Port Arthur

Port Arthur

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Port Arthur is one of eleven Australian Convict Sites, noted by UNESCO as ‘the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts’ and is Tasmania’s premier tourist attraction.

Built in the 1830s from a small timber station in south-eastern Tasmania, the Port Arthur complex is a place of real contradiction. The stunning landscapes and vistas of one of the world’s last remaining wild frontiers gives way to a dark history of the brutal punishment of the most hardened of British convicts who landed here in the mid-19th century.

Originally a hard labour camp staying true to its timber station roots, convicts were forced to cut trees but in 1848, the focus shifted to more psychological punishment. Food was used as a reward and as a punishment and prisoners were kept hooded and silent so they could reflect silently on their crimes. This psychological torture coupled with the fact that there was very little hope of escape drove some inmates to kill other prisoners just to receive the death penalty.

Called the ‘inescapable prison’ since the surrounding waters were reputed to be shark-infested, escape attempts were rare but on occasion, successful and you’ll hear the amazing stories of Martin Cash who escaped in 1842 and George ‘Billy’ Hunt who attempted to flee dressed in a kangaroo hide but was shot as the starving guards tried to supplement their meagre rations.

The prison’s population dwindled and by the 1870s, the inmates that remained were too old, ill or insane to be of any use as an effective labour force and the prison closed its doors in 1877.

The buildings eventually fell into decay but in the 1970s, the government funded the site’s preservation and today you can see over 30 buildings in 40 hectares of landscaped grounds. There are guided tours of the prison buildings, the museum, the Convict Study Centre, Interpretation Gallery and the site of the Dockyard. For the more macabre among you, night-time ghost tours are a spooky highlight.

For additional costs, you can also see the 1,646 graves on the Isle of the Dead where everyone who died in prison was buried and you can take a trip to Point Puer Boys Prison where close to three thousand 9-16 year-old boys were disciplined in the sternest possible ways.

From trauma to tourism and back again: Port Arthur’s history of ‘dark tourism’

Richard White receives funding from the Australian Research Council.


University of Sydney provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

The 20th anniversary of the massacre at Port Arthur again raises pressing questions - for surviving victims, their families and the Australian community more broadly – about ways of remembering the tragedy.

The relationship between trauma, tourism, commemoration and the nature of the place itself is a complicated one.

From the time it was established, the settlement at Port Arthur was associated with trauma. It was meant to be.

The isolated prison, housing the worst convicts, was intended to instil fear to deter others. And the authorities played up the horror of punishment there.

Here convicts – already languishing as far from their homes as possible – were now subjected to unknown terrors in an alien wilderness. Though the actual administration was relatively “enlightened”, the image was unrelentingly negative.

It was reinforced by sensationalist campaigns against transportation, and later by Marcus Clarke’s great sprawling novel, For the Term of His Natural Life.

Everyone, it seemed, had an interest in playing up the horror.

35 killed in Australia’s Port Arthur Massacre mass shooting

On April 28, 1996, 28-year-old Martin Bryant begins a killing spree that ends in the deaths of 35 men, women and children in the quiet town of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia.

Bryant began the day by killing an elderly couple who were the owners of Port Arthur’s Seascape guesthouse. Some theorize that the killings were Bryant’s retaliation for the owners refusing to sell his father the guesthouse. Bryant’s father later died by suicide, an action Bryant is said to have blamed on his depression over not being able to buy the property.

After having lunch on the deck of the Broad Arrow Cafe, located at the site of the historic Port Arthur prison colony, a tourist destination, Bryant entered the restaurant, removed a Colt AR-15 rifle from his bag, and began shooting. After killing 22 people in rapid succession, Bryant left the restaurant for the parking lot, where he continued his shooting spree, killing the drivers of two tour buses, some of their passengers and a mother and her two small children, among others.

On his way out of the parking lot, he shot four people in a BMW and drove the car to a nearby gas station, where he shot one woman and took a man hostage, before driving back to the Seascape guesthouse. After an 18-hour stand-off with police, Bryant set the guesthouse on fire, ran outside and was captured. He had apparently killed the hostage sometime earlier.

Bryant initially pled not-guilty to the 35 murders, but changed his plea and was sentenced to life in prison, never to be released, Australia’s maximum sentence. The Broad Arrow Cafe and its environs were turned into a place for reflection and a memorial.

