanour followed misdemeanour and sentence added to sentence until in 1864 he was sentnenced to life for robbery under arms. The last mention of him is in 1872 when he was sent to the Separate Prison for misconduct.
Alexander Woods: A soldier with the 17th Regiment, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Woods (aged 30) was transported from Canada to Port Arthur for 14 years for desertion.
Returned to Hobart with a ToL in 1853 but returned to PA again in 1865 for 15 years for burglary. He was a church attendant in 1869 and was discharged in 1875.
As I wandered around this memorial to power and man's inhumanity to man, I began to wonder if these men had not been better off here than in the tepid swills that passed for streets in London, Dublin and Glasgow. I wondered this as I read their life stories, gazed at their bedgraggled portraits, walked through their row upon row of cells, through the penetentiary, around the hospital, between the asylum and the Separate Prison. It was when I got to this last that I stopped wondering: the instant I stepped into one of the cells and the door closed behind me ...