Port Arthur is one of the most paranormally active places on Earth with numerous documented ghost sightings and hauntings. One kilometre off shore is the Isle of the Dead, a convict settlement with over 2000 bodies buried in a mass grave.
Port Arthur, Tasmania, is one of Australia's great tourism destinations. Every building, every feature of Port Arthur's historic site has a story to tell. At night, the Ghost tours that run at Port Arthur have become some of the most popular in Australia.
Created with convict labour, the impressive architecture, delightful gardens and chilling prison facilities survive today for tourists to explore. The Port Arthur penal settlement began life as a small timber station in 1830, originally designed as a replacement for the recently closed timber camp at Birches Bay. In 1833 Tasmania's Port Arthur became a prison settlement for male convicts. Port Arthur quickly grew in importance within the penal system of the colonies. Because of the remoteness of the town the most violent and hardened criminals were sent to the Port Arthur Penitentiary.
Port Arthur Penitentiary quickly gained a reputation as a terrible place, hundreds of prisoners died in the first few years of its opening. Convicts were forced to work in chain gangs and act of disobedience resulted in the prisoners either being whipped or put into solitude, 100 lashes was the normal punishment for trying to escape. During the 1870's the convict population at the Penitentiary dwindled, those remaining behind were too old, infirm or insane to be of any use, so the prison was closed in 1877.
There have been so many reports of ghosts and paranormal activity at Port Arthur that they can't all be listed. American TV's Ghost Hunters International have recently visited Port Arthur there paranormal team found plenty of evidence of the sites historic ghosts, backing up the claims that this location is Australia's most haunted.
The Parsonage is one of the most haunted buildings in Port Arthur. Paranormal activity at the Parsonage dates back to the late 1800s. A nineteenth century writer, George Gruncell, described a number of strange events that occurred at the Parsonage in the 1870s. The Hayward family had been visiting Melbourne, the Reverend Hayward had to come back early leaving his family to follow.
One night after his return, the doctor at the settlement, seeing lights from the upstairs rooms of the Parsonage, thought that the parson's wife and children had returned. When he went to welcome them home, he found only the Reverend Hayward and a servant. No one had been upstairs and when the rooms were inspected they were found to be in darkness. But others in the settlement had also seen the lights and assumed that the family had returned.
On another occasion the Reverend and his wife were sitting in the drawing room when they became aware of an intense light shining under the door of the study across the landing. When they peered through the keyhole the room appeared to be brilliantly illuminated, yet when they opened the door it was in complete darkness.
A few months later they had Judge Flemming staying with them and they told him the story of the mysterious lighted room. He was not inclined to believe the story, but that same night the lights appeared again exactly as they had before. They all peered through the keyhole at the brightly lit room but when they opened the door it was in complete darkness.
The guest chamber gained a reputation as a haunted room. A lady guest was driven from her bed one night by unexplained knocking noises that seemed to come from the walls and floors in the room. When she fled up the stairs she heard the patter of feet behind her on the stairs.
Some months later, a servant was sent to check the fire in the guest room, suddenly she let out a terrific shriek and collapsed senseless in the middle of the room. When she was revived, she explained that she had seen the figure of a man looking at her through the window. He had a knife or dagger in his hand and he held it as though about to strike. She would never again enter the room after dark.
Shortly before the penal settlement was disbanded, Mrs Hayward's mother and sister came to visit. One night Mrs Price's mother was unable to sleep. The moon was shining through the window and as she lay with her eyes open she became aware that somebody had entered the room. It was a human figure draped in white. She lay still and watched the figure through half open eyes, afraid that it might be a burglar after her jewels.
The figure appeared to strike a match and then made its way to a cot in which a child was sleeping. After looking at the sleeping child for a moment the apparition turned and glided out of the room.
