Tuesday, April 14, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 40 - Port Aurthur, Australia

*On today's podcast, we are joined by 17 year old Australian Freya Porter*

Moment in Oddity - The Blue People of Kentucky

They are known as the Blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek. The name Fugate derives from an ancestor named Martin Fugate who settled in Eastern Kentucky. He was an orphan from France and he carried a unique gene that has been passed down for six generations. That genetic trait is blue skin. At first, doctors thought the blue skin was caused my heart disease or discolored blood. Eventually, a nurse named Ruth Pendergrass and a hematologist named Madison Cawein made an in depth study of the family. The genetic trait was a disease that came to be known as methemoglobinemia. Sufferers of this disease have more methemoglobin than iron in their blood. Red blood cells are not able to release as much oxygen to tissues, Tissue hypoxia results. Benjamin Stacy, who was born in 1973, is the last known descendant of Martin Fugate. His blue skin faded as he got older and he now appears normal. It is believed that the condition is rarely seen anymore because the gene pool has dispersed and is not concentrated in one area any longer. And it also helps that most families do not interbreed. The Fugates did. Human smurfs certainly are odd!

This Day in History - Pony Express Arrives in San Francisco

On this day, April 14th, in 1860, the Pony Express arrives for the first time in San Francisco. The Pony Express was established in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1860 as a way to deliver mail and messages to the West Coast. A series of 157 relay stations was set up along the route. The route carried a man on horseback through the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. Each rider rode for seventy-five miles a day. The stations were set up about ten miles apart, which was the distance a horse could gallop before tiring. The rider would arrive at the station, receive a fresh horse and continue on his journey. To save on extra weight, Pony Express riders could only weigh a maximum of 125 pounds. The horse would carry not only the rider, but twenty pounds of mail, a revolver, a water pack, a horn to alert the relay station that a fresh horse was needed and a Bible. On April 3, 1860, the first Westbound Pony Express rider left St. Joseph, Missouri. Ten days later, the mail arrived in San Francisco. Only one of the letters that was carried still exists today. The Pony Express stopped its run in October 1861.

Port Arthur


Port Arthur is part of a World Heritage site featuring former Australian jail sites and it is an open air museum. Australia has a harsh history since it was established as a place for Britain to send her convicts. Many of the prisoners from Ireland's Kilmainham Gaol were sent to Australia. Port Arthur's prison became the stop for Britain's worst convicts. Such a harsh place would be a good breeding ground for things that go bump in the night just from its penal history alone. But this area has an even more tragic story. It was the site of a massacre in 1996. No wonder Port Arthur is considered to be one of the most haunted locations in all the world.

Twelve thousand years ago, the oceans were rising due to the melt off from the Ice Age. This rising of the oceans changed the geography of Australia and cut off one area of the continent that we know today as Tasmania. The aboriginal people who had lived there were cut off from the other aboriginal people and they developed uniquely both culturally and physically. They became known as Tasmanians and by the time Europeans arrived to settle, the Tasmanians had nine distinct ethnic groups. The British originally settled the area in 1803. Within thirty years, only 300 of the Tasmanians still survived having dwindled from a population that some have estimated at 10,000. The survivors were relocated to Flinders Island.

The capital city of Tasmania is Hobart and it was established in 1804 by British Lieutenant-Governor David Collins. In 1830, Port Arthur was established as a timber station. It was named for Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur. The harshest criminals formed the population of the penal settlement and they set up several types of manufacturing, which ranged from ship building to shoemaking to brick making and even flour milling. The ship building was very successful and the settlement produced fifteen large ships and 140 smaller vessels. The prisoners sent to Port Arthur were reoffenders who had been shipped over to mainland Australia. Port Arthur was the perfect location for a prison for these reoffenders because of several factors. The only land route to the mainland was over a 30m wide isthmus that was heavily guarded and the waters surrounding the area were shark infested. The prison there was sold as being inescapable.

Some prisoners did try to escape. One such prisoner was George "Billy" Hunt who dressed as a kangaroo and tried to hop across the isthmus. Guards shot at him and he was returned to the prison and given 150 lashes. Martin Cash and two other prisoners were more successful and they did escape. Cash was a Bushranger meaning he had survival skills to live in the bush and committed armed robbery. He actually escaped twice from Port Arthur. He later had a ghostwriter write about his adventures in the book "The Adventures of Martin Cash," published in 1870.

