Weekend Wandering – Tour of the Isle of Dead Cemetery, Port Arthur

While visiting Port Arthur in Tasmania we decided to do quite a few tours, and one of the ones we chose was the Isle of the Dead Cemetery. From the name you can see that is was on a separate island and we had to catch a boat to go there. The only way you can visit it is by boat and by taking the tour. So you don’t get a lot of time there.

Here is the island as we approached it.


All people who died, I think, at Port Arthur were taken to this island for burial. On the high part are the “free” people and the lower parts the convicts. The land, if I remember correctly, was not consecrated so anyone could be buried anywhere. Unlike most graveyards, it was divided into different denominations.

The free people had head stones, but very few of the convicts did. To get a headstone a letter would be sent home to the family saying that their relative had died, and if they wanted a marker they would need to send money back. This could take up to 18 months. So once the headstone was paid for it may not even be where the convict was buried. Since many of the convicts that came to Australia came because they were poor and living in appalling conditions, most families were unable to send money back, hence many unmarked graves.

Over 1100 people were buried on this small isle. Someone asked our tour guide if we were walking on buried people and she merely nodded her head. Is was such a small island that it must have been fun of graves, to fit that many.

I’m not going to say anymore now, here are some photos of the graves there. A quiet place, quiet contemplation for those that lived and served their time there. A hard place and something we need to remember.

[envira-gallery id=”3444″]

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  1. Black and white is perfect for this collection. It conveys the moodiness of the place and its sad history. Lovely work, Leanne.

  2. Oh my gosh that’s grim. I wonder what the headstone that had all the writing said. You did a great job showing this. It’s important to know.

    1. I agree. You do a great job, I’ve learned a lot from your blog through your photos and commentary, especially the grave yards.

  3. Times would have been so tough then .. and to think some of the convicts were sent there for such petty crimes. It must have been an interesting place to visit .. and one that left you thinking.

    1. Oh yes, very tough. I am glad I wasn’t around then. It was fascinating and sad too, I am looking forward to going back another time. It certainly did, it has renewed my interest in convict history. Thank you Julie.

    1. Not really, though I suspect more to do with him not being very good at business and then deciding that fraud would be better. He story was one of the ones we were told. Thanks

  4. Sombre – dead is dead regardless of the presence of a headstone. Black and white is so appropriate for this subject, Leanne. Thanks for the tour.

    1. So true Don, perhaps sadder because of the lack of it. I thought it was too, the colour seemed to modern or something. You’re welcome and thank you.

  5. What an incredible post!
    Of course the images are excellent, especially that first one of the Island. Wow!
    The history, though, is fascinating, and sad, too.
    Thank you for sharing the story, Leeann

  6. What a fascinating place. Your choice of black and white works perfectly – adding depth – mystery – mood to your shots. Do you know what year – ie the oldest – they started using this island? I know places like this can be a bit moody and sad – but so much history is found. Great post Leanne!

    1. It was Debby, quite amazing and the tour was great, especially hearing the stories of the people buried there. No, sorry I don’t. I know that Port Arthur began operating in 1830, and closed about 3o years laters, I believe. I agree, so much history. I love it. Thanks Debby.

    1. Do you mean the gallery Sherry. The gallery plugin is Envira, but I think you can only get it for self hosted blogs or sites. I did have to pay for it.

    2. I’ve had one for a while, but recently changed you all over to the self hosted one. It is the same as the WordPress one, the one most of us use is the WordPress.com one, however this is the WordPress.org, so a little different, but pretty much works the same, but more basic and have you find the plugins to get some things. I am in control of it, for the most part, and I can do what I like and not have to worry about space, advertising, or any of that. I still use a theme, which I purchased.

    3. Yes, I have to admit my husband did a lot of the initial set up for me. It is very complicated, but once it is set up you would find it easy to use as you know WordPress.

  7. O-ooo pretty creepy, but your photos install a sad beauty to the place. Love the monochrome style, particularly in your shot of the island, the varying shades of grey make for an impressive and almost foreboding sky.

    1. I like that, that should be there I think. I started in colour, but the monochrome seemed more appropriate. Thank you.

  8. This is beautiful !what is about graveyards that caught my eye all the time? 100 in such small space? You were definitely walking on buried people ! lovely photos ! 🙂

  9. A brother or cousin of a direct Scotch-Irish ancestor is probably buried on that island. He was convicted of robbery at the age of 25 and sent first to Australia and then Tasmania. He lived in Port Arthur for 50 years, first as an inmate and then as a prison guard. Thanks for the pictures!

    1. Could be, though if he was there that long chances are he left once Port Arthur was closed, though I don’t know. It only operated as a prison for about 20 to 30 years. Though if he grew old there, he may have been in the old peoples home, well their version of it. You should look into it, they have very good records if you know his name and when he was sent there. I don’t know if I am descended from anyone, but recently found out my grandfather was from Tasmania, so now I am keen to find out, just have to find out how. YOu’re welcome and thanks.

  10. Sad, but a step up from Hart Is. in New York; home of Potter’s Field. Thoughtful Post, Thanks.

    1. I think the histories of the two places are very different, and hard to compare really. The island is only a part of a much bigger picture really. Thank you.

  11. What a fantastic place to visit. Your images are very atmospheric. I have always loved graveyards and cemeteries. They are fascinating places.

  12. Graveyards are so interesting to visit. It is such an insight into generations and lives in the Past; what hardship they experienced and how much the customs of today have changed. Fascinating reading the inscription on the marker for Henry Savery. Thank you Leanne.

  13. Beautifully captured and great story telling.. Have loved seeing Tasmania through your eyes .

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