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Martin Bryant

Martin Bryant
Born Martin John Bryant
(1967-05-07) 7 May 1967
Tasmania, Australia
Criminal penalty 35 life sentences + 1,035 years without parole
Date 28–29 April 1996
Location(s) Port Arthur, Tasmania,
Killed 35
Injured 23
Weapons Colt AR-15 SP1 Carbine,

Martin John Bryant[1] (born 7 May 1967) is an Australian mass murderer who pleaded guilty to murdering 35 people and injuring 23 others in the Port Arthur massacre, a shooting spree in Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia, in 1996. He is currently serving 35 life sentences plus 1,035 years without parole in the psychiatric wing of Risdon Prison in Hobart, Tasmania.[2]

Bryant's rampage was the third-deadliest shooting by a lone gunman in history, the first being the 2011 Norway attacks committed by Anders Behring Breivik, followed by the 1982 massacre by Woo Bum-kon in South Korea.


  • Childhood 1
    • Psychological and psychiatric assessments 1.1
  • Adulthood 2
  • Port Arthur massacre 3
    • Imprisonment 3.1
    • Media coverage 3.2
    • Political aftermath 3.3
  • In popular culture 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Martin Bryant was born in Tasmania, Australia, the first son born to Maurice and Carleen Bryant. Although the family home was in Lenah Valley, Tasmania, Bryant spent some of his childhood at their beach home in Carnarvon Bay, Tasmania. In a 2011 interview, his mother recalls that she would often find his toys broken at a very young age, branding him an "annoying" and "different" child. A psychologist's view was that he would never hold down a job as he would aggravate people to such an extent that he would always be in trouble.

Other cases that locals can recall include that he had pulled the snorkel from another boy while diving and had once cut down trees on a neighbour's property. He was described by teachers as being distant from reality and unemotional. At school he was a disruptive and sometimes violent child who suffered severe bullying by other children. After he was suspended from New Town Primary School in 1977, psychological assessments of Bryant note his torturing of animals. He returned to school the following year with improved behaviour; however, he persisted in teasing younger children. He was transferred to a special education unit at New Town High School in 1980 where he deteriorated both academically and in behaviour throughout his remaining school years.[3]

Psychological and psychiatric assessments

Descriptions of Bryant's behaviour as an adolescent show that he continued to be disturbed and outlined the possibility of mental retardation. He was revealed to have extremely low intelligence, with an I.Q. of 66,[4] equivalent to an 11-year-old and in the bottom 1.17 percent of the Australian population. Further testing following his arrest indicated a verbal I.Q. of 64 and non-verbal reasoning and cognitive functioning of 68, giving a full scale I.Q. of 66, an age equivalent of 11 years in the 10th percentile (90% of 11 year olds would score higher).

On leaving school Bryant was assessed for a disability pension by a psychiatrist who wrote: "Cannot read or write. Does a bit of gardening and watches TV... Only his parents' efforts prevent further deterioration. Could be schizophrenic and parents face a bleak future with him." Bryant received a disability pension, though he also worked as a handyman and gardener.[5]

While incarcerated, Bryant was examined by court appointed psychiatrist Ian Sale, who diagnosed Bryant with Asperger syndrome. Psychiatrist Paul Mullen, hired at the request of Bryant's legal counsel, also examined Bryant. He found that Bryant was socially and intellectually impaired, but did not display signs of schizophrenia or a mood disorder. Mullen disagreed with Sale's analysis of Bryant; Sale believed that Bryant showed a combination of conduct disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Asperger syndrome. Mullen concluded "Though Mr Bryant was clearly a distressed and disturbed young man he was not mentally ill." [3]


In early 1987 when Bryant was 19, he met then 54-year-old Helen Mary Elizabeth Harvey, heiress to a share in the Tattersall's lottery fortune, while looking for new customers for his lawn-mowing service. Harvey, who lived with her mother Hilva, befriended Bryant who became a regular visitor to her neglected New Town mansion, and assisted with tasks such as feeding the fourteen dogs living inside the house, and the forty cats living inside her garage.[5] In June 1990, someone reported Harvey to the health authorities, and medics found both Harvey and her mother in need of urgent hospital treatment. 79-year-old Hilva Harvey died several weeks later.[5]

