Australian Convict Sites
The Australian Convict Sites consists of a series of 11 sites that, in combination, express the key aspects of the Australian convict experience that are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of global history.
The sites are:
- First Government House Site, New South Wales
- Hyde Park Barracks, New South Wales
- Great North Road Complex, New South Wales
- Darlington Probation Station, Maria Island National Park, Tasmania
- Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasmania
- Coal Mines Historic Site, Tasmania
- Cascades Female Factory
- Fremantle Prison, Western Australia
- Kingston and Arthur`s Vale Historic Area
- Brickendon and Woolmers Estates
- Cockatoo Island Convict Site
Visit April 2011
The 11 Convict Sites are mostly concentrated around Sydney and in Tasmania. While staying in Hobart, I visited the Port Arthur Historic Site. I did so on a daytour with a Grayline Bus, but in retrospect I would rather have hired a car so I could have visited some of the other Tasman convict sites too that are in the same area.
One of the reviewers below calls Port Arthur “another Disneyland to entertain the mindless hordes”. I would not go that far, but it was a disappointing visit. The worst thing indeed are the crowds (a few hundred people were there at the same day as me), and the way they are herded through the site. There’s a “guided walk” included in your ticket, where you will not walk at all but only get to hear the basic story about Port Arthur standing in the wet grass with about 80 other people.
I had paid extra for a tour of the Isle of the Dead. It’s in the bay in front of the historic buildings. Every entrance ticket will get you on the “cruise” through the bay where you can see a glimpse of Point Puer (where the young convicts were held) and the Isle of the Dead. The lucky visitors with the extra ticket could get off on the island for about 20 minutes, also on a tour presented by 2 very Australian guides (casual, going through the motions).
What I did like at the site is the great variety in buildings that are left, or at least ruins of them, which gives a feel for how the convict community worked.
Gary Arndt - December 2016
I visited the site in February 2012. In particular, I visited Cockatoo Island, The Hyde Park Barracks, and the Old Government House. The Sydney area locations are pretty easy to visit, especially the barracks.
View my complete review of the Australian Convict Sites on my website.
Read more from Gary Arndt here.
Jay T - April 2016
The Australian Convict Sites are a testament to the significant role British prisoners made in shaping the country. Intrigued by Australian history, I visited two of these sites in June 2012: Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, and Fremantle Prison, in Western Australia. Between 1819 and 1848 Hyde Park Barracks housed convicts who were deemed serviceable for government employment, and the excellent museum and dormitories tell their stories. The barracks also housed a courtroom to judge convict/employer disputes with prisoners working throughout the colony. In Western Australia, prisoners were used as free labor to build the colony -- and their prison. Although the guards had nicer quarters outside what is now called Fremantle Prison (see photo) the cell blocks were more austere. The museum at the entrance explained everyday prisoner life here well. At both sites a well-behaved convict worked for the day he or she received a Certificate of Freedom, allowing them to stay and settle in Australia or leave the colony; many did stay, leaving their imprint on early Australian life. I highly recommend a walk through history at at least one of the inscribed sites when in Australia.
Logistics: Hyde Park Barracks is in the heart of Sydney, not far from the St. James railway station on the City Circle line. Fremantle Prison is in downtown Fremantle, a short walk from the city train station.
John Booth - February 2015
It is at the convict sites in Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) that you hear the gory stories of murders, floggings and isolated incarceration of convicts at the hands of the British gaolers. Neither men, women nor children were exempt.
Port Arthur convict site covers a huge area, but the first day I visited a cruise ship was in port and thousands of passengers were thronging the site. The following day however I had the whole site almost to myself. An interesting part of this site was the Dog Line, a line of chained mastiffs that guarded the site at the narrow isthmus of Eaglehawk Neck.
The Coal mines were another site where convicts, especially children were forced to toil for hours in subterranean shafts and galleries.
Darlington on Maria Island was home to repeat offenders where attempts at rehabilitation were made.
The Woolmers and Brickendon Estates near Longford were both established as sheep stations on behalf of private owners using convict labour.
The integrity of the Womens' Prison at Cascades in Hobart is very limited, and I find it hard to understand why this property made its way onto the WHS list. Especially as what I consider more deserving cases like Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour and the Richmond Gaol were omitted.
John Booth - February 2015
The New South Wales convict sites are at a variety of locations, but none as gruesome at those in Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) or Norfolk Island.
The Hyde Park Barracks are easiliy accessible, being opposite the St James station.
