Is Port Arthur Australia’s most haunted spot? ANNA SCRIVENGER certainly got the willies when she visited the Tasmanian hell-hole…
Unseen eyes watched me from every dark doorway: malevolent forces hidden in the blackness, ready to strike at any moment. All my hairs were standing on end and I shivered, darting fearfully past an open doorway which yawned black and silent, and pushed my way through the huddle of nervous people towards the only light I could see, a flickering candle held by our guide.
In this dark, dead prison it was barely enough to make out the ancient stone floor and walls around us. But if there had been 50 candles and we’d each had a king-size Magilite, this would still be a bloody creepy place.
Against my better judgement, I was standing in the D-wing corridor of Port Arthur’s ancient Separate Prison (solitary confinement) compound. Here, 150-odd years ago, men lost their minds, driven to madness and despair by a life without light, sound, communication or even a glimpse of sky.
Their gaolers had laid rush matting along this very corridor, so that their footsteps would go unheard by the tormented souls that occupied the tiny cells along each side. The cells were supposed to be suicide-proof – having only a knee-high window-slit, low bed and bucket – but at least one inmate is known to have killed himself here, crawling away from the barred window until his noose tightened around his neck.
As we crept along the corridor the guide told us this grim tale, and others, such as the time she had been alone in the compound and had been chased by an unseen force that, with a swipe of its ghostly fingers, had managed to draw blood from her cheek as she pegged it out of the gate.
Worst of the worst
Out under the moonlit sky though, I was able to relax a little. This place reeked of history, even of great suffering, but it was also very pretty.
Outside the confines of the solitary compound, where the air had been thick with despair, a gentle breeze stirred the avenues of trees that were planted long ago along Port Arthur’s roads.
This south-eastern Tasmanian settlement was built as a penitentiary which operated from 1830 to 1877. Governor Arthur chose the Tasman Peninsula for the secure site – it’s connected to mainland Tassie by a narrow ithsmus, Eaglehawk Neck, just 100m wide –
which was protected by a line of vicious dogs. Of all the convicts that were sent to Australia, the worst were sent to Tasmania, and the worst of them
to Port Arthur.
Coming along the sandy streets towards the church, we came past a row of very pretty cottages that looked like they’d be more at home in the Cotswolds than out here on the very edge of Australia. Our tour guide took us into a few, and we discovered that even they were allegedly haunted by various spectres. A lonely young woman, who had died in childbirth after a short and loveless marriage to the Commandant, was often spotted weeping and dressed in blue throughout various rooms of her house.
Everywhere we went, I kept my eyes firmly on the ground, shuffling along near the feeble pool of light cast by the candle, avoiding looking into the dark corners where spooks are likely to hang out.
Dozens of spooky stories followed us as we ventured boldly down into a basement morgue, up stone steps, through silent courtyards, into the ruined sandstone church, gutted by bushfire in 1884, and along the harbourfront, now long devoid of the tallships that used to supply and trade with the settlement.
You can kayak along the coast, and some way out in the bay lies the Isle of the Dead, where Port Arthur’s inhabitants was buried; one of the most haunted spots of all. If you laugh in the face of ghosts, you can take a trip out to it in
the summer months.
Apparently no two ghost tours are alike; the guides take each group around a different route through various haunted spots and anything could happen. Many people actually get to see some pretty weird happenings, as long as they’re not concentrating on the floor like I was.
After what seemed an eternal walk in the dark, the welcoming lights of the visitor centre loomed back into view. We clung together along the dark roads until we reached the safety of our car. Back at the hostel, we calmed our nerves over a bottle of rum and were grateful we didn’t have to sleep alone.
Clear light of day
Early the next morning a few of us snuck back into the Historic Site to see if it was as scary in broad daylight. We had beaten all the day-trippers and had the entire settlement to ourselves. Though deserted, by daylight Port Arthur seemed a friendly, if subdued, kind of place. It had the same vibe as an old ruined castle; a place that’s seen some pretty harsh things but is now weary and at peace.
The damage: $17
The details: For more info, Freephone: 1800 659 101 or visit http://www.portarthur.org.au.
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Picton, New South Wales
Bakers cutting their own throats, shopkeepers hanging themselves and children meeting untimely deaths are just some of the reasons why this whole town is brimming over with paranormal activity.