Uncovering Tasmania’s colonial history doesn’t get more fascinating than with a tour through Hobart’s Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, infamously named ‘The Tench’ by former inmates. What appears to be a quiet and holy building from the outside harbours mysterious tales of crime and punishment within that are sure to appeal to the thrillseeker in you.
The Penitentiary Chapel was erected in the early 1830s as a problem-solving solution to the increasing number of convicts arriving in the colony. Designed by colonial architect John Lee Archer, the chapel also included 36 solitary-confinement cells beneath its floors.
These tiny, dark and poorly ventilated rooms of captivity were later declared inhumane. After convict transportation ceased, the building came to be Hobart Gaol, which stayed in place for more than 100 years. Parts of the chapel were converted into two Supreme Courts, and an execution yard and gallows were added to the site.
Access to this incredible piece of Australian and convict history is by guided tour run by the National Trust. Booking a daytime tour will see you journeying through the chapel, courts, gaol cells and chilling tunnels and gallows, all the while hearing riveting stories and facts about Tasmania’s criminal past.
After-dark ghost tours of the site are also available where you can learn about the strange occurrences and eerie sightings reported throughout its grim history by lamplight. Children must be aged 15 or over for the ghost tour.
The must-see Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site is conveniently situated a short walk from the Hobart city centre, or you can take the Red Decker bus and hop off at the Old Hobart Gaol stop. Those interested in Tasmania’s convict past will also appreciate visiting the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site, located about 10-12 minutes away from the Penitentiary Chapel, where you can learn about the history of Australia’s female convicts.