Tasmania's Convict Past

To early British settlers, Van Diemen's Land (as they called Tasmania) was the end of the world – an ideal location for some of their government's largest and most notorious penal colonies.


Between 1803 and 1853 approximately 75,000 convicts served time in Van Diemen's Land shipped from British and Irish ports and the remainder were either locally convicted, or transported from other British colonies.

Contrary to popular perception, convict Van Diemen's Land was anything but a vast gaol. Assigned convicts laboured under little or no restraint. Those who worked in the public sector were generally housed at night in secure accommodation, although as late as the mid-1820s it was not unusual for some skilled prisoners to rent rooms in town.

While some prisoners ended up establishing themselves as successful landowners or business operators, others spent long unproductive years in penal stations, road and chain gangs.

Tasmania's convict history tells a tale of crime, punishment, hardship and survival in some of the harshest, yet most beautiful places on earth. Van Diemens Land was in fact changed to the name Tasmania to purge itself of its convict past.

The Port Arthur Historic Site was established in 1830 as a timber station and was soon built into a small town to house and punish over a thousand of Tasmania's most notorious convicts.

This dark history contrasts with the beauty of the surrounding area. Full of powerful stories of hardship and loss, it's one of Tasmania's most rewarding travel experiences.

Port Arthur is about a 1-hr drive (93 km) south-east of Hobart.


Take an evening Ghost Tour in the Port Arthur Historic Site

Walk from Remarkable Cave to Crescent Bay


This self-drive map from Tourism Tasmania takes you through Tasmania’s convict history step by step.

Sources: UTAS, Tourism Tasmania


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