Port Arthur, Texas

Port Arthur is on State Highway 87 on the lower west bank of Sabine Lake, five miles east of the Neches River Rainbow Bridge and seventeen miles southeast of Beaumont in southeast Jefferson County.


Port Arthur was founded by Arthur E. Stilwell, a Kansas railroad promoter, who in 1894 launched the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad. His intention was to link Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico, and originally the Gulf Coast terminus was to be Sabine Pass. But Stilwell changed his mind, evidently because he could not reach an acceptable agreement with Luther and Herman Kountze, New York bankers who owned most of the land around Sabine Pass. By December 1895 Stilwell and his backers had acquired land on the western shore of Sabine Lake and begun platting a city, which the promoter named for himself and which became a municipality in 1895. Stilwell envisioned Port Arthur as a major tourist resort as well as an important seaport proximity to the lake and a mild climate convinced him that visitors could be easily attracted to the area. But in his attempt to transform this marshy terrain into a tropical garden, Stilwell never lost sight of his primary endeavor. In June 1896 the Port Arthur Channel and Dock Company was established, and in April 1897 it began cutting a canal along the western edge of the lake to deep water at Sabine Pass. Legal hurdles thrown up by the Kountze bothers delayed the project, but Port Arthur finally became a port in fact as well as name in March 1899. Meanwhile, the city showed signs of steady progress. By the fall of 1897 it had 860 residents, and the following spring it was incorporated. A mayor-council government was established, but it gave way to the commission system in 1911. A city manager-commission system was implemented in 1932. Continue Reading Port Arthur History from the Handbook of Texas Online >>


Jefferson County, Texas

Surrounding Counties: Hardin | Chambers | Orange | Liberty | Louisiana

Cities & Towns: Beaumont | Bevil Oaks | Central Gardens | Cheek | China (China Grove, Nashland) | Fannett | Groves (Pecan Grove) | Hamshire | LaBelle | Meeker | Nederland | Nome (Buttfield, Congreve Station, Carter's Woods, Petry Woods, Tiger Point, Wolf Point) | Pine Island | Port Acres | Port Arthur | Port Neches (Grisby's Bluff) | Sabine Pass | Taylor Landing

Currently, the ethnic makeup of Port Arthur is 66.4% Russian, 30% Manchu and the Others form the rest, namely Koreans, Chinese, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Germans, and Poles.

Most of the "Manchus" of Port Arthur are in reality, Han Chinese and their descendants who abandoned Chinese language due to the overwhelmingly anti-Chinese sentiments during the outbreak of the Russo-Chinese conflict. Most of the true Manchus are immigrants from Mukden, which is truly majority-inhabited by ethnic Manchus, who faced the opposite situation prior to the Russian takeover of Manchuria.

West Port Arthur business raising money for murals celebrating city’s history

Published 12:28 am Tuesday, May 4, 2021

A Port Arthur resident is trying to help beautify the area around her son’s small business and bring attention to local figures.

Aries Milo, who is an eighth grade teacher, wanted to find ways to teach children and adults about local historical figures. Milo began Karson’s Snack Shack at 730 West 10 th St. for her son a few years back.

“My kids said they don’t know these people,” she said. “I thought that is a problem. I feel like if they know who these people are and know the work they have done, they will have more pride in the city they come from.”

Milo, who has a master’s degree in urban development from Texas State, said research shows the positive impact of having art in the city.

“One of my goals was for me to come back home and do what I can and do my part to help revitalize the city,” she said. “I fell in love with the use of murals, the beauty it brings and the history it brings to communities. I feel like sports are a thing in PA. Everyone knows the major players. They know who goes far, but we never remember those who pave the way for those athletes.”

Research also shows the positive impact of beatifying areas with murals.

“You put these important people on these murals and it builds pride,” she said. “Crime rates go down and this sense of community and appreciation comes together. We just want to be able to appreciate the people that came before us.”

Aries Milo had a mural of Inell Moore put on the side of her son’s small business, Karson’s Snack Shack. (Chris Moore/The News)

Two murals are already up at the location, and Milo started a GoFundMe account to raise $20,000 to get 13 more added. As of Monday evening, people had donated $195. Search “Aries Milo” at gofundme.com.

