I wrote this poem after visiting Port Arthur, Tasmania in 2009 and was staggered by the sheer beauty of the place and its contrasting history. Port Arthur was one of Australia’s penal colonies where convicts suffered greatly under the rule of George Arthur. I added some links to the poem for those who are interested in history.
Stark beauty and tranquillity belies the history,
Of the twenty thousand convicts damned in wretched misery.
For forty-seven years The Empire ruled with fierce control,
And they conceived a brutal system with an evil soul.
Now long forgotten sorrows seep through ancient sordid cracks,
Their vile abuse apparent on the blood-stained, waning tracks.
George Arthur was relentless for he knew what was at hand,
Oppression for all convicts in Tasman’s Van Diemen’s Land.
His breathless mill ground wretches through a bloody cogged machine,
And it churned out cruel punishment with an infernal mien.
From dawn to dusk they slogged away in beastly servile chains,
They built tall ships and wrought clay bricks with venom in their veins.
Soon the Model Prison formed for evil domination,
Beneath hushed veils caged in ordered cells of separation.
An icy terror flowed where silent numbers feared to speak,
The Sabbath heard strong voices rise as high as they could peak.
And a celestial chorus drifted high above the green,
Then to cold cells they all retreated locked away unseen.
The new Asylum minded souls who quietly endured,
Torrential torment as their anguished minds became obscured.
The callous wounds inflicted on these feeble-minded men,
Made them like frantic animals trapped in a lion’s den.
Humiliation and despair for many years had festered,
So new soothing methods now were duly tried and tested.
A Paupers’ home was built to save the shattered from the slum,
They languished there downtrodden as Port Arthur’s filthy scum.
Neglected fiddles sang old melancholic melodies,
Beneath the warming sun they gladly tended shrubberies.
An early welfare system formed for weary gentlemen,
By now their hopes forsaken of meeting with kin again.
The ‘Isle of Dead‘ so aptly lies across a chilling bay,
Where finally on lower ground the perished convicts lay.
Unmarked dirt graves for these outcasts were deemed as so deserved,
High ground allotted to the free and soldiers who well served.
Two fresh dirt graves duly anticipated every day,
Obligingly John Barron gladly dug without delay.
Now weary spirits linger of convicts and others too,
And ghostly cries are heard of the sad young Lady in Blue.
A pallid child greets callers by the parson’s window bay,
An overwhelming presence can be felt on a cold day.
The old church ruins are haunting; her walls eerily stand tall,
Where convict blood had stained, cold ivy fingers would not crawl.
As shadows fall and we recall their suffering and pain,
For long forgotten lives offer hard lessons so we’ll gain
Insight to inhumanity; a message from the past,
Shows future generations a flawed system cannot last.
Where men were senselessly reformed with such severity;
Now we muse in the quiet beauty and tranquillity.
Copyright © 2009 Norma Martiri