We spent a lovely autumn day yesterday in Port Arthur, #Tasmania, surrounded by the remnants of one of the British Empire's most brutal convict prisons. Port Arthur is located on the much larger Tasman Peninsula; a 660 square kilometres landmass of rugged forests, jagged peaks, inlets and internal islands, surrounded by sea cliffs and open ocean the connected to the mainland of Tasmania by a narrow isthmus that was guarded by a chain of savage dogs. The result was a massive natural, inescapable, prison. But the British went beyond that, building a range of internment and hard labour camps designed around the theories of Jeremy Bentham's panopticon. Tens of thousands of convicts were sent here, men, women and children at different sites. Many of them were political prisoners from the various revolts against British rule in the Dominion. Convicts were forced to work in hard-labour, in manufacturing, shipbuilding, farming. Others were subject to harsh experiments in isolation, 'rehabilitation' which we would now describe as torture. Many died or were forever scarred by the experience.
Today the crumbling ruins of this massive, interconnected internment machine only reveal the true brutality of what went on in stories and history. The Tasman Peninsula is truly stunning. An idyllic paradise made attractive to contemporary visitors for many of the reasons it worked so well as a prison.