Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman joined Federal Heritage Minister Greg Hunt and State Heritage Minister Matthew Groom, along with PAHSMA Chair Professor Sharon Sullivan to formally re-open Port Arthur’s Penitentiary following a major conservation project at the world heritage listed site to restabilise the emblematic ruin and ensure its conservation for future generations.
The work has been a landmark project for PAHSMA, and demonstrates a capacity to deliver best practice conservation works to a building within a World Heritage listed site using local skills and labour.
The Tasmanian Government contributed $3million to the project, the Federal Government $1.5million, with the balance of the $7.2million cost being covered by PAHSMA through revenue raised by its tourism operations.
Originally constructed as a flour mill and granary, the Penitentiary was converted to house convicts in 1857 and was capable of housing over 480 convicts in dormitory accommodation and separate apartments. At the time of construction it was the largest building in Tasmania and remains Australia’s most potent symbol of its penal origins.
The Penitentiary was gutted by fires during the 1890s, destroying many of the original building features which provided its structural support. Since this time, it has been managed as a ruin in recognition of the multilayered history of the place.
In 2011 parts of the building were inundated with water following an extreme weather event. This event triggered a reassessment of the structural integrity of the Penitentiary and confirmed the requirement for a major stabilisation project.
Commencing in early 2014, the project has seen the implementation of a suite of structural interventions including:
- the installation of reinforced concrete ground beams supporting 14 huge steel columns;
- around 5 kilometres of stainless steel reinforcing rod which has been grouted into brickwork joints;
- the installation of 91 high tensile stainless steel grouted structural anchors which have been precision drilled vertically down through the walls; and
- the addition of stainless steel bracing plates which are concealed beneath the sandstone cornice.
Archaeological excavations undertaken prior to the main construction works have offered new insights into the conversion of the granary into a Penitentiary and towards understanding how the early foreshore in the area was developed.
The project ensures the long-term conservation of the structure. It also provides the opportunity to interpret the building in new and exciting ways that will enhance the visitor experience, which will be done over coming months.