R3223 Ruins of the Model Prison, Port Arthur, 1911-15



This is a sepia-toned photograph measuring 8.2 cm x 13.2 cm. It shows the ruins of the Model Prison at Port Arthur, Tasmania. A semicircular brick wall has three barred doors that open to exercise yards. A fourth door is open, showing another brick wall with steps leading up to the closed door of a solitary confinement cell. The area is overgrown with grass, weeds and shrubs.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia.

Educational value
This asset shows part of the Model Prison at Port Arthur, which was built between 1848 and 1852 by convict labour, and opened only a year before the cessation of the transportation of convicts to Tasmania - the prison was designed on the model of Pentonville Gaol in London; it had separate cells and exercise yards, based on the belief that silence, separation and isolation of prisoners would lead them to reflect on their crimes and become repentant; guards communicated with each other using hand signals and wore slippers so as not to break the silence.
It features four of the doors that led to some of the Model Prison’s exercise yards - the circular building was designed with a row of separate cells on either side of the corridor; in each corner of the central hall, where the corridors met, a door opened to reveal four doors in a semicircle, most of which opened into a triangular exercise yard; two of the doors led to triangular rooms, the carpenter’s shop and bootmaker’s shop.
It depicts some of the Model Prison’s exercise yards, which originally had paving stones - prisoners 'exercised' by walking in silence around one of the yards, wearing hoods so they could not see each other; to keep separate, each prisoner held onto a knot on a piece of rope, with the knots about 4.5 metres apart; the prisoners also wore hoods on their way to and from the chapel but could remove them during the religious service, where they sat in individual cubicles arranged in tiers so that they could not see any of their fellow prisoners.
It shows, on the right-hand side, the door to one of the two punishment or 'dumb' cells - the ordinary cells within the prison had high windows with bars for light and ventilation, but no light entered the solitary confinement cells; after the Model Prison opened in 1852 and physical punishment was replaced by psychological punishment, a mental asylum was added to the prison; the Model Prison operated until its closure in 1877, and it quickly became a tourist attraction after being made famous by Marcus Clarke’s romantic tragedy, 'For the term of his natural life'.
Australian history
Living standards
Penal colonies
© Curriculum Corporation and National Library of Australia, 2008, except where indicated under Acknowledgements