Hobart Convict Penitentiary
30 Oct | experience |

As Halloween approaches we went off to explore parts of Hobart that are renowned for being a little bit spooky. The rule of thumb seems to be that if you find the history, the haunted soon follows.

You have probably walked past the Hobart Convict Penitentiary, located at a busy Hobart intersection, at least a handful of times, but may not have even realised it was there. The original part of the building pre-dates even Port Arthur and has a colourful history to say the least.

Built in 1820, this place is filled to the brim with history (and hauntings) and offers tours both by daylight and at night for their highly recommended ghost tours.

Yes, the Hello Hobart team took on a ghost tour.

Prior to our ghost tour, we went earlier in the day to find out a little bit more of the history of the penitentiary in the ‘safety’ of daylight alongside tour guide Michelle and Southern Heritage Manager for the National Trust, Chandra.

Originally built as a barracks and known as the ‘Tench’, it was to house convict men that were increasingly coming into Van Diemen’s Land. Once the convict transportation ceased in 1853, the site was re-purposed to become Hobart’s Gaol, which included numerous solitary confinement cells and became the site of a number of hangings. The site was also home to a chapel for both free settlers and convicts, and included both the Magistrates and Supreme courts for over 100 years.

The building is now managed by the National Trust who rely heavily on fundraising and tours to maintain the property.

‘Because this place has been around for so long and had some nasty people housed here who died in some nasty ways, it has a different variety of spooks than other places in Hobart’, tells Chandra.

‘Convicts and prisoners on this site ranged from petty theft right up to hardened murderers’, explains Michelle.

Michelle’s personal history is also filled with a life of convicts and, as a result, she invests a lot of time into researching the penitentiary’s history.

‘You come across some great stories as you uncover more. We recently discovered a story of 3 prisoners who tried to create a makeshift heater in their cell, only to set it accidently on fire. They ended up in solitary confinement for their antics’, tells Michelle.

We asked both Chandra and Michelle what they love about their jobs. ‘I love heritage and history and am passionate about ensuring we keep these places open for the public’, says Chandra.

‘I enjoy showing people the history that is right in the heart of our city and telling important parts of Tasmanian history’, tells Michelle.

Come nightfall, we met up with our ghost tour guides, Mark and Stacey. These two have certainly seen their fair share of spooks and were incredibly passionate and knowledgeable individuals. There were no theatrics here, rather a lot of Tasmanian history woven in with exploring tunnels, the chapel, solitary cells and the court rooms.

You’ll be given a lantern for the tour and you’ll soon make friends with the fellow guests doing the tour, often between 6-10 people.

We don’t want to spoil too much of the tour, but highlights included getting to ‘try out’ the handful of solitary confinement cells remaining. You will be asked to turn off your lantern (if you feel comfortable) to get a true experience.

Moving on through the building you get to discover the gallows. A total of 32 prisoners, including one female, were hung on the site. Of note, the last person to lose their life to capital punishment in Tasmania was hung at the penitentiary in 1946. Stacey tells the Hello Hobart team that she will be spending a night in the gallows as part of a fundraiser towards the end of the year (we wish her luck because you couldn’t pay us to do that).

Tours are run Tuesday – Sunday during the day and Thursday – Saturday for the night ghost tours. Bookings are highly recommended and can be done through the National Trust website. They also are running a special Halloween tour and a fundraising sleep-over later this year if you are brave enough!

Corner of Campbell Street & Brisbane Street, Hobart.