Exploring the Tasman Peninsula

The Tasman Peninsula is very scenic and home to the famous 1830s Port Arthur Penal Settlement. It was our destination for Saturday night.

We made a detour on the way to the historic town of Richmond. Because it is so close to Hobart it is the most popular of all the historic towns in Tasmania. Many of the buildings in the town have been done up to meet the needs of tourism so that rather than seeing something old and weathered, it’s easy to get the impression that this has an undefined age that is somewhere between the 1820s and 2024.

Richmond Bridge c1823, originally named Bigges Bridge, is Australia’s oldest bridge still in use. It was built by convicts from sandstone quarried at nearby Butchers Hill and hauled by hand cart to the bridge site. It still looks to be a particularly beautiful bridge and is still elegant after 200 years.

St John’s Church, on the banks of the Coal River, is the oldest Roman Catholic Church still in use in Australia. The church was designed by the ex-convict architect, Frederick Thomas, and the nave was completed in 1836 and opened on 31 December 1837. The church was greatly enlarged in 1859. It has had three spires over its life with the second being added early in the twentieth century and the third in 1972.

After leaving Richmond, we found ourselves on the wrong road and diverted to a town caled Bucklands, We missed the correct turnoff at Sorell afer leaving Richmond. I couldn’t work out why my GPS as repeatedly telling me to make a U-turn. (I don’t rely on it much for sirections; more for knowing how far it is to the next destination so that In can apportion my time effectively). We were short on fuel and then next town of Bucklands had a petrol station so even though it was in the wrong direction, we drove on.

The most important building in Bucklands is the Anglican St John the Baptist Church. It was built by convicts in 1846 to a design by architect Crawford Cripps Wegman which deliberately imitated the church at Cookham Dean in Sussex.

It has been claimed that the church’s impressive East Window dates from the fourteenth century. Some authorities have claimed that the window was originally designed for Battle Abbey in England, a church which dates from 1094. However, some “experts” believe the window was created sometime in the fourteenth century (some 300 years later. Whatever the truth, the window is very implressive for a small church in a tiny rural town.

With the help of Google Maps, we found a back road through a settlement called Nugent that led us back to the highway to Port Arthur. This small village of Nugent is just a small collection of houses, a hall and a post office.  Nugent was first inhabited in the early 1800s using convict labour to clear some of the land. The community thrived and once there were 17 dairy farms and a butter factory up until late in the 20th century.  It supplied milk for the Cadbury chocolate factory in Hobart. Changing times from the 1960’s through to the 1980’s saw the closing of these dairies and the local sawmills but apparently there has been an influx of families taking up residence at Nugent with many people commuting to Hobart to work. Every town has a story!

The Port Arthur penal settlement began life as a small timber station in 1830 and quickly grew in importance within the colonies. This place was the destination for those deemed the most hardened of convicted British criminals and those who were secondary offenders having reoffended after their arrival in Australia. Rebellious personalities from other convict stations were also sent there. In addition, Port Arthur had some of the strictest security measures of the British penal system.

In 1830, convicts made desperate and often successful attempts to breakout of Port Arthur. To halt such activity, an Irish chap named John Peyton Jones introduced a daring Dog Line across the Eaglehawk Neck isthmus the following year. The isthmus is the only land access to Port Arthur.

In 1832, the Officers’ Quarters were built at the isthmus, along with a guardhouse, a store and jetty. At first the dogs weren’t particularly vicious and the plan was unsuccessful. However, soon dog numbers increased and they were even stationed on platforms jutting out to sea. 

There is some superb coastal scenery on the peninsula. From the central carpark, at Remarkable Cave I clambered down 115 steps to see the cave. I could see it from a well designed platform built above the rocks where huge waves would bash against the rocks when the seas are high. The tunnel-shaped cave was formed through years of action from crashing waves, eventually causing a wall of the sandstone cave to collapse and create the tunnel that stands today. 

Back at the carpark, there was a spectacular view along the coast to Cape Raoul.

Tasman Arch could be seen from the carpark near Eaglehawk Neck. Similar to Remarable Cave, it is a wave created feature on this sandstone coastline.

A short walk took took me to a lookout past Basket Bay and a long range view along the coast.

These sea cliffs are rugged and spectacular.

Although most people would travel to this area to see the historic prison at Port Arthur, Jill was not interested in visiting anything that macabre. We did catch a glimpse of the old buildings and ‘Moderrn Prison from the road. I have been to the historic prison area in the past, but today, the nature scenery of the coast was more interesting.

Near one of the coastal lookouts, I managed to snag a photo of a little echidna that was rustling through the leaf debris looking for food.

Our final destinamtion for the day (and diectly opposite our hotel) was the Tesselated Pavement. The tiled rocks there are an interesting sight formed mostly of siltstone that formed about 300 million years ago. Essentially, the rocks were fractured by the movement of the Earth and resulted in what is called jointing. Jointing itself is not uncommon, but the presence of salt crystals and consistent erosion by the Tasman Sea’s waves and sediment deepened the pattern to give it its dramatic appearance.

5 thoughts on “Exploring the Tasman Peninsula

  1. The rugged coastline looks spectacular and menacing. Hope your knees stood by you Bruce with the 100 steps up and down to get your lovely photo.

  2. There’s no end to Tassie’s history and pictorial beauty.
    Great narration and photography Bruce.

  3. We’re really enjoying your posts and amazing photography. The coastline is spectacular, the history fascinating.

  4. Hi Bruce and Jill,

    Thanks for your latest blog. Ros and I also found the coast really interesting, including the walk out to Cape Raoul which we did about 5 years ago.


    John Osborne

  5. Brilliant photography thanks Bruce, we cruised to Port Arthur last December and could’nt berth in Kangaroo Island or Bernie so we spent two extra days in Hobart.
    Mawson’s replica Antarctic Hut and history was riveting which including the sad loss of two of Mawson’s crew from mysterious causes.
    Keep up the good work.

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