The first two murals are of former teachers Linda Lucas and Inell Moore, who also spent decades on the city’s planning and zoning board.

“I lived in Houston for six years,” Milo said. “I loved it and hated it at the same time. I got into an argument with a lady about a month ago because I told her about the project and she was like, ‘Who is going to give you money for it? Y’all don’t have money out there.’ This is me really trying to help people see that it takes us as a community to come together to get things like this built. I really push the importance of support to make things grow, like my son’s snack stand. It takes us to make sure the city keeps growing.”

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie said the effort is a noble gesture that has a lasting impact, because it is historic and teaches.

“If (young people) are able to see it while they are there, I hope the subliminal messaging works and it gets passed on,” he said.

Milo would like to have the murals completed by July.

“My painter is ready to go,” she said. “As soon as I get a payment from an organization or the community, we build the canvas within about 24 hours and then he comes out there and in about eight hours, it is done. If we can get it done by July, that would be perfect.”

Port Arthur Massacre

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Port Arthur Massacre, mass shooting in and around Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia, on April 28–29, 1996, that left 35 people dead and some 18 wounded the gunman, Martin Bryant, was later sentenced to 35 life terms. It was the country’s worst mass murder, and it led to stricter gun controls, notably a near ban on all fully automatic or semiautomatic firearms.

At the time of the attacks, Bryant was 28 years old and living in New Town, a suburb of Hobart. He was intellectually disabled, with a history of erratic behaviour. He left school early and later received a disability pension following a psychiatric evaluation. In 1987 he began working as a handyman for Helen Harvey, a lottery heiress, and the two became close friends. In 1992 she died in a car accident that left Bryant severely injured. Some speculated that he caused the crash, since he was known to grab the wheel while Harvey was driving. However, he denied any wrongdoing. As the sole inheritor of Harvey’s estate, Bryant became wealthy. After his father committed suicide in 1993, Bryant traveled extensively and allegedly began to stockpile guns.

On April 28, 1996, Bryant drove to the Seascape Cottage (also called Seascape Guesthouse), a nearby inn that his father had once tried to purchase. Police believe that it was at this point that Bryant killed the owners. He then drove to the historic site of Port Arthur, a former penal colony that had been transformed into a popular tourist destination. After eating at a café, he pulled a semiautomatic rifle out of a duffel bag and began shooting. Within approximately two minutes, 20 people were dead. He continued his killing spree as he escaped in his car. He later stole another vehicle after killing its occupants at a toll booth, and he stopped at a gas station, where he fatally shot a woman and took a hostage. Bryant then returned to the Seascape Cottage. Once police arrived, they surrounded the inn and tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with Bryant, who shot at them. On the morning of April 29 he set the building on fire and was apprehended when he fled. Investigators later found three bodies inside.

Even before Bryant’s capture, talk had begun about tightening Australia’s gun laws. Less than a month after the massacre, federal and state legislators—led by Prime Minister John Howard—crafted the National Firearms Agreement. It created extensive licensing and registration procedures, which included a 28-day waiting period for gun sales. In addition, it banned all fully automatic or semiautomatic weapons, except when potential buyers could provide a valid reason—which did not include self-defense—for owning such a firearm. The federal government also instituted a gun-buyback program, which resulted in the surrender of some 700,000 firearms. Although gun-related deaths dropped dramatically, the new rules were sharply criticized by gun-rights advocates.

Bryant, who never provided a reason for the massacre, pled guilty in 1996. He received 35 life terms as well as various other sentences for additional charges.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

Old Photos, Pictures, Advertisements and Postcards from Port Arthur, Texas, USA

  • Port Arthur was founded by Arthur Stilwell in 1895, on the western bank of Sabine Lake, and incorporated in 1898. The Rainbow Bridge across the Neches River connects Port Arthur to Bridge City.

  • 1897 - TERRIBLE TORNADO. THE GULF COAST SUFFERS. The New Town of Port Arthur Nearly Wiped Out of Existence Sabine Pass Also Suffers.
    Port Arthur, Tex., Sept. 13 - A tornado, terrible in its intensity, struck this city at an early hour last evening. Six people are known to have been . Read MORE.

Australia's Lessons on Gun Control

The 1996 Port Arthur massacre resulted in legislation that saw a dramatic decline in gun crimes.

