Port Arthur Travel Blog› entry 129 of 206 › view all entries
Today we spent the morning in Hobart's famous salamanca markers, before taking a day tour to Port Arthur, south of Hobart. We traveled first through Richmond, one of the early settlements, to see the English architecture, brought by the convicts. Only 2 house designs were known, so every house is of virtually the same style. Then on to the Tasman Bay Pirates Look-out (no pirates, and bad weather spoiled the view), the Tasman Arch (going to fall down in the next 5 mins or the next 50 years), and the Remarkable Caves, where the light shining through from the other side of the arches forms the shape of Tasmania weirdly. Not to mention we all almost got soaked when the waves from both sides crashed through the dark tunnel.
Port Arthur was a historical prison for second offenders that was open in the 19th century. The idea was to be 'a machine to grind rogues honest' by teaching men skills in trades to turn them from a life of crime. Tasmania is an island the size of Ireland and has half a million people. At the time, 80,000 convicts lived in Tasmania, far, far more than 'freemen'. Convicts that tried to escape or were drunk, or who failed to turn up for work were tried in front of a magistrate and sent to Port Arthur. Today it looks picturesque but it was a brutal environment, the principle being that there was always a worse position to be in, so there was no point rebelling.
Despite the horror of the institution however, it was actually quite a forward-thinking place. The Paupers' Depot was to provide for the older men who were physically or mentally unable to do the work anymore. They were put to easy work if they were able, but otherwise enjoyable and 'improving' activities were considered important such as books and music. In making provision for helpless men, this was the birth of the modern welfare system in Australia.
Additionally, the Lunatic's Asylum represented the latest thinking in treatment of 'lunacy' (though most today would be diagnosed with depression, dementia or mental disability) in that 'lunatics' were to be cured in calm, clean environments with kindness, exercise and amusement, religious consolation and work to sooth the mind.
Men were taught skills and equipped for a future they never otherwise could have dreamed of. Many went on to be wealthy, or even went into government! Each building and garden, every fence and pathway is monument to the training they recieved. In fact, gradually the settlement stopped relying on imported goods and moved to self-sufficiency in manufactured goods, and eventually even to export.
Finally, young boys were seperated from the men in order to save them from the evil influence of their elders and sent to an island to learn trades as well. The influence of this scheme can still be seen in juvenile detention centres of today.
Around 8.30pm we went on a Ghost Tour of Port Arthur. The guide assured us that it was not for her to scare us, or to make us believe, but merely to convey the stories that have been handed down by historians and by staff, and patrons alike. All staff and guests are required to fill out an 'Unusual Events form' and these are collated. Stories become lore when 3 seperate people have the same experience...
We started in the church, where the story goes that two men were digging the foundations; one was throwing up soil from the pit, the other breaking up the bits with a pick axe. The top man struck the pit man in the head 3 times and said 'I am satisfied'. This could either mean he'd settled a score, or that he had completed his end of a suicide pact. It was a sin to commit suicide as the soul would go straight to hell, but if one man agreed to kill another, the killer would be hung, and so both men would escape Port Arthur and save their souls.
One ghost tour, 3 marines stood at the back near the belfry steps. As they listened to the story they heard foot steps coming down behind them. They ignored it, assuming it to be staff. As the story finished they realised no one had come out, so they went up to investigate but no one was there. They assumed whoever it was slipped out without them noticing so they started to descend but heard the steps behind them again. They stopped to check it wasn't their echo and the footsteps continued. Freaked out, but with army courage they stood at the bottom of the stairs waiting for the footsteps. They came down the last stair, and across the wooden floor towards them and stopped. But no one was there. They should have been nose to nose....
The marines scarpered.
At the Parsons House, the legend of a haunting started way back when the house was in use by the settlers. The wife and husband kept hearing the front door open in the night, and footsteps come up the stairs and back down again. And when they'd come upstairs to bed all the doors would be shut upstairs and bright lights visible beneath them, but on opening the room would be cold and dark. One night the wife went downstairs to get hot milk to cure insomnia and found a newly lit candle on a chair she'd pushed under the table, out in the middle of the kitchen. She knew no one could get in, and the servants had gone home, so next night she locked every door in the house and stuck threads with tacks on every stair step and waited with her husband at the top of the stairs. Before long, the door opened, and as they stood there, every thread on the stair was heard to ping as it snapped, but nothing came up. Then the footsteps went back downstairs and the door closed.
The lady wrote to her mother, the letters still exist. The mother was horrified that her well-brought up daughter should start believing in ghosts and moved in immediatley. One night she heard scratching, which she assumed to be rats, so she searched the floor one-handed for a shoe and threw it at the wall. Suddenly, the wall started up with a banging and a crashing that woke the whole house. The mother slept with the husband and wife that night.
