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Travel Memories :
Ghosts of Port Arthur
by Wendy Choo

Three years has passed since my last visit to Port Arthur and I still have distinct memories of the beautiful penal settlement. Of course, apart from the breathtaking scenery of the ruins and the remarkable history of the place, it was the ghost tour that I cherished most.

Being a big fan of horror movies and literature, I can't help but wish to have documented the paranormal and ghostly stories that I have been told by the tour guide along with the adventures of my travel in Tasmania. The trip had to end, however. And after resuming college, my thoughts switched back to the assignments and exams channel and the urge to write subsided altogether with the coming of a new semester.

After three years of university, I somehow landed in this job writing for an e-commerce travel web site. Given this task to write my first article, my memories flashed back to my short encounter with Tasmania, traveling through the beautiful English countryside, and my recollections then paused at the ruins of the penal settlement, Port Arthur. I recalled the excitement of carrying a dim lantern, breathing in cool air, and listening to ghostly tales as we walked through the dark streets of the ruins, and that still gives me an eerie and exhilarating feeling.

I will try to tell you the tales I've heard the way I tell stories. I do not know if it will be scary but I suppose that is not the objective of this article, as this is neither a ghost nor a horror story. Instead, this article is meant to be a unique blend of historical facts and story telling. Many of the tales here are quoted by memory alone and not based on any published materials. Therefore, should there be any discrepancies between the original and my version, please forgive me. After all, it has been years since my visit there. However, before starting with the tales, let's first get to know a little of Port Arthur and the penal settlement.

  Lieut. Governor George Arthur

Named after Lieut. Governor George Arthur, the lovely penal settlement ruins of Port Arthur is located on the Tasman Peninsula and is the most preserved penal colony in Australia. It is isolated by a narrow strip of land called Eaglehawk Neck and a magnificently rugged coastline, which made it an ideal location for a penal colony. Between the years of 1830 and 1877, it was home to 12,000 convicts, both men and boys, who suffered some of the harshest prison treatments and cruel punishments in those days. Punishments included incarceration in the Model Prison, a separate building from the main penitentiary, where inmates were subjected to sensory deprivation and extreme isolation in the belief that such methods promoted 'moral reform'.

  The Ruins of Port Arthur's Penal Settlement
  Remains of The Penitentiary
  Isle of the Dead

The ruins are made up of The Guard Tower, The Penitentiary, The Hospital, The Asylum, The Model Prison, The Church, The Parsonage, and the beautifully restored and furnished cottage, The Commandant's House, which was one of the first houses in Port Arthur. Just minutes away from the peninsula is the Isle of Dead, which is an island that was used to bury hundreds of convicts, military personnel, paupers, and civilians. While there have been much atrocity and death in this place in the past, it is a popular appeal to people from all corners of the world. Perhaps it is the barbaric nature of past humans that we modern civilization find so fascinating. As for myself, it was the ghost tour and the stories that lured me to this place.

On to the stories, I shall start with some unexplained things that tourists had experienced over at the Church.

The Church was built in 1837 and it was never consecrated as it was used by all denominations. In 1884, the penal site was gutted by bush fire destroying most of the buildings. Restoration efforts were carried out between the years of 1884 to 1955. In 1983, preservation work was performed on The Church and other structures as part of the Port Arthur Conservation and Development Project. It was reported that visitors and staff could often hear the sound of church bells coming from the church and usually it is during the coming of dawn. Also, sounds of the bells can sometimes be heard when standing right in the center of the church either at night or during the day. That, I don't consider spooky but definitely unexplainable.

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