2011 February 18 – Day 44 – Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia

During the night the ship sailed 90 miles along the Tasmanian coast to Port Arthur, dubbed Australia’s premier convict site. The ship anchored off shore and tenders ran all day to and from the old prison pier.  We had a morning tour to the Tasmanian Devil Park for another chance to see critters.  The Devil Park used to be a farm and is now dedicated to protecting and breeding some of Australia’s treasured animals.  Once the bus dropped us off at the entrance we had two hours to wander wherever we wanted; which I like much more than being in a group and guided here and there.  On our own we could watch an animal that we found interesting or move around to get better photo angles.  So much better than being herded. Tasmanian Devil’s are endemic to Australia.  They used to roam widely all over Australia, but are now only seen on Tasmania.  They are meat-eating marsupials and snap and snarl and fight each other at feeding time to try be the one to get the last morsel of meat or bone.  Tassies are not quiet, nor gentle.  Here at the park there is also an extensive breeding program to protect the species in the event all of the devils in the wild die from the transmittable cancer that is decimating them.

We encountered another meat-eating marsupial – the Quoll.  I had never heard of it.  We saw white-spotted black ones and white-spotted brown ones.  They are primarily nocturnal and spend their days curled up in a den.

There were many birds at the park, as well as wallabees and kangaroos and Cape Barren geese.

And they had a raptor show as well that we had enough time to watch. The bus dropped us back near the pier but we stayed in Port Arthur and spent the afternoon wandering around the old prison grounds.  It was a lovely setting for such a sad place.

One of the reasons that Britain (and other countries) sent their convicts to their distant colonies was to get communities and a citizenry established.  The prisons in Britain and France were overflowing due to the harsh penalties for even petty crimes. For years prisoners had been held in old ships floating in the harbours because there were not enough jails.  When the idea was presented to send them to far flung territories and colonys of the motherland it was jumped on with enthusiasm.  A prison shortage issue could be resolved and the prisoners could be used as labour to build their new prisons, the warden and officer’s housing, roads, bridges and town buildings for settlers.  When their sentence was completed the prisoners had to stay the same number of years in the colony again before they could return ‘home.’  Assuming they would ever get enough money to pay the passage home.  Most of them were lucky to just survive their jail time. The most heartbreaking part of the old prison was the Separate Prison.  This was a punishment/rehabilitation experiment.  Troublesome prisoners were kept in solitary confinement and there was no talking allowed.  Ever.  Even the guards communicated with hand signals.  For 23 hours per day the inmates were kept in their cells, keeping busy with work – cobbling, tailoring, making brooms, etc – and for one hour they were allowed outside in a small exercise yard where they must walk briskly around and around the entire time; no stopping or leaning against the walls.  The idea was to prevent criminals from sharing their bad behaviour with others.  It was felt that if they were given work, taught trades, and schooled; allowed only bible reading and wholesome sermons, they could be re-trained to be good citizens.  What it turned out to be was a case of sensory deprivation that often drove inmates to madness.                                                   The exercise ‘yard’.

Even during church services the prisoners were prevented from seeing each other by locked partitions.  Of course, being resourceful, desperate men signals and low voiced messages were passed along during the loud boisterous singing of the hymns.

Once we had done all the wandering around we wanted we walked over to the pier and boarded a tender back to the ship. After dinner as the ship was making its way along the Tasmanian coast the Captain ordered slow cruising past the amazing basalt cliffs.  The Giant’s Causeway on the northeasten coast of Northern Ireland has ‘stepping stone’ columns like these, but not nearly as many, nor as tall.

Port Arthur, Tasmania was our last port of call before we arrived in Sydney.  We had a day at sea after leaving Tasmania that was spent getting disembarkation information and packing.  Since we were going to be driving and flying around Australia for almost two months we sorted out all our dressy clothes and put them in the largest suitcases which we stored in Sydney until we got back to the city in mid-April.

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