Port Arthur is an exceptional example of the 19th-century European strategy of using the forced labour of convicts to establish global empires. Port Arthur demonstrates to a high degree the adaptation of the 19th century British penal system to Australian conditions. This regime ensured that men would be punished and reformed. Port Arthur was an industrial establishment, which engaged in large scale manufacture of a wide range of material and goods for both government and private markets. A number of Port Arthur’s institutions pioneered new aspects of British and American 19th-century penal and social ideas and practice: the Point Puer establishment, the Dockyard, the Separate Prison, the Paupers’ Depot and the Lunatic Asylum all demonstrate important innovations in attitude and practice.
After closure in 1877, the site became the cradle and exemplar of Tasmanian tourism, and of heritage tourism and management at a national level. The Soldiers’ Memorial Avenue, established in 1919, and the buildings associated with the Carnarvon period, are of local significance. The tragedy of 28 April 1996 led to changes in Australia’s gun laws.
The Port Arthur Historic Site has extensive research potential because of the high degree of integrity of the Site and its cultural landscape setting. The Port Arthur Historic Site is a benchmark place in the development of Australian historical archaeological method and theory. Lemprière’s tidal benchmark, in combination with his written records, has exceptional historical and scientific significance in the international field of climate research.
The Port Arthur Historic Site, including Point Puer and the Isle of the Dead, is a prominent visual landmark within the marine and terrestrial landscape. The physical landscape impresses on the viewer the enormity of the task of establishing a British convict settlement in a remote colonial setting. The gardenesque landscape was intended to model for all inhabitants the desired qualities of a thriving society—order, discipline, beauty and obedience. The beauty of the landscape, while seemingly paradoxical, is rather more appropriately viewed as an essential component of the coercive system; this essentially 18th—century idea is forcefully expressed at Port Arthur. Its landscape, ruins and formal layout symbolise a transformation in Australian attitudes from revulsion at the hated stain to honouring of and interest in the convict past. The picturesque quality of its setting and its buildings has been recorded by artists and writers since the early days of the settlement.
Lemprière’s tidal benchmark, when combined with the written records, has exceptional historical and scientific significance in the international field of climate research. The planning and built fabric of Port Arthur’s Dockyard, convict tramway, semaphore system, flour mill, hydro-engineering works and reticulated water systems demonstrate high degrees of creativity in adapting imported industrial practices to local materials and conditions. The collection of built structures from the convict period of Port Arthur is important in demonstrating the labour, skills and workmanship of convicts. Port Arthur represents the introduction to the Australian colonies of certain Western ideas and structures concerned with the management of prisoners, the mentally ill and the indigent, which still underpin modern practices. The gallery of at least 200 photographs of convicts, created by Superintendent Adolarius Humphrey Boyd, is among the earliest-known instances in Australia of the systematic use of photography in prisons.
Port Arthur is the best-known symbol of Australia’s convict past: it is an iconic site that represents one of the foundational stories in the State’s and the nation’s history. The local community values the Site as a former township in which many of them were born and grew up. The cemetery on the Isle of the Dead, the Soldiers’ Memorial Walk and the 1996 tragedy have special significance. The site also has significance as a place of long term employment to many community members.
The heritage community values the Port Arthur Historic Site as a proving ground for new conservation and interpretation practice. Port Arthur and the associated convict records evoke powerful associations for the descendants of all those who passed through here. Port Arthur is the cradle of contemporary institutions and practices, such as today’s prisons and detention centres. The Port Arthur Historic Site has been an important training ground for historical archaeologists and other heritage professionals for 30 years. For both the broader and local community, the memorial for the 1996 tragedy provides an opportunity to reflect upon that event and the new laws controlling gun ownership that it inspired.
Special Association Values
The Port Arthur Historic Site has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place’s special association with notable reformers, administrators and convicts, artists and writers from the British Empire: these include John Howard, Jeremy Bentham, Joshua Jebb, Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, the Corps of Royal Engineers; Commandants Charles O’Hara Booth, William Champ, and Superintendent James Boyd; John Hampton, Comptroller of Convicts and later Governor of Western Australia 1862–68; Thomas Lemprière, William Smith O’Brien, John Frost, Linus Miller, Martin Cash, Mark Jeffrey, Henry Savery, Thomas Costantini, George Augustus Robinson, John Skinner Prout, Francis Simpkinson de Wesselow, Anthony Trollope, Marcus Clarke, John Watt Beattie, Mark Twain and Bishop Francis Nixon.
The Tasman Peninsula region generally has significance to Tasmanian Aboriginal people. The landscape was important to Aboriginal people in the past and provides a connection of importance to Aboriginal people today. The local landscape seems little changed from its pre-invasion appearance. The Port Arthur Historic Site and its environs contain a range of Aboriginal sites. One known Tasmanian Aboriginal person is likely to have been buried on the Isle of the Dead.
The Port Arthur Historic Site is one of a small group of penal settlements in the Australian colonies specifically developed for recidivists. The Dockyard is rare as an example of the use of convict labour to build both essential infrastructure and vessels. Point Puer is unique as the first purpose-built reformist institution for convict boys in the British Empire. The Separate Prison and the Lunatic Asylum are rare examples of innovative ways of managing criminals and the mentally ill in the mid-19th century. The landscape around the site provides habitat for the endangered Swift Parrot.
The form and location of elements at the Site display purposeful design, functionality and arrangement, reflecting the order, operations and hierarchy of a convict penal settlement. The built environment at the Site displays a large, surviving concentration and wide range of 19th-century design, engineering and construction techniques, materials and built forms. The Site represents important aspects of Australia’s convict system including changing attitudes to punishment, reform, education and welfare.