2 April 2018
Port Arthur, a small town about 100 km southeast of Hobart, was the site of a British convict settlement and is now a popular tourist destination and World Heritage Site. We had heard good things so we took a day trip from Hobart to see it for ourselves.
The Port Arthur Historic Site includes what is remaining of the early to mid-1800’s settlement and a look at the life of its occupants. The British Empire relocated convicts from Great Britian and other colonies to Australia. Second offenders, convicts who were convicted again after arriving in Australia, were sent to Port Arthur. These relocations served two purposes. First, separating the worst criminals from the others helped to maintain order in the mainland settlements. Second, it helped to populate Tasmania and prevent French colonization. Port Arthur was billed as the Bristish equivalent to America’s Alcatraz Island, unescapable.
Port Arthur is also where the tour guide claims the saying “don’t let the cat out of the bag” was coined. I cannot say for sure it started here but it did appear to start with the British Royal Navy. The cat ‘o nine tails, a whip with nine knotted rope chords, was used to punish prisoners. The “cat” was kept in a symbolic red bag.
Despite the area’s colorful history, it is now a quiet place overlooking scenic Carnarvon Bay and well worth a visit.