In 1848, the Separate Prison was built. With the addition of this prison came a new era in punishment. Previously, the punishment had been corporeal, but now punishment moved to psychological. It was so harsh, it drove many insane. Good prisoners were given luxury items like tea and and sugar, while bad prisoners were given only bread and water. This prison also used the Silent System that we have talked about on other podcasts where prisoners were not allowed to speak at all and they were hooded. Point Puer (pronounced "pure") was set up as a place for juvenile offenders. Some of them were as young as nine years old. The juveniles were expected to do the same work as the adults. A church was built and all prisoners were forced to attend.

In 1863, the Pauper's Depot was built followed by the construction of the Asylum. The population of Port Arthur was aging and getting sick and these were part of Port Arthur's Welfare Phase, but it was anything but good for the convicts. Treatment was rudimentary and most of the patients continued to suffer from depression and mental instability. The Asylum later became a school and a townhall after it was damaged by a bushfire. Industry began to halt at Port Arthur because of the aging population and in 1877 it was closed. At its closing, the Isle of the Dead, where prisoners who had died were buried, contained 1646 graves. Only 180 remain marked. Tourists began to visit soon after the closure.

Much of the property was auctioned off and the buildings deteriorated. Many were torn down and were damaged in fires. In 1916, the Scenery Preservation Board took over management of the area and in the 1970s, the National Parks and Wildlife Service took over. It was at this time that restoration and clean-up began. Today the museum includes the Model Prison, the Guard Tower, the church and parts of the main penitentiary. Guided tours are offered as well as ghost tours.

But this is not where Port Arthur's tragic history ends. In 1996, the third deadliest mass shooting spree in the world occurred at Port Arthur. The murderer was Martin Bryant. Bryant was born in Tasmania in 1967. Bryant is what one would deem a bad seed. He was difficult and angry from the very beginning. He would break his toys and rage in fits. He once snatched the snorkel from another boy while they were diving. Teachers described him as distant and a poor student. He tortured animals as well. After his arrest, he was found to have an IQ of 66. Bryant often was depressed and became an alcoholic. In early April of 1996, Bryant bought a large bag he would later use during the massacre.

On the morning of April 28, 1996, Bryant went to the Seascape Bed and Breakfast and killed owners David and Sally Martin, He blamed them for causing his father's depression and suicide because they bought the B & B out from under his father. He ate a meal at the Broad Arrow Cafe at the Port Arthur historical site. After eating, he set up a video camera and went to the back of the cafe where he pulled out a Colt AR-15 SP1 Carbine and he began shooting. He killed twelve and wounded ten there. He walked to the other side of the shop and killed eight and wounded two more people. He changed magazines and fled in his car, shooting people along the road, killing four more and wounding six. He came upon a mother with two children. He fired killing the mother and one child, while the other ran. He chased her down and killed her. He carjacked a BMW and killed its four occupants. He stopped another car and killed a female occupant and forced a man to get into the trunk of the BMW. Bryant returned to the Seascape B & B with his hostage and a stand-off ensued. He killed the hostage, set fire to the B & B hoping to escape in the chaos and was finally arrested. He was sentenced to thirty-five life sentences plus 1,035 years without parole and is in the psychiatric wing of Risdon Prison in Hobart, Tasmania. In the end, he had killed thirty-five people and injured twenty-three.

One can imagine that a history as a harsh penal colony and the site of a massacre would lead to hauntings and it does. In 1840, Private Robert Young drowned near the Jetty Cabin and tourists report seeing a man with straight black hair and a ruffled white shirt in or near the cabin. Freya shared some of the haunting history she has heard:
"With such a tumultuous history, it's no wonder that ghost sightings are abound in that place! The site offers night ghost tours every day (except Christmas Day), which from personal experience are fantastic. The Parsonage is one of the first stops on the tour and I'd say it's the most haunted place on the site. Reverend George Eastman died in the upstairs bedroom, but the stairs were difficult to navigate so his coffin was lowered by rope out of the window. During the lowering his coffin burst open and his body fell into the gutter below. Maybe this undignified exit from his home promoted his haunting of the place. He was barely settled into the ground before people started reporting smelling rotting flesh, hearing unearthly moans and seeing strange bright lights inside the Parsonage. The study seems particularly prone to lights, while the guest bedroom has been problematic too. A lady guest was driven from the room by unexplained knocking coming from the walls and floor, and as she fled up the stairs she heard the patter of feet running behind her. Also in this room a servant shrieked and collapsed one day while checking the fire. After waking she said she had seen a man standing outside the window looking at her, holding a knife as though about to strike her. More recently, around 2004 I think (I went on the ghost tour in 2010 so my memory isn't as clear about it although I remember the gist of many of the stories), a young girl and her mother were standing at the garden gate when they saw a shadowy figure standing in the doorway to the house watching them. 

