Sunday, 17 May 2015

Government Gardens, Port Arthur

The Government Gardens are a stunning formal garden where you can trace the steps of the ladies and officers who resided at Port Arthur and strolled along these paths, shielded from view of the convicts behind the garden’s fences and plantings.

Originally established in 1830 as a timber-getting camp, the settlement quickly expanded in size, large cultivated plots laid down to supplement the rations of the convicts and officers. Accompanying this was a setting aside of small plots for the tending of ornamental gardens by the officers. The penal settlement of Port Arthur aimed to be self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables and herbal plants for the needs of convicts and militia.

Officers were allotted their own gardens and more formal 'government gardens' were established. Several commandants and officials were members of the Royal Society so had access to plant material from the Society's gardens in Hobart.

As early as the 1830s ornamental trees were planted at Port Arthur. By 1838 the avenue leading to the Church from Tarleton Street was lined with young trees provided by the Governor of the day, Sir John Franklin.

It was Commandant Champ who, in 1846-47 developed the Government Gardens as an ornamental garden primarily for the enjoyment of the ladies of the settlement and where officers and their families could escape the taint of the convicts under their charge By the 1850s this had reached its zenith with the well-tended gardens of the Commandant's House and Government Gardens drawing comment from the visitor. The gardens were much admired and reached their peak in the late 1860-70s.

With the closure of the penal settlement and the establishment of the township the large swathes of cultivation and tended gardens were allowed to go fallow, smaller gardens sustaining the dietary and aesthetic needs of the townspeople.

The historic site today mirrors this past. After the closure of Port Arthur the gardens were neglected until reconstruction began in the 1990s.Large swathes of well-tended lawn are interspersed with the ornamental beauty of the reconstructed Government and Commandant's Gardens, or the tidy vegetable plots of an early 20th century residence. Together these areas provide unparalleled insight into the lesser-known aspects of the convict settlement and free township.

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