Boasting the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation, and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts in the country, Tasmania’s World Heritage convict sites are a fascinating journey into Australia’s history.
There are few nations that can boast as auspicious a collection of coveted World Heritage listings in such a compact area as Tasmania.
The most recent additions came in July 2010 when five penal sites — out of a total of 11 in Australia — from the island State’s compelling 18th and 19th century convict history, were inscribed by UNESCO.
The World Heritage Tasmanian convict sites are: Port Arthur Historic Site and the Coal Mines Historic Site on the Tasmanian Peninsula; the Cascades Female Factory in South Hobart; Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island; and Woolmers and Brickendon Estate near Longford. As UNESCO itself states, these five sites present “the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts”. All of these fascinating locations can be easily accessed by visitors to Tasmania.
At the centrepiece of Tasmania’s harsh yet enthralling convict heritage, and Australia’s World Heritage penal settlement listings are the spectacular, haunting sandstone remnants of the 19th century prison at Port Arthur.
Just a few hours south of Hobart, the well-preserved, stunningly-located site was begun in 1831 and reserved for, ultimately, a total of 12,000 of the “worst of the worst” convicts. Just a short 20-kilometres’ drive from Port Arthur are more significant convict era remains. The Coal Mines Historic Site, Tasmania’s first operational mines, provided the fledgling colony of Van Diemen’s Land with vital coal supplies as well as serving as a place to dispatch those considered the most egregious of convict offenders who toiled in harsh underground conditions.