The stories of Port Arthur’s Tasmanian convicts have proven to be one of the World Heritage listed historic site’s enduring appeals for visitors, with a popular book of the lives of 52 of those convicts now in its sixth reprint.
One of the most memorable and engaging experiences for visitors to Port Arthur is the Convict Gallery, where they play the Lottery of Life, which allows each visitor the opportunity to get to know a real Port Arthur convict.
Each visitor to the Site is offered a playing card representing a real convict, which they take into the Site’s convict gallery to discover the true story behind their villain. Then they can see displays showing daily life for inmates, including the various trades practised by convicts at Port Arthur.
Such was the popularity of the gallery that the stories of the 52 villains that constitute the Pack of Thieves were compiled into a book of the same name, which has become one of the most popular souvenirs of the Port Arthur Historic Site.
The stories were compiled from original convict records and other historical documents by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, now with the School of History and Classics at the University of Tasmania, and long-time Port Arthur Historic Site Resource Centre Manager and authority on convict research, Susan Hood, with illustrations by renowned Tasmanian artist Tom Samek.
“Since it was first published in 2001, it has sold 25,000 copies,” said Ms Hood. “I think that its popularity lies in the way that the whole experience brings distant historical characters to life for the visitor. People today can relate in a very personal way to the life stories and fates of these individual convicts, adding impact and meaning to the broader history of Port Arthur and Van Diemen’s Land that they hear when they visit.”
Pack of Thieves is available from the Port Arthur Historic Site Gift Shop and from quality bookshops around Tasmania. A pack of cards depicting the 52 convicts is also available.