Tasmania is definitely our sort of place. It’s stunningly beautiful, with an amazing variety of scenery and natural splendours, fascinating history, world-class art and excellent wine. We spent our first three nights in the capital, Hobart, in the trendy Salamanca area, down by the water, right in the heart of the action.
Our early morning Tiger Airways flight from Melbourne shaved fifteen minutes off the scheduled time and arrived at 8.00AM. We cajoled the car hire company and picked the car up ahead of schedule. Our hotel played ball too with an early check in and we were unpacked and exploring by noon. The first day the highlight was finding the local police station and reporting a theft from our hold baggage on our flight from Melbourne but the police officer was helpful and we put this behind us. We explored Hobart on foot, admiring some of the colonial architecture and visiting the famous Victorian fruit market, where local produce was on sale, including apples that looked and tasted like apples, not wax!
The second day, we allocated to exploring the UNESCO World Heritage, Port Arthur Historic Site. This is Australia’s most intact and evocative convict site. The site has more than thirty buildings, dating back to the 1830s. The most important are:
- Separate Prison
- Convict church
- Museum houses
- Garden & grounds
- Memorial Garden
For us it was deeply moving, both in terms of understanding Australian history and British Georgian history. Our site-pass included a 45 min. introductory tour and a thirty minute harbour cruise. Although it was raining for part of the day, we didn’t notice because we were transported in time back to Georgian and Victorian Britain and her colonies. The experiment of the Port Arthur penal settlement was an attempt to reform and rehabilitate the convicts, that were transported from England on a three-month journey with many deaths en route. There had been as many as three thousand boys imprisoned at Port Arthur, for crimes such as stealing toys; these boys as young as eight, often shared cells with adult men. Speaking out of turn, or trying to escape, would mean very harsh punishment including up to 100 lashes with a bullwhip; however, if the doctor that was present during the punishment thought that life was at risk, he would stop the lashes and it would be continued another day, then just move onto solitary confinement, no speaking permitted and one hour per day exercise in silence. Port Arthur was an experience never to be forgotten.
Our third day, we visited Richmond, Australia’s finest Georgian village, with its famous bridge, architecture and jail – the descriptions and pictures in the jail were quite vivid and we felt for the poor souls who had been imprisoned there. Richmond Jail is Australia’s oldest existing and best preserved colonial jail. Richmond is also Tasmania’s most important historic town. There is a walking track by the name ‘Convict Trail’, where the poor souls would march with ball and chain for miles on end over stony terrain in all sorts of weather conditions until they reached their destination. Richmond Bridge was built in 1823 by convicts and still stands proud today. One of the the gaol’s infamous inmates was ‘Ikey Solomon‘, on whom Charles Dickens based ‘Fagin’ in Oliver Twist. ‘Ikey’ was tried at The Old Bailey in 1830 for receiving stolen goods and was sent to Richmond jail in 1832. Richmond was also a woman’s prison, it was common for the women to become pregnant whilst serving their sentence, courtesy of a prison officer – sadly their babies rarely survived. In the afternoon, we went to the famous Mona waterfront Museum of Old and New Art , located within the Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. It is the largest privately funded museum in Australia. We were able to see a the highly acclaimed ‘Exhibition on the Origin of Art‘ with some famous exhibits and scientists explaining the underlying theory. Afterwards we sampled the vineyard’s best white but at AUD14 (GBP8.50) a glass, we savoured it very slowly.
Next we’re headed up the east coast of Tasmania on a multi-week adventure.