History Day, Continued

Since my last partial installment, I have flown across the Bass Straight to Melbourne where I am staying in the flat of a delightful friend of a friend (thank you for playing matchmaker, Claire Nivola!!) I have chosen to spend the morning finishing this entry, at least, before taking off to the market and the Tan,” the Melbourne Botanic Garden, where I will meet another FoaF for a walk.

So, back to Port Arthur. After the grisly descriptions of the tour guide, I decided to firt visit the uphill protion of the site where were housed the members of the clergy and their families, next to a large sandstone church. Becuase the settlement eventually included wives and children of clergymen and a few of the military officers, real houses and a large formal garden were built to house them all. The approach to this area was up a long road beautifully shaded by venerable English oaks. In the very English garden there were totally recognizable formal flower beds, a fountain, and some even more venerable (evolutionarily) tree ferns. The latter was perhaps the only native plant in the gardens, though I wouldn’t swear to that.

After poking around the mid-19th century compound, I headed back to the waterfront for the boat tour of the port, part of the price of admission. We caught a glimpse of the Puer Peninsula where the young boys were kept to separate them from the nefarious influences of the adult male prisoners (though they were shipped over the water daily so they could do their slave labor in the boatyards or wherever else in the settlement) and the Isle of the Dead, the community grave yard. Boys were forced to bathe daily in the Antarctic waters off the peninsula, and escape was challenging, at best, given that the closest landfall was the Antarctic ice sheet about 800 km away. Nevertheless, death by hypothermia probably looked preferrable to 100 lashes, meted out so that if the prisoner looked about to expire, the punishment was paused long enough for the person to heal before recieving the rest.

On Will Baker’s advice, I paid a fee and disembarked for a tour of the Isle, where I saw my first wild wallaby. Yay!! I also got a tour of the unmarked, lower elevetaion site where the convicts, some 900 of them, were buried, and the more lofty end of the island where elaborately carved stones marked the graves of the military personel and members of the clergy and their families who met their demise at Port Arthur.

There were graves of infants and children and sarcophagi of officers, and I am frankly amazed that anyone survived very long at all in the conditions described by the site personel. There were physicians on the site, and it sounds like one of their jobs was to keep prisoners alive so that they could complete their sentences, some of which entailed 12 hours a day on the treadmill. Unbeknownst to me, the term literally means a mill (gristmill, in this case) powered by 100 men, all of whom were manacled by 16 pounds of leg irons, essentially “climbing the steps” of the mill wheel. At least one guy’s ankles were so damaged in the course of his sentence, his feet were rendered useless, and he hobbled about on canes. Charming.

Attempted escapees were not treated well. Nor were the insolent, untrustworthy, or were otherwise less than model prisoners, and we were led to believe that was most of them. Yet they were rarely hung, a punishment perhaps considered to merciful given what bad guys they were considered to be. 

This is the mill that also included banks of prison cells. Some of the brouhaha that led to the “reforms” to the sensory deprivation mode of confinement were due to reports of “unnatural acts” perpetrated by the convicts on one another. This distubed the finer minds back in London, because clearly such behavior was morally outrageous. Confining prisoners in such a way that they had no contact with one another (even going so far as to their being hooded as they were escorted to the “exercise yard” once daily so they could pace like lions in little pit) should clearly cure them of such bestial tendancies. Right.

The day had begun quite overcast, but the sun came out by early afternoon, and I was able to tour the labirynth of the hospital and military installation (the most beautiful vantage point on the site) in glorious sunshine, and check out the shipyard (mostly archaeological footprints with signage, and the remains of a lime kiln). Fotweary, I headed out to make my way to the Norfolk Bay Convict Station by way of some short walks to see ocean cliffs, a tunnel arch carved by the sea, and some flora, such as this Epicarus marginata, that are endemic to Tasmania. Yay island biogeography!