Port Arthur, Tasmania: No escape

It’s like a scene from a horror movie: Wide shot of lush grounds and picture- postcard bay, and then pan onto prison ruins and the ghosts of Australia’s convict past.

Students of Australian history know the country got its official start as a dumping ground for British criminals.

One of those settlements was Port Arthur, on a desolate Tasmanian peninsula, surrounded by shark-infested waters. Prime real estate for a prison for the toughest British and Irish criminals — more than a thousand — who were shipped there in the 1800s.

Their will was tested by hard labor while being shackled to each other (they built the place) and floggings. Later, a “gentler” approach was used: prisoners were forced into silent isolation, hoods covering their heads. Many ended up in the insane asylum.

Those who tried to escape didn’t make it very far. Especially a prisoner who tried to disguise himself in a kangaroo hide, and was found out when he was shot at by hungry guards, thinking he would be dinner.

There was also a separate prison for boys. Some as young as 9 ended up there for offenses like stealing toys. Plus the eerie Isle of the Dead, where more than a thousand convicts and prison workers are buried.

Speaking of eerie, the number of dead at the site increased more than a century after the last convict had gone. In 1996, a gunman went on a crazed spree,  killing 35 people, including tourists who went to see history, and tragically became a part of it.

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