- The Isle of the Dead, lying in the waters of Mason Cove, was the principal burial ground for the Port Arthur penal station between 1833 and 1877.
- It is estimated that over 800 convicts are interred on the island, mostly in unmarked graves.
- Today, visitors to the island can still see ornate monuments that mark the graves of military personnel, free officials, women, and children.
Tourism of Isle of the Dead has grown with improved services and infrastructure as increased conservation initiatives have been undertaken to preserve the island and its relics. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is protected under Australian state and federal laws.
PAHSMA Conservation Manager, Pamela Hubert, said: “This project provides continuous above ground walkways with a series of viewing platforms that will enhance the very popular Isle of the Dead Cemetery tours. The project has been carefully designed to ensure minimal impacts on significant burial areas, landscape elements, and views of the island.”
“This project has been carefully planned and undertaken in 5 stages to ensure that the work could be achieved while still allowing access to the island for the majority of the visitor season,” said Ms. Hubert.
This project commenced in 2016, with the aim of reducing impacts on the grave areas, improving accessibility, and enhancing the visitor experience. The first stage of the project was made possible by a grant of $80,000 from the Commonwealth Government’s Protecting National Historic Sites program.
PAHSMA partnered with a group of Tasmanian companies and consultants who were responsible for various aspects of the work: Sue Small Landscapes in designing the walkways, Pitt and Sherry for structural engineering advice, Saunders and Ward for steel fabrication and on-site installation, and Abrasive Blasting and Painting for specialist paint finishes. Working with Osborne Aviation, PAHSMA has been able to utilize helicopters to air lift materials to the island which has greatly expedited the project.
“The new walkways not only increase accessibility by replacing stairs with ramps, they also improve the visitor experience with better viewing platforms and gathering spaces for tours. It is important to acknowledge that the island is still the resting place of around 1,000 people and this project demonstrates our continuing respect for the island as a cemetery and as a place of reflection,” said PAHSMA Archaeology Manager Dr. David Roe.
The Port Arthur Historic Site, along with Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, Coal Mines Historic Site, Darlington Probation Station on Maria Island, and Brickendon and Woolmers Estates, account for 5 of the 11 sites that comprise the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property.
“This is a significant milestone in the ongoing conservation of the Isle of the Dead,” said Ms. Hubert. “We are delighted to have completed this project and along with the development of a new History and Interpretation Centre at the Cascades Female Factory opening in early 2022, shows PAHSMA’s commitment to ensuring the compelling stories of our Australian convict history are shared.”
The Isle of the Dead was the destination for all who died inside the prison camps. It is a small island that lies adjacent to Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia. Following the demise of the Port Arthur settlement in 1877, the cemetery was closed, and the island was sold as private land. It has since been reacquired and is managed by the Tasmanian government.