The church bells sometimes ring inexplicably around 6pm on a Monday afternoon, attributed to the ghost of Joseph Shuttleworth who was murdered by fellow convict William Riley as they worked on the church construction. In the Junior Medical Officer's house, ghost children are often heard playing on the roof, running around, rattling windows and moving furniture. The Commandant's house is home to the Nanny Chair, which rocks on its own and whose ghostly occupant touches unwary visitors. Faces appear in the holes in the walls of the dissection room under the Senior Surgeon's house. Of course the Separate Prison is home to all manner of ghosts and apparitions, including a screaming boy awaiting execution, depressed and anxious feelings in the cell of a convict who committed suicide, and mysterious lights in the dark punishment cells."
Andrea Allison's website ParanormalStories.blogspot.com has the following account:
"The very location of Port Arthur's cemetery has its own paranormal reports. A prisoner named Mark Jeffrey, serving time for manslaughter, lived on the island in a little hut as the resident gravedigger. One morning a signal fire caught the eye of the authorities and a boat was sent over to retrieve Jeffrey. He returned to the mainland with an unbelievable tale. The night before his hut had been shaken and rocked by an invisible force and a fiery red glow had lit up the walls and surrounding ground. Upon investigation, he was confronted by an creature with eyes smoldering, horns erect and encircled by sulfurous smoke. No one took his experience serious but visitors have felt an oppressive atmosphere on the Island of the Dead."
P. Clifford shared his personal story at the website CastleofSpirits.com about a tour he was on and something they saw. One of the fellow tourists had left to use the restroom before this event occurred and here is what happened:
"We had been there not that long, but long enough so that the guy would have been able to have rejoined the group. We were laughing and joking that a ghost had taken him, when we saw someone at the end of the path, about 150 meters away that had trees dotted on either side of it. The tour guide called out to "him" as we were in a dark spot an he may not have spotted us. I had my video camera, with which I was able to see in the dark to some degree. And as I zoomed in on him, the figure walked behind a tree and stopped. We were all calling out and had no response. The guide then spoke on her walkie talkie to see if it was another guide, who may be playing a joke on us, but no one was near us. The guide then went down to see what it was and she found no one there!

She then rejoined the group and we then entered the building, looked around the place and then finished our tour. After, when we went back, we found the gentleman, sitting having a coffee and of course the first question was, "So was that you?" He looked at us like we were mad, and said that he had found the toilet and decided to head back to the main building and wait for us there. And our group were suddenly wondering who our "visitor" was?"
Parsonage
Our guest co-host, Freya Porter, related her personal story:
"The Parsonage is of special interest to me because it's where I had my brief ghostly experience in 2010. I went to Tasmania on a school trip when I was 12, and one of the places we visited was Port Arthur after having studied it in history class. Our teachers organised for us to go on the ghost tour at 8pm in the dead of winter, which we all joked about until we actually got on the tour itself. The Parsonage was the second stop after the Church. We'd already visited the building earlier in the tour and had no problems. It's a very peaceful looking building in the daytime, surrounded by a pretty flower garden with a little winding path from the garden gate to the veranda. I was near the front of the group. The guide held up the lantern and asked one of the us kids to open the garden gate for him. I put my hand on the gate and was about to push the gate open when I felt a presence holding me back. It didn't want me going into that house. I stepped back, insisting that we couldn't go in there. Whatever was in that house, good or bad, didn't want us there. The guide ignored me and the group left me and another teacher outside the gate while they spent ten minutes inside the house. I would not cross the gate, trying to tell the teacher that there really was something there that wasn't happy about the intrusions. He seemed sympathetic at least - he didn't like the vibes around that place either. The group came out unscathed however, and the tour continued without any more ghostly occurrences.

When my class got back to school the next term and brought our photos in to share, we noticed something strange in one of my teacher's photos of a house (he couldn't remember which it was but it was definitely a residence, not a prison complex) in the daytime. In one of the windows the side profile of a woman can be seen, with her hands held near her face like she's praying or crying. We had no idea what to make of it. There's reports of the Lady Blue who died in childbirth hanging around the parsonage or accountant's house, but we have no idea if it was her or not."
Port Arthur has nearly two centuries of documented history and tales, many of them haunted in nature. Do the spirits of former prisoners still roam the grounds? Can so many personal experiences just be hallucinations? Did Freya really feel something disturbing? That is for you to decide!

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