It is not surprising that Port Arthur is Australia’s most haunted site, given the difficult conditions of life there and the many deaths that occurred as a result of the treatment metered out to the convict stationed there. Most of the buildings have a history of ghosts or unexplainable events, with ghost stories date back to the 1870. It is said that since the prison’s abandonment in 1877 there have been over 2000 accounts of ghost sightings and hauntings throughout the vicinity.
The history of ghostly sightings at Port Arthur goes back to the late 1800’s when the writer George Gruncell wrote of a number of strange events that occurred at the Parsonage in the 1870s. “The Hayward family had been visiting Melbourne and the Reverend Hayward had hurried back leaving his family to follow. One night after his return, the doctor at the settlement, seeing lights from the upstairs rooms of the Parsonage, thought that the parson’s wife and children had returned. When he went to welcome them home, he found only the Reverend Hayward and a servant. No one had been upstairs and when the rooms were inspected they were found to be in darkness. But others in the settlement had also seen the lights and assumed that the family had returned.”
In and around the Port Arthur Penitentiary is said to be where the spirits of the dead interact with the living the most. The most well known and regular ghost encounters are in the Parsonage – which was the Reverend’s house when the place was a prison. Those who work at port Arthur claim it is the most haunted building. Unexplainable lights, footsteps, doors closing and a number of different ghosts have been seen in here, but probably the most famous is the ghost of Reverend George Eastman. Rev. George worked at Port Arthur for many years in the mid 1800s. He lived and died in the Parsonage. Almost immediately after his death this long history of ghosts began, and he has been identified and seen by numerous people – we have old photos of him. Many believe he never left this building. Witnesses have reported smelling a foul rotten odour, hearing moaning noises and seeing strange lights in the building ever since. A woman in a blue period dress is also seen wandering the building.
Jake Bradshaw, the guiding manager of Port Arthur Ghost Tours, says, “I get to see all the photos visitors send back and the scariest are two photos of the same area taken within 10 seconds of each other. There is a window of a house in the photos and in the first photo the curtains are closed but in the second the curtain are slightly parted with a little ghostly girl peering out. When you zoom in you can see an eye, nose (even a nostril) and mouth – very scary stuff.”
Buildings visited on the Ghost Tours include the Commandants Cottage, Separate Prison, Visiting Magistrates House, Parsonage and the Church. Near the old church ruins on a Monday afternoon around 6pm, bells have been heard ringing. While convicts were digging the foundations for the Church in 1835, Joseph Shuttleworth was brutally murdered by William Riley. Many link the bells to this gruesome incident.
Apparitions have been seen in the Junior Medical Officer’s residence. It is believed his children (13 or so) are the culprits of footsteps, moving furniture and rattling windows. Private Robert Young drowned near the Jetty Cabin in 1840. Guests reported seeing a man with straight black hair and a ruffled white shirt in or near the cabin.
The first house built in Port Arthur was the Commandant’s House. Inside sits a rocking chair supposedly known as the “Nanny Chair”. Some believe this chair to be haunted. Witnesses have seen it rock on its own. Those who have sat on it have been touched by unseen hands or have strange feelings engulf them. On many occasions, those who try to photograph this chair experience equipment failure.
The dissection rooms under the Senior Surgeon’s House are known for faces popping popping out of a hole in the wall only to disappear moments later. This hole was where the servants used to scrape the ashes from the fireplace down into the dissection room to soak up the blood. In the Separate Prison, visitors have heard the screams of a ghostly boy awaiting execution. In the very cell William Carter committed suicide by hanging, people have felt anxious or depressed. Mysterious lights have been spotted in the dark cells where prisoners were confined for long periods of time in total darkness and silence.
The very location of Port Arthur’s cemetery has its own paranormal reports. A prisoner named Mark Jeffrey, serving time for manslaughter, lived on the island in a little hut as the resident gravedigger. One morning a signal fire caught the eye of the authorities and a boat was sent over to retrieve Jeffrey. He returned to the mainland with an unbelievable tale. The night before his hut had been shaken and rocked by an invisible force and a fiery red glow had lit up the walls and surrounding ground. Upon investigation, he was confronted by an creature with eyes smoldering, horns erect and encircled by sulfurous smoke. No one took his experience serious but visitors have felt an oppressive atmosphere on the Island of the Dead. Not surprising considering the many people buried there.