A clean-up order was placed on the mansion and Bryant's father took long service leave to assist in cleaning the interior. Harvey now invited Bryant to live with her in the mansion and they began spending large amounts of money, which included the purchase of more than thirty new cars in less than three years. The couple began to spend most days shopping, usually after having lunch in a local restaurant. Around this time, Bryant was reassessed for his pension and a note was attached to the paperwork "Father protects him from any occasion which might upset him as he continually threatens violence ... Martin tells me he would like to go around shooting people. It would be unsafe to allow Martin out of his parents' control".[5]

In 1991, as a result of no longer being allowed to have animals at the house, Harvey and Bryant moved together onto a 29 hectares (72 acres) farm called Taurusville that she had purchased in Copping, Tasmania. Neighbours recalled he always carried an air gun and often fired it at tourists as they stopped to buy apples at a stall on the highway, and that late at night he would roam through the surrounding properties firing the gun at dogs when they barked at him. They avoided him "at all costs" despite his attempts to befriend them.[5]

On 20 October 1992 Harvey was killed when her car veered to the wrong side of the road and hit an oncoming car directly.[5] Bryant was inside the vehicle at the time of the accident, and was hospitalised for seven months with severe neck and back injuries. He was briefly investigated by police for the role he played in the accident, as Bryant had a habit of lunging for the steering wheel and Harvey had already had three accidents as a result. She often told people that this was the reason she never drove faster than 60 kilometres an hour (37 mph). Bryant was named the sole beneficiary of Harvey's will and came into possession of assets totalling more than $550,000. As Bryant had only the "vaguest notions" of financial matters, his mother subsequently applied for and was granted a guardianship order, placing Bryant's assets under the management of Public Trustees. The order was based on evidence of Bryant's diminished intellectual capacity.[5]

After Harvey's death, Bryant's father Maurice looked after the Copping farm. Bryant returned to the family home to convalesce after leaving hospital. His father had been prescribed antidepressants, and had discreetly transferred his joint bank account and utilities into his wife's name.[5]

Two months later, on 14 August, a visitor looking for Maurice Bryant at the Copping property found a note saying "call the police" pinned to the door and found several thousand dollars in his car. The rates officer at the time, found no reason to suspect criminal intent, and sent council members and Police, to quell the stresses put forward by letters sent to the Local Council Chambers. Police searched the property for Maurice Bryant, without success. Divers were called to search the four dams on the property. On 16 August his body was found in the dam closest to the farmhouse with one of Martin Bryant's diving weight belts around his neck. Police described the death "unnatural" and the death was ruled suicide. Bryant inherited the proceeds of his father's superannuation fund valued at $250,000. [6]

Bryant sold the Copping farm for $143,000 and kept the Hobart mansion.[3] While living at Copping, the white overalls he habitually wore were replaced with clothing more in line with Harvey's financial status. Now that he was alone his dress became more bizarre. He often wore a grey linen suit, cravat, lizard skin shoes and Panama hat while carrying a briefcase during the day, telling anyone who listened that he had a well-paying career. He often wore an electric blue suit with flared trousers and a ruffled shirt to the restaurant he frequented. The restaurant owner recalled: "It was horrible. Everyone was laughing at him, even the customers. I really felt suddenly quite sorry for him. I realised this guy didn't really have any friends."[5]

With Harvey and his father dead, Bryant became increasingly lonely. From 1993 to late 1995, he visited various overseas countries fourteen times and a summary of his domestic airline travel filled three pages. He hated the destinations he travelled to, as he found that people there avoided him just as they did in Tasmania. However he enjoyed the flights, as he could speak to the people sitting adjacent to him who had no choice but to be polite. Bryant later took great joy in describing some of the more successful conversations he had with fellow passengers.[3]

