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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Port Arthur, Tasmania

Port Arthur in 1860

1100 people attended church here every Sunday

The Silent Cells

The Settlement

Houses for the Accountant and Minister

The Haunted Parsonage

From 1833 until the 1850s, Port Arthur was the prison from hell. The British and Irish rebellious hard cases were sent here from all over the colonies, men who re-offended after serving their initial sentences. It was described as the ‘final cage for incorrigibles’, and as a place of ‘unvarying and unmitigated misery and desolation’.

Floggings were a regular occurence in this terrible place. You could get 20 lashes for having your hands in your pockets. If you were issued with 100 lashes and you fainted after 20, you would be put into the hospital until your body was healed enough to continue with the balance. The exact amount of lashings issued was always carried out to the letter.

Modern new thinking believed that hard physical punishment such as floggings only hardened the prisoner so the authorities decided to take a different approach and introduced the psychological punishment of the "Silent System" in what they called the Separate Prison. Each new arrival spent 4 to 12 months in the separate prison before being assigned to work outside.

Solitary confinement was particularly cruel. For any misdemeanour a prisoner was locked in total darkness and silence for between several hours to 30 days on bread and water.

For the rest of the Silent convicts, a hood was placed over the prisoner's head when he ventured out of his cell to attend church on Sunday or to go to the exercise yard for one hour a day. The other 23 hours he had to remain silent in his cell without contact with another living soul. The gaolers even wore felt slippers so the prisoners couldn't hear their footsteps. This silent treatment was thought to make the prisoner ponder his bad behaviour which would lead to his eventual rehabilitation but it reality, it sent many inmates to the insane asylum.

People who work here often report strange happenings - a choir singing, ghostly figures and anguished cries of despair. If you are into the supernatural, they even have night time tours that will make your hair stand on end.

Some tales suggested that prisoners committed murder, punishable by death, just to escape the horror. The prison closed in 1877.