Penitentiary Archaeology Project
The installation of this support system will require sizeable foundations to be prepared however, disturbing the soil deposits of such a significant site and building simply cannot be done without first conducting an archaeological investigation. The view beneath the surface will help us to understand the earlier uses of the Penitentiary structure and also, the land upon which it sits.
While the Penitentiary is Port Arthur’s largest and most recognisable building, its earlier history as a granary has never been fully investigated.
The building was originally constructed during the early 1840’s as a flour mill and granary complex which housed both a water wheel and a convict-powered tread wheel to drive the large grind stones. It wasn't until 1853 that the conversion to the Penitentiary commenced and some four years later, the building was equipped to house 484 convicts; 136 of those convicts were in the two stories of solitary cells. The building also featured a large mess room, Catholic Chapel and a library. Although it is certain that the granary/mill and associated infrastructure existed prior to the conversion, details around the design of the water wheel and the size and scale of the surrounding pit are unknown.
Unfortunately, despite the building plans being very clear on design, they do not match the descriptions of the building given by those who were here after the structure was built. It is hoped that some of these questions will be answered during the excavation and some insight into the previous operation will be provided. Should the archaeological project be successful and produce the sought after answers, this pre convict missing piece of the Port Arthur puzzle will be built into the on-site interpretation.
Penitentiary Archaeology Webcam
Our webcam is up and running for the Penitentiary Project. Click HERE to view the current excavation. The camera takes about 15 seconds to refresh.