The Old Government House at Parramatta is accessible from Sydney's Circular Quay either by train of by ferry. A loop bus in Parramatta links the station, ferry wharf and the site in Parramatta Park. The buildings were constructed by convict labour under Governor Macquarie, and housed the first 10 Governors of the Colony.
Cockatoo Island lies in the Parramatta River, and is accessible by ferry from either Circular Quay or Parramatta. On the lower level of the site the convict buildings were later adapted for shipbuilding works, while on the upper level the convict accommodation remains unaltered.
The Great North Road site is located on the north bank of the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry. It is accessible by the infrequent bus #663 from Windsor station, however inexpensive rental cars are available nearby. The road was carved from the sandstone cliff by convict labour, including masonry culverts beneath the road surface.
John Booth - October 2014
A recent visit to the Kingston and Arthur's Vale area of Norfolk Island produced a number of memorable moments. On ship day, I watched the unloading of cargo by means of wooden lighters negotiating the surf between ship and shore, a method only a little changed from when HMS Sirius was wrecked in 1790 performing the same feat.
The air in Norfolk is the clearest in the world outside Antarctica. At night the moon and Milky Way provided enough light to go walking at night in the old graveyard on Quality Row. That was until the moon went dark during an eclipse. For a while it became very spooky being amongst the tombstones in the dark.
Euloroo - November 2011
Finally made it to Cockatoo Island today. This site has a schizophrenic identity, charting both it's convict history and maritime history as well as playing a role as a major arts venue. The current, huge exhibition is dedicated to street art (including some BANKSY work) and was the highlight of the day. The trip was also helped by the warm temperature, lack of rain and refreshing breeze.
Notwithstanding to maritime heritage, I have a few issues with the Convict and Heritage "Quarters". An audio guide could have potentially gone some way to resolving these, but alas, there was no one to dispense of one when I arrived. Otherwise the interpretation is rather poor. A number of buildings cannot be accessed (albeit that some restoration is currently under way). And the main convict quarters are little more that concrete shells with some of the original sandstone walls remaining. Even a couple rudimentary bunks with manikins in shackles would have helped.
There is also little attempt to place the site within the course of convict history and no mention of the other inscribed areas and the relationship with them. [Interestingly all four locations within the Sydney region are run by different agencies and none of them makes much mention of the World Heritage inscription, let alone where they fit in to the big picture.]
I appreciate that this a new inscription and a complex one, but a lot of work needs to be done to bring up the standard of presentation. This is especially so as the built form is not that inspiring.
jadesmith - October 2010
One of the highlights of our trip was visiting Port Arthur. Port Arthur is one of Australia's great tourism destinations. Every building, every feature of Port Arthur Historic Site has a story to tell. The Port Arthur Historic Site has over thirty buildings, ruins and restored period furnished homes set in 40 hectares of landscaped grounds. 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, Port Arthur quickly grew in importance within the penal system of the colonies.
Charilaos Lithoxopoulos - September 2010
Port Arthur Convict Site has become another "Disneyland".
It has become a money making venture, to entertain the mindless hordes that have escaped from their Televisions.
If you want to experience true prostitution you should visit this site.
Its a great pity another piece of World History has been stolen and degraded to serve a few peoples lust for some easy money.
Sadly it is the way in every country.
Emilia Bautista King - August 2010
When I went to Tasmania for the first time in April 1997, I visited Port Arthur. It was almost one year after the massacre that claimed the lives of 35 people on site. A memorial was already built to remember those who had lost their lives. Port Arthur's penitentiary and other buildings were basically ruins due to bushfires and years of wear and tear. It is still picturesque with green rolling hills, colourful leaves (during that time of year), and clear water. I took the boat cruise around the Island of the Dead but found it a bit boring and the boat was quite crowded. However, there were lots of opportunities for taking pictures, not only of the ruins but also theh Tasmans Arch and Blow Hole.
Share your experiences!
Have you been to Australian Convict Sites? Click here to add your own review.
