Ghost hunting at Port Arthur
A brief history
From 1833 to 1877, Port Arthur—named after George Arthur, the Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land at the time—served as a penal colony for convicted British criminals. The settlement, located on the Tasman Peninsula, was connected to the mainland via Eaglehawk Neck, a 30m-wide strip of land allegedly fenced and guarded by soldiers, man traps and half-starved dogs. If that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, the rough waters surrounding the peninsula were rumoured to be shark-infested.
Despite pioneering a new, enlightened treatment of imprisonment—that of psychological, rather than corporal, punishment—Port Arthur was still in reality as harsh and unforgiving as any penal settlement. Some tales suggest that prisoners committed murder (an offence punishable by death) just to escape the desolation of life at the camp. The Isle of the Dead, a cemetery adjacent to Port Arthur, was the destination for all who died inside the prison camps. A total of 1646 graves are recorded to exist there, a stark reminder of the brutality of the institution.
The prison closed in 1877 and much of the property was put up for auction. Lingering tales of prisoners and ghost sightings lay like an ever-present mist upon the grounds and ensured enduring interest in the site. Many saw the potential for a booming tourism industry. It wasn’t until the 1970s that funding was received to preserve the site due to its historical significance. Today, Port Arthur is Tasmania’s top tourist destination.
Port Arthur Historic Site offers visitors a range of tours and activities. A Site Entry pass provides daytime admission for two consecutive days (Adult $37, Child $17) but you’ll want to stick around come nightfall for an experience that will likely stay with you for years to come.
Each evening at 6:00pm and 8:00pm, black-cloaked figures round up the brave souls remaining and lead them on a 90-minute tour through the darkened grounds, illuminating the way with the soft glow of lanterns and spine-tingling tales of the paranormal presence at Port Arthur. The guides’ rich storytelling reveal bizarre occurrences during Port Arthur's history, baffling and alarming convicts, free settlers, soldiers and today's visitors alike.
The 90-minute tour covers a distance of two kilometres, 30 per cent of which is wheelchair accessible. The tours depart every evening except Christmas night, are not cancelled for rain (for safety reasons, umbrellas are not permitted) and are not suitable for young children. Bring along a warm jacket, comfortable walking shoes—and steady nerves.
For those looking to crank things up a notch, Port Arthur offers something else equally terrifying and unique—the adults-only Paranormal Investigation Experience. With ghost hunting equipment at your disposal—not to mention a degree of rational skepticism and perhaps a racing heart—you’ll conduct your own paranormal investigations throughout various buildings at the Port Arthur Historic Site. Each guided tour is limited to just 12 people and the investigation experience lasts approximately three hours, starting at 7:00pm in winter and 9:00pm in summer.