In late 1995, he became suicidal after deciding he had "had enough". He stated, "I just felt more people were against me. When I tried to be friendly toward them, they just walked away". Although he had previously been little more than a social drinker, his alcohol consumption increased and, although he had not had a drink on that day, had especially escalated in the six months prior to the massacre. Bryant's average daily consumption was estimated at half a bottle of Sambuca and a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream supplemented with Port wine and other sweet alcoholic drinks.[3] According to Bryant, he thought the plan for Port Arthur may have first occurred to him four to twelve weeks before the event.[3] [7]

Port Arthur massacre

Bryant has provided conflicting and confused accounts of what led him to kill 35 people at the Port Arthur site on 28 April 1996. It appears that it could be his desire for attention, as he allegedly told a next door neighbour, "I'll do something that will make everyone remember me," as well as mounting frustration as his social isolation had made him unbearably angry.

His first victims, David and Sally Martin, owned the bed and breakfast guest house "Seascape." The Martins had bought the B & B that Bryant's father had wanted to buy and he complained to his son about this. Bryant apparently believed the Martins had deliberately bought the property to hurt his family and blamed the Martins for the depression that led to his father's death.[3] He shot them in that guest house before traveling to the Port Arthur ruins. Bryant entered The Broad Arrow Café on the historical site's grounds, carrying a large blue duffel bag.

Once he finished eating, Bryant moved towards the back of the café and set a video camera on a vacant table. He took out a Colt AR-15 SP1 Carbine (semi-automatic rifle) and, firing from the hip, began shooting patrons and staff. Within fifteen seconds, he had fired seventeen shots, killing twelve people and wounding ten. Bryant then walked to the other side of the shop and fired 12 more times, killing another eight people while wounding two. He then changed magazines before fleeing, shooting at people in the car park and from his yellow Volvo 244 sedan as he drove away; four were killed and an additional six were injured.

Bryant drove three hundred metres down the road, to where a woman and her two children were walking. He stopped and fired two shots, killing the woman and the child she was carrying. The older child fled, but Bryant followed her and killed her with a single shot. He then stole a gold-coloured BMW by killing all four of its occupants. A short distance down the road he stopped beside a couple in a white Toyota and, drawing his weapon, ordered the male occupant into the boot of the BMW. After shutting the boot, he fired two shots into the windscreen of the Toyota, killing the female driver.

He returned to the guest house, set the stolen car alight and took his hostage inside with the Martins' corpses. The police soon arrived and tried to negotiate with Bryant for many hours before the battery in the phone he was using died, ending communication. Bryant's only demand was to be transported in an army helicopter to an airport. Sometime during the negotiations, Bryant killed his hostage.

The next morning, eighteen hours later, Bryant set fire to the guest house and attempted to escape in the confusion. Suffering burns to his back and buttocks, he was captured and taken to Royal Hobart Hospital where he was treated and kept under heavy guard.

A panorama of the Port Arthur historic site.


Bryant was judged fit to stand trial, and his trial was scheduled to begin 7 November 1996. Bryant initially pleaded not guilty, but was persuaded by his court-appointed lawyer and the prosecution to plead guilty to all charges.[4]

Two weeks later, Hobart Supreme Court Judge William Cox gave Bryant 35 life sentences for the murders plus 1035 years for other crimes, and ordered that he should remain in prison for the "rest of his life".[8]

For the first eight months of his imprisonment, he was held in a purpose-built special suicide prevention cell, in almost complete solitary confinement. He remained in protective custody for his own safety, until he was moved to a newly built detention centre ten years after his conviction.

On 13 November 2006, Bryant was moved into Hobart's Wilfred Lopes Centre,[2] a secure mental health unit run by the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services. The 35-bed unit for inmates with serious mental illness is staffed with doctors, nurses, and other support workers. Inmates are not locked down and can come and go from their cells. Exterior security at the facility is provided by a three-wall perimeter patrolled by private contract guards.