During the early 1980s a considerable amount of conservation and restoration work was undertaken at Port Arthur. Three builders who were renovating the Parsonage lodged in the building whilst carrying out the work. One reported catching sight of a woman dressed in old-fashioned clothing; he felt the temperature in the room drop and saw the curtains billowing even though the window was firmly closed.
Another of the builders told of waking in the night, thinking he was being attacked by someone who was pressing down on his chest and forcing the air out of his lungs. All three reported hearing banging noises that could not be accounted for.
The Lady Blue is a young woman, probably a teenager, who appears around the accountant's house and the parsonage. It is thought that the girl is one of the accountants' wives, who died in childbirth. One young child, on the veranda, was in his mother's arms he started struggling and said, "Mummy, put me down." When the boy ran down the veranda and threw its arms up as if expecting to be picked up, his parents asked what was going on. He replied, "The nice lady who lives here wants to play."
The Port Arthur Church has been haunted since it went on fire in 1884. The bell tower rings randomly, and strange lights are seen emanating from the bell tower. During the church's construction, two convicts got into a fight and one of them fell to his death. When ivy began to grow on the wall, it did not grow on the spot where the man fell and died on.
Sightings of ghostly figures have been recorded in the medical officer's residence and in recent times people have reported hearing children's laughter coming from the upstairs rooms. Moaning and footsteps have also been heard in the commandant's residence for more than a century. It is said that the ghost of Commandant Charles O'Hara Booth stands at the window of his bedroom, looking out over the settlement as he weeps silently.
The Powder Magazine is topped by a guard tower that allowed the officers to see all the convicts below. Moans are heard from the tower, and apparitions of observing soldiers have been seen dressed in their uniforms. There is also the spirit of one soldier who walks the hallway and grabs visitors by the arm as they pass by. In the Tower Cottage, directly behind the watch tower there have been sightings of a soldier in red uniform.
Private Robert Young was drowned near the jetty in 1840. Some years ago, a guest at Jetty Cottage woke in fright to see a figure of a man with straight black hair and wearing a ruffled white shirt in her room. Other guests have seen the same figure sitting on the front steps of the cottage and on the jetty.
Some who were sent to Port Arthur were already insane; many more became insane after being confined in the punishment cells of the Model or Separate Prison. The screams of a young boy, confined in the condemned cell for two weeks while awaiting execution, are said to echo round the walls of the prison. Another convict, William Carter, handed himself in his cell, using the straps of his hammock. Tourists often feel anxious and depressed when visiting this cell, even when they are unaware of the story of Carter's suicide.
Another strange phenomenon occurs in one of the dark cells where prisoners were confined for long periods in total darkness and silence. It seems a remarkable coincidence that light bulbs blow when visitors enter one of these cells.
It is not only the buildings at Port Arthur that have the reputation of being haunted. About a kilometre off shore is the desolate and wind swept Isle of the Dead. From 1830 to 1877 it was the cemetery for the convict settlement. 1769 prisoners are buried in mass graves on the lower slopes of the island and 180 free people are buried in individual plots higher up the slope.
It was the custom to use one of the convicts as a resident gravedigger. Mark Jeffrey, Irish and short tempered and serving a sentence for manslaughter, lived in a small hut on the island. He was brought over to the mainland on Saturday night to attend the Church service on Sunday, returning to the island on Monday.
One morning mid week a signal fire was spotted and when the authorities sent a boat over to investigate them found Jeffrey in a distressed condition, begging to be taken off the island. He related how on the previous night his hut had been shaken and rocked by an invisible force and a fiery red glow had lit up the walls and surrounding ground. According to Jeffrey when he went to investigate he was confronted by the Devil, its red eyes smouldering, horns erect and encircled by sulphurous smoke. Jeffrey was diagnosed as becoming "unhinged by crime and suffering".
Even on bright sunny days, many modern visitors to the Isle say they feel an oppressive atmosphere surrounding them. With over 2000 bodies buried below, many of them tortured and oppressed by their exile to the ends of the earth, it is easy to believe that some unhappy spirits haunt this remote spot.