Monday, January 13, 2014

Australia’s Haunted Port Arthur

In 1788 after the end of the American War of Independence Great Britain could no longer send its convicts to America --they were then transported to the Australian colonies instead.

These convicts--one out of ever five was a woman--were convicted of petty crimes by todays’ standards--mostly stealing. But these convicts were re-offenders and Britain’s policy was to treat them harshly.

Ship departs England taking
convicts to Australia. 
Most of these convicts were poor young people who lived in Britain’s rural areas or in urban slums. If they had children they were transported as well. Few of these convicts ever returned to England.

Photo by Peterdownudner
Port Arthur located on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania, Australia was Australia’s largest penal colony. At its peak in the 1840s this colony held over 1100 prisoners.

After 1853, hardened criminals from other Australian prisons began to be sent to Port Arthur. This penitentiary had a similar reputation to Alcatraz Island in the U.S. It was located on a peninsula surrounded by water so it was supposed to be escape proof. But a few convicts did manage to escape.

Prisoners were not allowed to sit idle--they were given hard labor. One of the worst jobs was felling the peninsula’s huge trees. Timber was the main industry at Port Arthur and it brought the English Empire rich profits.

Prisoners who remained in Port Arthur’s Penitentiary for life became too old to cut down these massive trees but they were still expected to chop firewood.

The prisoners built all of the buildings at this penitentiary. The flourmill and granary --later used as the main penitentiary-- was at one time the largest building in Australia. The prisoners were required to attend church every Sunday--they also built this structure.

Church at prison
By 1877, the prison’s population was mostly old and sick--basically they could no longer work--so the prison was closed. For a time the small town of Port Arthur changed its name in an attempt to blot out this dark history.

Inside prison
The prison was sold and some of the buildings were torn down. Others were destroyed in fires in 1895 and 1897. 30 buildings remain including: the guard tower, the Modell Prison, the church and remnants of the main penitentiary.

Port Arthur is one of Australia’s well known historical sites--receiving over 250,000 visitors each year. The old prison is a part of the Australian Convict site World Heritage property.

This site is also very haunted. There have been over 2000 sightings of ghosts in the area. This activity ranges from feelings of being watched to sightings of full-bodied apparitions. These ghosts have been seen for over 100 years.

One common complaint is that people feel they are being followed. Many report the hair on the back of their necks stands up. Others report hearing footsteps behind them when no one was there.

People that are sensitive to activity often report they felt nauseated as they toured the site.

Many visitors have picked up strange forms in their photographs. One person took two pictures 10 seconds apart. The first photo showed a window with a curtain across it. The second photo showed this curtain slightly draw back with the face of a young girl peering out. When they zoomed in on this picture they clearly saw her features.

An active spot at the old penitentiary is the parsonage. Reverend George Eastman worked at Port Arthur for many years in the mid 1800s-- he died in the parsonage. Ever since his death his ghost has been spotted. Visitors when shown old photos of him always state that he was the ghost they saw.

One tour group recently reported an encounter with a ghost. When one of their members had to return to the entrance to use the public restroom he was told that they could not wait for him so he best try and catch up.

In partial ruins

Later, as the group approached the old prison they spotted a figure behind them, which they felt must be their straggler. But when they spoke to him he ducked behind a tree. The tour guide then thinking it might be another guide playing a trick tried to talk to him on her walkie-talkie but when no one responded she headed toward the figure-- but it just disappeared.

When this group returned to the entrance they spotted the man who had left the group in a tourist cafe drinking coffee. They questioned him but he did not know what they were talking about. After using the restroom he had decided to remain at the entrance.

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