Bryant attempted suicide on 25 March 2007 by slashing his wrist with a razor blade. On 27 March he cut his throat with another razor blade and was hospitalised briefly.[9]

As of 2015, Bryant is housed in the maximum-security Risdon Prison near Hobart.[10]

Media coverage

Newspaper coverage immediately after the massacre raised serious questions about journalistic practices and criticism directed towards Australian media. Photographs of Martin Bryant had the eyes digitally manipulated with the effect of making Bryant appear deranged and "glaring".[11][12] Despite criticism, the manipulated photographs continue to be used in media reporting a decade later. There were also questions as to how the photographs had been obtained. The Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions warned the media that the reporting compromised a fair trial and writs were issued against the Hobart Mercury (which used Bryant's picture under the headline "This is the man"), The Australian, The Age and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over their coverage. The chairman of the Australian Press Council at the time, David Flint, argued that because Australian newspapers regularly ignored contempt-of-court provisions, this showed that the law, not the newspapers, needed change. Flint suggested that such a change in the law would not necessarily lead to trial by media.[13] The Australian broadsheet media also came under critical scrutiny of its accounts of Bryant and how the kind of identity responsible for his and other similar kinds of killing might be understood.[14]

Political aftermath

As a response to the spree killing, Australian State and Territory governments placed certain restrictions on semi-automatic centre-fire rifles, repeating shotguns (holding more than 5 shots) and high-capacity rifle magazines. In addition to this, limitations were also put into place on low-capacity repeating shotguns and rim-fire semi-automatic rifles. The Tasmanian state government attempted to ignore this directive but was threatened with a number of penalties from the federal government. Though this resulted in stirring controversy, opposition to the new laws was overcome by media reporting of the massacre and mounting public opinion in the wake of the shootings (see Gun politics in Australia for more information on the 1996 legislation).

In popular culture

In March 2012, Sydney artist Rodney Pople controversially won the $35,000 Glover Prize for his landscape painting depicting Port Arthur with Bryant in the foreground holding a firearm.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Wainwright, Robert; Totaro, Paola (27 April 2009). "A dangerous mind: what turned Martin Bryant into a mass murderer?".  
  2. ^ a b Robert Wainwright & Paola Totaro, Born or Bred?, Chapter 33 – Behind Bars, p. 267
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Mullen, Paul E (4 May 1996). "Psychiatric Report Martin Bryant". Victorian Forensic Psychiatry Services. Retrieved 15 August 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "Shedding light on Port Arthur killer". The Age (Melbourne). 29 March 2006. Retrieved 8 December 2008. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wainwright, Robert; Totaro, Paola (27 April 2009). "A dangerous mind: what turned Martin Bryant into a mass murderer?".  
  6. ^ Greenwood, Kerry (2000). On murder: true crime writing in Australia. Pg 12:  
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Managing Martin: The Jailing of Martin Bryant".  
  9. ^ Razor blade used in second Bryant suicide attempt ABC News 27 March 2007
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Australian Studies in Journalism" (5). Department of Journalism, University of Queensland. 1996. p. 296. 
  12. ^ Smith, Anna; Wevers, Lydia, ed. (2004). On Display: New Essays in Cultural Studies. Victoria University Press. p. 139.  
  13. ^ "The University of Queensland, Australia" (PDF). Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  14. ^ Rapley, M., McCarthy, D., and McHoul, A. (2003), British Journal of Social Psychology, Br J Soc Psychol. 2003 Sep;42(Pt 3), pp.427-44.
  15. ^ "Mass murderer Martin Bryant features in Tasmanian Glover Prize winning portrait".  

External links

  • News Story:Port Arthur Massacre 1996 – Part 1 of 2 on YouTube
  • News Story:Port Arthur Massacre 1996 – Part 2 of 2 on YouTube
  • "Managing Martin: the Jailing of Martin Bryant". Radio National. 16 March 1997. Archived from the original on 10 November 1999. 
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