Full name: Australian Convict Sites
2010 - InscribedReasons for inscription
2009 - Incomplete - not examined
The site has 11 locations. Show all
- 'Brickendon and Woolmers Estates (Brickendon- Woolmers
- 'Cascades Female Factory (Cascades
- 'Coal Mines Historic Site (Coal Mines
- 'Cockatoo Island Convict Site (Cockatoo Island
- 'Darlington Probation Station (Darlington
- 'Fremantle Prison
- 'Hyde Park Barracks
- 'Kingston and Arthur`s Vale Historic Area (KAVHA
- 'Old Government House and Domain (Old Government House
- 'Old Great North Road
- 'Port Arthur Historic Site (Port Arthur
The site has 45 connections. Show all
- Brick architecture Hyde Park Barracks
- English garden Old Government House and Domain, Parramatta "The park includes ..... landscaped gardens in late 18th century English style"
- Georgian Architecture Old Government House and Domain, Parramatta "The site is arranged around Government House and its gardens. It is a Georgian-style mansion with a central section and two asymmetrical wings erected some years later."
- Gothic Revival Convict-built church at Port Arthur
- Palladio / Palladian Old Government House Extensions
- Bandstand Parramatta park (Government Domain)
- Baths Old Government House Bath House
- Cemeteries Isle of the Dead (Port Arthur)
- Cultural sites connected to Cliffs Great North Road - The route up Devines Hill was cut into the cliff face
- Dog statues Port Arthur contains a statue of a chained dog recalling the "Dog Line" by which a line of dogs placed across a narrow neck of land was used to prevent prisoner escapes. See -
- Hospitals Port Arthur
- Pillories Whipping Post at Fremantle Prison
- Railways First railway in Australia (Port Arthur)
- Tunnels Cockatoo Island - Dog Leg Tunnel
- Unfinished constructions Old Great North Road - Finch's Line was abandoned prior to completion in 1829 due to it being too steep and the alternative route up Devines Hill was selected.
- Vineyards Darlington Probation Station. In the 1880s an entrepreneur called Diego Bernacchi tried to develop a wine industry on Maria Island. The foundations of the vineyard workers houses are within the inscribed area.
- Windmills Darlington Probation Station: Remains of a windmil
- Damaged by Landslide Great North Road Slope failure resulted in collapse of the retaining wall and road structure of a major section of Devines Hill in 1857. The road was realigned with evidence of buttresses on the original alignment still clearly visible.
- Endemic Bird Species Darlington Probation Station - Maria Island has 10 endemic bird species
- Eucalypts Great North Road within Dharug National Park is within Blue Gum forest
- Rainforests Great North Road - Shepherds Gully is a rainforest gully that starts at the top of the Devines Hill (northern end of the inscribed area)
- Dependent territories Norfolk Island (Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area): "The island is part of the Commonwealth of Australia, but it enjoys a large degree of self-governance. Together with two neighbouring islands, it forms one of Australia's external territories."
- Melanesia Norfolk Island (geographically)
- Offshore of a major city Cockatoo Island, Sydney
- Pacific Ocean Norfolk Island
- Coal Mining "Coal Mines Historic Site is also located on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania, on Norfolk Bay. This punishment station operated from 1833 to 1848, for the operation of a coal-mine. Coal extraction continued until the 1880s,....... The site includes ..... the four pitheads,"
- Festivals Sydney Festival (Hyde Park Barracks)
- Historical Graffiti Great North Road - Graffiti from 1830 can be seen high on one cut face.
- Irrigation and drainage Great North Road - significant drains and culverts were constructed as part of the road construction.
- Shipyards Cockatoo Island
- Stone Quarries Old North Road
- William Bligh Lived at Government House, Parramatta whilst governor of NSW
- Built in the 19th Century Hyde Park Barracks, Fremantle Prison, Great North Road, Cascades Female Factory, Brickendon and Woolmers Estates
- Built or owned by British
- Cultural sites taking up an entire island Cockatoo Island
- Cultural WHS set within an IUCN recognised protected area Great North Road is in the Dharug National Park - IUCN Category II (National Park); Darlington Probation Station is in Maria Island National Park - IUCN Category II (National Park)
- Furthest distance apart Fremantle / Norfolk Island
- Furthest distance apart Between Fremantle and Norfolk Island: 4970kms (see link plus 27 kms extra from Perth airport approx)
- Reportedly haunted locations Port Arthur in Tasmania operate nightly ghost tours (wiki)
- Role of Women "Cascades Female Factory is a female prison in southeast Tasmania, today on the western outskirts of Hobart....operated as a convict factory, exclusively employing females, between 1828 and 1856. Some 25,000 convicts passed through"
- Tourist Treks Great North Road - The Convict Trail
WHS on Other Lists
- Memory of the World The Convict Records of Australia (2007)