Convicts and whiskey rations

(7 Kms)

Thursday, 25 Jan, 2018

Port Arthur

There was time for a big breakfast this morning, which for Jonno meant mountains of bacon on toast, plus three extra slices of toast. For the rest of us, bacon and eggs.

It was around 10:30 when we headed off for Port Arthur, stopping to pick up some bread and fruit buns at the little store, which had very limited stock.

Being on bikes, we were ushered through to park right at the entrance, bought our tickets and signed up to times for the introductory tour and boat tour.

The introductory tour was interesting and gave some perspective to the magnificent ruins and structures around us. The guide told the story of the convict trying to escape using the skin of a dead kangaroo, and we all agreed that Jonno had told it better yesterday as we looked down on Eaglehawk Neck, where the escape had almost come to a fatal end.

We had 30 minutes till our boat tour, and wandered through the old penitentiary, getting a feel for the confined spaces many convicts had to endure.

Across the cricket oval to the penitentiary

The penitentiary

Behind bars

The boat tour was also worthwhile and we learnt about the Island of the Dead and the Puer Peninsula where boys as young as nine had been incarcerated, but at least had some education and learnt a trade.

The penitentiary from the water

Puer Peninsula

Island of the Dead

We had lunch in the environs of the old dockyard where we listened to endless repeats of an audio loop reciting the same few sentences.

A ship sculpture in the old slipway

I was keen to see the Commandant's house, and we arrived part way through a tour, so were able to learn more about the personalities of each commandant, and their impact on the settlement.

We wandered past the officers' quarters, the ruins of the hospital and the unconsecrated church, before stopping at the house of the junior medical officer to learn more about the jockeying and rivalry that went on in the settlement in seeking appropriate accommodation and to be astounded by the number of children the residents had, up to twelve in one family.

Our final stop was the most eerie, being the silent prison, where repeat offenders were kept in solitary confinement, not permitted to speak or be spoken to, and were referred to by number, losing even their right to a name. It was little wonder that the lunatic asylum next door was so well populated.

The hospital ruins

The Church

An exercise area in the silent prison

We had to be back at the campsite by 4pm, as we were being picked up by William McHenry, formerly known as Skip when he was a scout leader with Simon before relocating to Tasmania to set up a whiskey distillery. His distillery was only 4 kilometres away, but the roads were steep, and we were glad of the lift.

He showed us through the distillery and talked about how they made whiskey and gin. He was a chemical engineer, and this experience had enabled him to set up what appeared to be a thriving business, exporting to Japan and Germany, with whiskey bottles retailing for $300. He had also created a gin for the Australian parliament combining aromatic native essences from all states, such as lemon Myrtle, wattle-seed and quandongs, which he had called Federated gin.

We visited the gin laboratory and then walked down to the source of the pure spring water that provided the foundation for his spirits.

We enjoyed a drink on the balcony of his little cabin with incredible views across the valley, and discussed life in Tasmania.

The source of the pure water

A beer and a yarn on the balcony of his little cabin

The view from the cabin

On the way back to the campsite, he detoured via Remarkable Cave for more awesome views and the opportunity to visit this amazing structure.

Back at camp, we devoured some Wicked brie and crackers, and made a note to try some Wicked cheese tasting if we had time whilst in Richmond. Our pasta sauce included a wide variety of vegetables, and Georgia renamed it Pasta a la Stanley, in honour of our unique recipe.