Port Arthur Separate Prison


Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority


Port Arthur, Tasmania


2005 - 2010

Project Description

The 1849 Separate Prison is chilling evidence of the 19th century’s moral phobias and experimental initiatives. Based on Quaker principles of penitence brought about by silence and control, it was a strict machine to subdue convicts.

Ruined by bushfires in 1895, the Prison has had a series of confusing, ad-hoc conservation measures. The stonework was in poor condition and the small range of original timber and iron elements was overlaid with reconstructions from the 1970s.

Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, Peter Emmett and X-Squared worked with PAHSMA to complete a Master Plan for the Prison, creating a defined sequence of reconstructed, interpreted and conserved spaces.  The completed Stage 1 includes extensive stonework conservation and the reconstruction of the perimeter wall, entry, central hall and one of the cell block wings, recreating the full machinery of control of the operational Prison. At Stage 2, a second wing, less intact, will be used to interpret significant themes. The third is left as an evocative ruin – the condition of the entire building for 100 years.

The project is a benchmark for the conservation of convict structures in Australia, and is central to the experience and understanding of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Port Arthur site.


Peter Tonkin, Julie Mackenzie, Trina Day, Wolfgang Ripberger, Roger O'Sullivan. Photography by Brett Boardman.


2011 Henry Hunter Triennial Award, Tasmanian Architecture Awards. 2011 Gold Award for a project more than $20,000, Interpretation Australia Awards. 2009 Australian Institute of Architects (Tasmania) Heritage Award.