Another night, soon after the wife's baby was born, and was sleeping in the mother-in-law's room, the front door opened again in the night, and the mother-in-law, being a light sleeper opened one eye without moving. She saw a woman in blue walk into the room, peer over the baby, then stand and walk downstairs again and out the door.
The lady in blue is well documented by many people, and her history is well known. She was an English woman, who hated London, but who loved Australia and fell in love with a man who just so happened to be the Accountant at Port Arthur. They wer blissfully happy and in love, and more so when she fell pregnant. But the child and she both died in childbirth, and although she was buried on the Isle of the Dead, off the coast of Port Arthur, where everybody was buried, the child was considered 'not human' by religious law that states that if it never took a breath, it isn't a life. So the baby was buried in the rose garden. The blue lady is believed to be searching for her baby's soul, and is always seen crying desperately.
The Parsons House is also believed to be haunted by the ghost of an 8 yr old girl, who has been seen by many Port Arthur guests, often with her arm broken and bleeding, and sometimes from the top window. She usually strokes people's faces, and they report a welcome feeling.
Another member of staff was locking up the house at 5.30pm when he forgot his cigarettes on the kitchen table when he was almost back at the visitor centre. He returned to the house, but suddenly it was much colder and as he walked down the corridor he felt like he was pushing through thick cotton wool. He assured himself it was all in his mind, and turned the light on in the kitchen to find his cigarettes - everything was normal. As he turned the light off and walked back down the corridor, he felt cold breath on his neck and a voice close to his ear saying 'Get. Out. Night time is my time'....
Beneath the kitchens was the Dissection Room; doctors were crying out for body's to dissect but for religious reasons had no samples. So grave robbers would dig up fresh bodies from the Isle of the Dead and sell them to the doctors, on the basis that no one told the convicts what was happening. The room would get very bloody, so ash from the kitchens was sent down a shute to soak up the blood, which was then swept up and pushed out of the high windows for the gardener to pick up and spread as fertiliser on the gardens. Many jokes along the lines of 'Fred looks better as a potato than he did as a human' were rife, but equally as many people refused to eat the garden produce.
Our guide is sure one night she came down she smelled the strong smell of formaldehyde for about 3 seconds, and she believes it is formaldehyde because one of the other guides described two doctors on his tour who claimed they smelled it too and were explaining to the group the link between autopsies and formaldehyde. While the group and guide were listening, the guide suddenly noticed the skull on the table moving and twitching. He started to get nervous, and laid his hand gently over the the skull, which continued to twitch... He lifted it up suddenly, and a mouse (placed there by a humorous colleague shortly before) shot across the table and into the long, cascading hair of a blonde lady standing at the end of the table! She started screaming, and her husband, not knowing why, started screaming himself! So the group started screaming and beating against the closed door of the dissection room. The panic had reached fever point, and someone screamed 'It's the ghosts, they don't want us to leave!', but the guide managed to push through and opened the door to allow the screaming group to run out....straight into the tour behind...who started screaming and running, until there were 60 people running and screaming, and no one really knowing why.....
Finally, we walked to the Seperate Prison, the solitary confinement prison. Our guide wears a talisman, because although she thinks 'seeing is believing', she likes to believe her talisman keeps her safe from whatever she doesn't know.. One night, when she'd been suffering with a cold, she had a pocket full of snotty tissues which she discarded in the bin, and not realising threw her talisman away at the same time. She realised just before the tour, but decided not to worry as it was only a jokey thing anyway. But in the seperate prison, she recieved a shove in the back, though no one was there, and now she doesn't ever go without it.
One tour, the guide was telling her story and suddenly a woman fainted, and her husband suddenly ran from the room. When the woman came to, she said that she'd seen the ghost of a man, solid as a human but dressed in convict clothes weaving between the tour guests and looking straight in their eyes. Suddenly, the man realised she was looking right at him and walked straight at her. She fainted with fear. It turns out that her husband could see the same thing, and had run from the room in terror..
Next day the pair returned, him with a camera, adamant that he would catch the man on camera, but the wife refused to come with him and went to the Museum Cafe next door to wait for him. He waited in the seperate prison, but no one appeared, but when he returned to the museum cafe he found his wife had fainted again. She seen the man's face again on the wall of the cafe, where some old photos and portraits of convicts were displayed...
The final story was of a member of staff who had been so scared that she never came back to work. She'd been locking up the Seperate Prison for the night, and had called first to check no one was inside. She heard footsteps, and called again that if they didn't want to be shut inside they should come to the door. No one came. She went back and checked the room, but it had turned cold and no one was there. Slightly freaked out, she started to walk down the corridor to the door, and heard the footsteps behind her, but there was no one there. They started to run, so she started to run, and they started gaining on her. They were half a step behind her when the reached the door and threw it shut, running all the way back to the visitor centre, where she babbled her story and left, refusing ever to return.