On April 28, 1996, a 28-year-old Australian man named Martin Bryant ate lunch at Broad Arrow Cafe in Port Arthur, Tasmania, a historic penal colony that is a popular tourist resort. After his meal, he returned his tray, removed a semiautomatic rifle from his bag, and opened fire. By the time Bryant was caught a day later, 35 people were dead and 23 wounded in what became the worst mass shooting in Australian history—one whose impact is felt even today.

There had been previous mass shootings in Australia, but none in recent times of this magnitude. The killings, which came just weeks after the mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland, resonated across Australia, a nation that traditionally had a high rate of gun ownership and that espoused the ideals of rugged individualism, much like the U.S. does. But after the massacre, the ruling center-right Liberal Party joined with groups from across the political spectrum to work on legislation to sharply restrict the availability of guns.

Australia’s success in tightly restricting gun ownership after its worst mass shooting, and the concomitant reduction in gun crimes and mass shootings, is likely to be held up by proponents of gun control as an example for what the U.S. should do after its latest mass shooting on Sunday. The countries are different, of course. America has more people, more guns per capita, and, perhaps most importantly, a constitutional right to bear arms. But the debate in Australia and developments in subsequent years show how a country can successfully deal with gun violence.

My colleague Uri Friedman wrote about the impact of the Port Arthur massacre in the wake of the shooting in San Bernardino, California in 2015. He noted that, among other things, the Australian government “banned automatic and semiautomatic firearms, adopted new licensing requirements, established a national firearms registry, and instituted a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases. It also bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian-owned firearms, in a scheme that cost half a billion dollars and was funded by raising taxes.” The entire overhaul, Friedman pointed out, took just months to implement.

There was widespread opposition at the time to the legislation. Queensland and Tasmania, where the massacre occurred, were traditionally opposed to any gun-control legislation. The U.S. National Rifle Association had worked with gun-rights groups in the country to oppose any legislation that would make owning guns more difficult. Arguments against gun control ranged from the familiar “guns don’t kill people” to calling the legislation an insult to the vast majority of law-abiding gun owners. But proponents of gun control, who had long before the Port Arthur massacre called for restrictions on firearms ownership, pointed out that in Australia most people who committed gun violence had no criminal or psychiatric record. They added that it was pointless to compare the impact of an attacker with a semiautomatic gun with one brandishing a knife. As Simon Chapman, an Australian academic who was co-convener of the Australian Coalition for Gun Control from 1992 to 1997, wrote last year about the group’s successful advocacy for a gun registry: “One day during a TV interview in 1995, we said as we always did ‘We register cars. We register boats.’ But this time we added ‘We even register dogs. So what’s the problem in registering guns?’ It was the perfect sound bite. The next day a senior police official repeated the very same line on national television. From that point on, the air seemed to go right out of the gun lobby’s tires on that one.”

Over the years, advocates of the legislation have pointed to it evidence of successful gun control. As Friedman noted:

The number of mass shootings in Australia—defined as incidents in which a gunman killed five or more people other than himself, which is notably a higher casualty count than is generally applied for tallying mass shootings in the U.S.—dropped from 13 in the 18-year period before 1996 to zero after the Port Arthur massacre. Between 1995 and 2006, gun-related homicides and suicides in the country dropped by 59 percent and 65 percent, respectively, though these declines appear to have since leveled off. Two academics who have studied the impact of the reform initiative estimate that the gun-buyback program saves at least 200 lives each year, according to The New York Times.

Last year, on the 20 th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, John Howard, the center-right leader whose government introduced and passed the legislation, said: “It is incontestable that gun-related homicides have fallen quite significantly in Australia, incontestable.” In the interview, he also cited a 74 percent decline in gun-involved suicide rates as evidence of the legislation working. But as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation pointed out: “While it is accurate for Mr Howard to assert that gun-related homicides and suicides have dropped since his reforms were implemented, there is more to it. Studies on the impacts of his reforms have come to varied conclusions and experts contacted by Fact Check said other factors would have influenced the drops, even though the reforms are likely to form part of the story.” The ABC report said “social support or government investment in social welfare are common factors that help depress crime rates and could be linked to the drop in firearm homicides and suicides.”