Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Guard Tower, Port Arthur

In 1835, Commandant Booth put a high priority on the construction of a strong wall and tower for the further security of the military barracks. Point Puer boys were quickly put to work to cut and shape the stone. By 1836, the Tower, with its flanking walls and turrets was completed. Captain Laplace visiting in 1839 described it as “A sort of tower in the mediaeval style from the top of which a soldier on duty can observe all that was going on in the surrounding area and look to the security of the homes of the principal officials of the establishment”

Its crowning glory was a flagpole. The Union Jack was flown on Sundays, when a ship was entering or leaving the harbor and whenever a person of consequence was visiting Port Arthur. Its position also gave a clear view of any vessel anchored in Mason Cove and the commissary store that stood on the foreshore in front of it. During its active lifetime, it has had various uses over the years including as a guardroom, firearms and ammunition store and prisoner holding cell.

The Guard Tower contained a storeroom for guns and ammunition, a guard room and a watch tower. Three cells were provided for soldiers, civilian offenders and female convict servants. They were locked up for minor crimes like drunkenness, or waited here to be sent to Hobart for trial for more serious offences like assault. The soldiers of Port Arthur were responsible for security and for pursuing and capturing escaped convicts. A small number of soldiers were accompanied by their wives who washed, sewed and provided basic nursing care for the men in their husband’s company. Children of the soldiers and lower ranking settlement officials and free staff were educated together at the adjoining Free School.

Although the Guard Tower was sold after the closure of the settlement, it was not demolished with the rest of the military complex. It served as a private museum during the 1890’s and escaped the ravages of the bushfire due to its lead roof. This building, now in ruins, was the third military complex built at the colony. The first, a timber building, was replaced in 1841 by a brick structure which, in turn, was replaced by this two storey barracks complex which was completed in 1847. The most prominent remnant of a building within the complex is the Guard Tower.

Main Text & Information Sources – 
Interpretive Signs at the Site
“Port Arthur – Convicts & Commandants” – Walter B Pridmore

Historic Photo –