The Model Prison

After exploring the museum and asylum, I headed for the Model Prison. The prison was so called because it was considered a model of new techniques and ideas that were being tested. Here, the lash was abolished, and solitary confinement was introduced for the most murderous prisoners. For those not in solitary, there was education and training in job skills.

As I noted in the previous post, the Penitentiary was more a place for reformation than for punishment. The Model Prison, on the other hand, was for punishment. Hardened criminals went to the Model Prison, while pickpockets, vagabonds, streetwalkers, and other relatively minor offenders went to the Penitentiary, thus reducing the likelihood of really bad behavior being spread through the population.

The thing that really astonished me about the Model Prison, and indeed about the buildings at Port Arthur in general, is how tremendously solid, well-constructed, and attractive everything was. The concept of shipping a bunch of convicts, soldiers, and administrators to the far side of the planet, dropping them on a narrow, rugged peninsula on an untamed island off the coast of a remote wilderness, and having them cut stone and design and construct buildings that were so clearly created to be impressive and to last a long time—well, it’s just amazing to me.

The image on the left shows the interior of the Model Prison, while the one on the right shows the exercise yards that radiated out of the center of the prison.

The Model Prison

Prison Exercise Yard



Filed under Australia, Book, History, Travel

4 responses to “The Model Prison

  1. What you can do with free (relatively – after all you have to feed and shelter them) labour eh? Port Arthur is though such a contradiction isn’t it? So beautiful and yet such horror occurred there too.

    • The cheap labor doesn’t really explain it completely. You might have just built a bunch of log cabins. I’m amazed that it occurred to them to build so impressively, especially given that the location was so remote — and considering that the soldiers and sailors who were with the prisoners weren’t actually treated any better than the prisoners. (In fact, flogging was outlawed at Port Arthur before it was outlawed in the British Navy. And a fair percentage of those soldiers and sailors were “pressed” into service — virtually kidnapped. About the only thing the military had “better” than the prisoners was a daily rum ration — and, of course, the possibility of returning to Britain — though some chose to stay.)

      • No, I was being a little flippant, but only half so. Clearly the labour is only the start … there’s the decision to do it, the skills to do it. Of course, such a big project would keep everyone occupied for a long time wouldn’t it? And that’s no bad thing in a prison environment!

        • Indeed — it would definitely have kept them busy. Of course, the thing most people don’t think about is that it was really horrible even for the non-prisoners. I imagine that there was a psychological benefit to making things as nice as possible. They must have succeeded in making it reasonable pleasant (at least comparatively so, given the alternatives back in England), because some of those soldiers, sailors, and administrators stayed in Australia, or returned later.

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