Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Paupers Mess, Port Arthur

By the 1860’s, Port Arthur contained men who had been in the convict system for many years.  Many were invalids or insane. Ex convicts found it difficult to find employment and most had no family to support them. Paupers were not necessarily time serving convicts, but the authorities treated them all as such by restricting their movements, regimenting their living conditions and punishing breaches of regulations. The society of the time generally supported such regimentation as it minimized the cost of keeping paupers of the streets and out of sight.

In 1863, a new weatherboard dormitory was constructed for the growing pauper & invalid classes. The brick mess building was erected in 1864 as part of the pauper’s complex that also included the timber dormitory and outhouses. The clay for the cream colored bricks came from Brickfields Hill (just north of the Port Arthur Church). Originally the mess area had a full length wooden verandah with seats around it for enjoying the sunshine. There were two large windows at either end of the building, each composed of 50 panes of glass.

The small mess kitchen had a couple of fire places where cooking was done in suspended pots and small ovens which were used for baking. The mess hall could host 140 men at a time, all sitting at benches.
In 1874, the paupers were transferred to Hobart but within two years, they were back at Port Arthur because of overcrowding at the Hobart depot. During the settlements closing years the hall doubled as a theatre. One end of the hall was partitioned off for a stage and weekly musical and theatrical amusements were provided for the “old gentlemen” and the officers, their families and visiting dignitaries.

The paupers were only there for a further year before the penal settlement was closed down for good. The buildings occupants and the furnishings were all sent back to Hobart. The paupers mess & dormitories did not remain intact for very long. A few months after Port Arthur was abandoned, drunken steamer excursionists rampaged through the settlement, looting and vandalizing furniture and fittings.

The mess seems to have been used as a school during the 1880’s but the dormitories were demolished around this time. The mess was gutted by the severe bushfires of January 1895 and left in ruins and they have remained this way ever since.

Main Text & Information Source – 
Interpretation Signs at the Pauper’s Mess Site