Tag Archives: British History

Harbour Cruise, Port Arthur, Tasmania.

In hindsight, I don’t know how we could’ve allowed so little time to explore Port Arthur. Once we’d arrived and seen that our entry passes were valid for two days, it became immediately obvious that we’d seriously under-estimated the time to do it properly. Now that we’re home and goodness knows when we’ll get back, I have my regrets. Yet, at the same time, you can only absorb so much history in three weeks. Indeed, you can’t absorb all of Tasmania in 3 weeks either, especially when you’re scratching beneath the surface. Moreover, with Geoff being Tasmanian, we also had a lot of friends and family to catch up with …and there was so much catching up to do!


So, when it came to doing the harbour cruise at Port Arthur, we had to stay on board without getting off to explore the Isle of the Dead of Point Puer. I don’t like missing out. However, we missed out on so much in the end that we’ll be back sooner rather than later.


So, this is but a very brief photographic tour accompanied by a very simple footnote.


This photo was taken about 15 years after James Newton arrived, giving a fairly good idea of what it looked like when he arrived.

As we pulled out of Port Arthur on the ferry and the expanse of water between use and the prison ruins expanded, I thought about how Geoff’s 3rd Great Grandfather, James Newton, would’ve felt as his ship sailed into Port Arthur. Coming from notorious Norfolk Island, he’d been initiated into the cruel hardship of the convict system. Yet, was there still that sense of dread? Or, was the relief or even hope that it might be better there? I don’t know. He obviously didn’t send us a postcard: “Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here!”


Like so much of Port Arthur, the harbour cruise was very scenic, relaxing and you really had to remind yourself that this place was hell on earth. Not only for the convicts, but also for the victims of the Port Arthur Massacre, their families, service personnel and locals. It has such stunning natural beauty, that it’s too easy to forget.

So, we hope you’ll be able to get down to Port Arthur sometime and experience the cruise yourself (along with everything else!!)

xx Rowena

Port Arthur, Tasmania…A Family Relic.

When James Newton went on a thieving rampage on the night of 11th October, 1843 I wonder if he considered the possibility of being caught and sentenced to 14 years transportation?

I doubt it.

Indeed, it doesn’t look like he was “thinking” very much at all.

Although James Newton seemed to be doing alright (he could apparently read and his occupation was Quarryman), he stole a lot more than the proverbial “loaf of bread”. When he was tried at the Hereford Assizes On the 21st March, 1844, it turned out that he and his mate had burgled three separate dwellings in one night and had quite a haul.

James Newton was sentenced to 14 years transportation and sent to London’s Millbank Prison. On 8th July, 1844 he left Woolich on board The Agincourt. With authorities taking a tough stance against theft, he was initially given the harsher penalty of being sent to Norfolk Island with a view of being transferred to Port Arthur down the track.

Naturally, getting caught had consequences and James Newton moved from being a free man, into a system of discipline and punishment and debate about moral and prison reform. Indeed, questions were being asked about whether the “criminal class” could actually be reformed.

So, when James Newton arrived at Port Arthur, he was at the mercy of “the system”.

As yet, I don’t know how long James Newton spent at Port Arthur before being consigned to John Connell at Oatlands. However, from 1848, harsh physical punishment within Port Arthur was rejected in favour of punishment of the mind. Flogging gave way to solitary confinement and the Separate Prison was built at Port Arthur in 1850. Cruciform-shaped, each of the four wings comprised a central corridor flanked by rows of solitary confinement cells. Separated by thick sandstone walls, it was hoped that the convicts would benefit from contemplative silence and separation. This design was based on  Jeremy Bentham’s model prison, Panopticon. Indeed, Bentham himself described the Panopticon as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”[1] Elsewhere, in a letter, he described the Panopticon prison as “a mill for grinding rogues honest”.[2]

On January 8th, 1887,the Illustrated Australian News reported that:

“Port Arthur  was considered to be the most secure prison in the island. Surrounded almost on every side with water which teemed with sharks, its only connection with the mainland; by Eagle Hawk Neck being guarded by chains of sentinels and ferocious blood hounds, it well deserved the trust reposed in it by the convict authorities, for few were the escapes, that took place from it. Even old hands that had broken prison time after time recognised the fact and took for their motto: “All hope abandon ye who enter here.”1.


Knowing that a member of your family endured this physical and psychological brutality for any length of time at all, is disturbing. Yet, you really have to look pretty hard to see any signs of that on a gorgeous sunny day where the prison ruins take on a rugged, artistic beauty, the gardens are magnificent and there’s even the luxury of a cricket pitch.

Anyway, returning to our visit to Port Arthur.
Unfortunately, by the time we’d admired the Tasman Peninsula, that we only had half a day left for Port Arthur. This meant we seriously had to rationalise our visit. We went on the walking tour and harbour cruise (which are both included with your entry fee) and then we decided to focus on the Chapel. From there I made a quick dash into the Chaplain’s cottage, which also housed some interesting convict artifacts.

Geoff and Miss on board the ferry cruise.

To do the place justice, I’ll be visiting each of these locations in a separate post.
The Chapel
Meanwhile, I should let you know that things turned out pretty well for James Newton in the end. On the 22nd September, 1853 James married a free settler, Bridget Vaughan,  and they went on to have 6 children and own their own farm in Campbell Town. James had his conditional pardon approved 4th October, 1853.
Stay tuned.
xx Rowena


Illustrated Australian News (Melbourne, Vic. : 1876 – 1889) Saturday 8 January 1887 p 10 Article