On a cold evening in Strahan, people gather as they have for years, to hear the tales of Tasmania’s convict past. There they are seemingly transported back to January 1834 when the last ship built at the convict settlement of Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour was about to disembark for the new prison in Port Arthur. What follows is a tale of voyage, daring escapes and incredible twists played out at an open theatre, under a bed of stars.
While the adventurous tale is just that - Australia’s longest running play called The Ship That Never Was - the experience easily transports you back to a time when convicts outnumbered settlers in Tasmania. As foreign as such a concept sounds to us now, it's easy to envisage what life must have been like at much of the island’s heritage sites.
Some of Tasmania’s best examples of fascinating convict beginnings and dark stories can be uncovered at the island’s five UNESCO World Heritage-listed convict sites; Port Arthur Historic Site, Coal Mines Historic Site, Cascade Female Factory, Darlington Probation Station and Woolmers and Brickendon Estate.
Port Arthur in particular is a historian favourite with more than 30 buildings, ruins and restored period homes dating from 1830 to 1877. It’s at this spot that an amazing 12,500 convict sentences were served. To make the most of your visit be sure to take the harbour cruise to the Isle of the Dead and Point Puer – the first reformatory in the British Empire built exclusively for juvenile male convicts. Or for something a little different, a ghost tour of the area.
For all its preserved convict past, much of Tasmania’s historic buildings are still in use today. The island is actually home to Australia’s oldest bridge and Catholic Church, both of which are in Richmond. Pre-dating Port Arthur, Richmond is well worth exploring especially the Richmond Goal which is also the oldest intact gaol in Australia.
Another piece of history still used today is Hobart’s Salamanca Place. Featuring sandstone that was quarried by convicts and once home to warehouses servicing the docks, the building is now used to house craft shops, artist studios, galleries, bars and restaurants.
To arrange your Tasmanian holiday, phone 13 70 71.