Australia’s Most Terrifying and Haunted Places: Tasmania, Land of Convicts and Cannibals

Skull of Alexander PearceWell, here we are, ready for another round of Haunted Australia.

In the past, I’ve covered Victoria (my home) and New South Wales, the site of the first landing when Australia was colonised. As such, you’d expect New South Wales to have the strongest history of hauntings, but you could be wrong.

Down below mainland Australia lays an island, shaped like an inverted pyramid, which has a very chequered history indeed.

Tasmania aka Van Diemen’s Land was first settled as part of the British colony in 1803, just fifteen years after the arrival of the first fleet on the shores of mainland Australia. The early arrivals were almost all convicts and their guards, tasked with developing industries and agriculture on the isolated island. Resistance to the colonisation by Indigenous Australians led to particularly fierce fighting between the two forces, likely resulting in many massacres. Death seemed a common occurrence here in the Australia’s most southern area.

The first official prison on Tasmania, Port Arthur Penal Settlement, opened its cells in 1830 as a working prison and timber station. As more industries began there, suited to both heavy and light labour, Port Arthur held a key position in Australia’s penal system until it closed in 1877.

These days, Port Arthur is allegedly Tasmania’s most haunted area, likely a result of the many and varied deaths and ongoing misery that took place there over its 47-year history as an operating penal colony.

Tourists often report ghostly figures seen throughout the buildings of Port Arthur, and legend has it that on a Monday afternoon, the old, ruined church rings with the sound of bells that no longer hang there.

The tragic events of 1996 have only added to the carnage of the area. On April 28, Martin Bryant opened fire with an assault rifle on tourists at Port Arthur, killing 35 – and wounding 21 – men, women and children. Bryant was found fit to stand trial and is currently serving 35 life terms plus 1,035 years without parole in Tasmania’s Risdon Prison.

As a result of the many, many years of death and suffering, Port Arthur maintains the pride-of-place in Tasmania’s most haunted list.

Another location that has made the headlines with paranormal activity is National Trust registered Franklin House.

A sprawling property with gardens and a massive colonial house filled with antiques, Franklin House was built in the late 1830s by Britton Jones, a former convict who moved into brewing and inn-keeping. Four years after it was finished, he leased the property to a schoolmaster, William Keeler, Hawkes, who turned the mansion into a boys’ academy.

Nation Trust volunteers who now run the tourist destination have reported many experiences of a paranormal bent. Objects moving by themselves, noises in empty rooms, shadow figures in empty wings. Not-for-profit group Tas Ghost Hunting Society volunteered to find out what happened on the premises after dark, and believe that they found hard evidence of haunting and spirit activity. High levels of electromagnetic energy, and a recording where they claim to have the whispered response to a question have the group excited. In an upstairs bedroom, when asked ‘what is your name’, the group recorded a disembodied voice replying ‘Will’.

According to an article on ABC’s site, “There are other mysteries, such as a beam of light that seems to travel up and down the main staircase before disappearing,” said the lead investigator.

The Old Hobart Gaol, is the site of many ghost tours now, yet back in the 1800s, it was the site of many executions. There are numerous stories told by the tour guides, most common the stories of the recurring smell of blood near the gallows area, and of shadow figures moving in the night. Re-enactments of historical trials and the constant tours would hardly allow the restless dead to truly rest, now would they?

Richmond BridgeRichmond Bridge, Australia’s oldest bridge, in Richmond, Tasmania, is said to be haunted by the ghost of George Grover, a guard who loved whipping the convict workers a little too much, was supposedly thrown off the bridge by the convicts he tortured during its construction. No one was ever convicted of the killing. Now, the ghost of Grover walks under the bridge, seen by many drunken students and expectant tourists. The ghost of a large black and white dog, sometimes called ‘Grover’s Dog’, is also seen on the bridge. One lady reported it by her side many times as she walked alone on the bridge at night. It would walk beside her across the structure, and then disappear once she reached solid ground.

There are too many stories around the convict areas of Tasmania to go into fully in just one column, so I’ll leave you all to research your own on any further hauntings there.

I do, however, have to relate one last story. Not of a haunting, but of a crime so foul that is taboo amongst most so-called civilised societies. Cannibalism.

The name Alexander Pearce doesn’t ring with the same notoriety as many other criminal figures, but he was well known on the Tasmanian isle.

Criminal, convict, forger, escape artist and cannibal, Pearce was an Irish thief who escaped from prison in Tasmania a number of times, until he was finally hung and dissected in Hobart in 1824.

Pearce escaped one time with seven other prisoners, yet fifteen days into their journey through the primeval forests of the island, food ran out. Straws were drawn to see who would be killed and eaten, and after the foul deed was done, three of the remaining men lost heart and fled into the night. After the meat ran out, another died from snakebite (how fortunate) and he too was eaten. Another died, and was also a source of fresh meat, leaving Pearce and one other, Robert Greenhill, to continue the journey of escape. It was cat and mouse after that, but Greenhill finally was the first to fall asleep. At that point, Pearce allegedly murdered and ate his last companion. Eventually, Pearce found his way back to civilisation. When finally caught after 113 days, over half of which were spent in the isolated forests eating the others, Pearce confessed his crimes to a priest and was tried and hanged, later to be dissected to see just what made up a man who could sink to such lows in cuisine choices. It is reported that just before he was dropped through the trapdoor, Pearce said, ‘Man’s flesh is delicious. It tastes far better than fish or pork’.

Welcome to Tasmania, ladies and gents. Don’t forget to tenderise your travelling companions. Long pork is the meal of the day.


If you enjoyed Geoff Brown’s column, please consider clicking through to our Amazon Affiliate links and buying some of his fiction under the name, GN Braun. If you do you’ll help keep the This Is Horror ship afloat with some very welcome remuneration.

Buy GN Braun fiction (UK)

Permanent link to this article:


Skip to comment form

  1. I love reading about exotic and haunted places it gives me the shivers and I love reading true ghost tales.

  2. I would like to remind you that at first, the priest did not actually believe that he had ate his 7 fellow escapee’s and was sent back to prison, about a year or two later he escaped with another man, by the name of Thomas Cox, of which he devoured. After that the priest believed him and strung him up.
    Hope this helps

    • Sarah Edwards on September 6, 2016 at 5:35 am
    • Reply

    We visited Richmond Bridge (among other awesome Tasmanian landmarks) when I was in Year 9 for our school camp… we were told a story of the convicts who constructed the bridge, murdering someone and encasing the body within the bridges bricks. This apparently went unnoticed for a few days, until the bodily fluids started escaping from between the brick work… totally unsure of how true the story is but I’ve never forgotten it!

    • Natham on March 25, 2018 at 11:30 pm
    • Reply

    Willow court asylum is another place that is highly regarded as being haunted.
    Australia’s oldest asylum, built before Port Arthur Penal colony! Ran for over 170 years with stories of horribly treated patients with treatments ranging from ice baths, electro therapy to lobotomies.
    One of the ghost tours takes you through the morgue, still consisting of chiller, viewing tables, dissecting table and an abortion chair. Tasmania Ghost Rider.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.