Port Arthur in 1840

The penal settlement of Port Arthur began humbly in 1833, the first convicts being those who were transferred from Macquarie Harbour after its closure. These men were given the task of cutting down the surrounding trees and developing timber in use of building the shelters they would soon inhabit. This form of hard labour was later used as a type of punishment for those prisoners who did not obey the rules. The settlement therefore developed as  a timber-getting site, and as the buildings started to develop, so did the type of work the convicts were assigned to.

Thomas Lempriére, Port Arthur 1840.

Here is the image with reference numbers and a short explanation of the main buildings present at the time.

1. The small house on the extreme left by the semaphore was the Commandant’s private residence. This building alone went through many additions as Commandant Charles O’Hara Booth married, fathered children and eventually gave his role to the next Commandant of Port Arthur.

2. The soldiers who guarded the perimeters of Port Arthur and ensured the peace and order of the convicts resided here. The tall structure in the middle was the watchtower overlooking the penal settlement. This entire building included the guard tower, and officers’ quarters for the military officers as well as a private section for the Senior Military Officer.

3. The Commissariat Store on the shoreline was run by Thomas Lempriére and was used for the rationing of army provisions. Lempriére was a writer, artist and kept records of various things in Port Arthur, such as the weather and the water tides. His interest in natural history led him to later set up a museum in the Commissariat Store.

4. This line of buildings were used for the offices of the Commandant and Superintendent. The Superintendent’s quarters were also here, and included bedrooms, a parlour, closet and a kitchen, as well as outdoor stores and animal pens.

5. The hospital was run by the medical officer of Port Arthur. Many came and went, some who admired the Commandant and others who did not agree with the way he ran his prison. The building itself went through many reconstructions later on, and is partly still standing today.

6. This shed was used in 1840 as a storeroom of such; previously, it was used as a place for convicts to learn and demonstrate their trade, but when the dockyards opened, this place was abandoned and used to store extra goods.

7. The original Prisoners Barracks was destroyed in fires and no longer stands today. This area of buildings included a schoolhouse, boys barracks, adult huts and a building full of single cells. It also included a muster yard and recreational yard, as well as a room for those prisoners who worked for the Superintendent. This entire complex was later replaced in 1842 by the long iconic penitentiary building which exists today.

8. This marvellous building was built by the Point Puer boys in 1837, and was the first church building at Port Arthur. The building also housed the large bells which rang at the start of each day, at mealtimes and at the end of the day. 

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