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Published April 30th 2016
History, crime, ghosts and fun
I have now been on many of the tours run by Ghost Crime Tours and when they recently announced that they were going to be starting tours of the Old Adelaide Gaol I was really keen to go. The quality of the tours run by this company and their professionalism is outstanding and I'm always keen to jump on board for new experiences with them.
I previously visited the Old Adelaide Gaol with my family in 2007, when the tours were run by volunteers of the Adelaide Gaol Preservation Society Inc. On that occasion my son did experience a ghostly encounter in the new building which was constructed in 1878-1979 and needed to leave the building during the tour. The guide at the time explained to us that children are often affected by the negative and very emotional atmosphere of that particular building.
The gaol is one of the two oldest buildings in Adelaide and commenced construction in around 1840 following an earlier decision that Adelaide didn't need a gaol. It was considered that free settlers were of good character and unlikely to undertake any activity necessitating them being held for a crime. When this eventuality did occur, the first prisoners were held on the HMS Buffalo and later (1838) a small temporary gaol was built. The decision to build a full scale gaol was the vision of Governor Gawler and the design was undertaken by George Strickland Kingston based on Pentonville Prison in the UK. Over time, as the need arose, additions and modifications were made.
The tour by Ghost Crime Tours commences at the front of the gaol in the sally port where you will be advised of the rules of tour. Many of these are for your own safety and the comfort of others as it will go dark during your tour. Over the next couple of hours you will meander amongst the buildings, and will be provided with information about the gaol and told stories about its inhabitants both staff and inmates.
You will hear the story of Elizabeth Woolcock, the only woman to ever be hanged in Old Adelaide Gaol. It is commonly believed that her punishment for the murder of her husband was unfair, due to her harsh life and upbringing. Mercy was recommended by the jury who returned the verdict in just half an hour due to her youth, but was ignored and she hanged in 1873. You will also hear about Gaol Governor, William Baker Ashton, along with John Balaban and Glen Valance amongst many others. In total there were 45 executions conducted in the Gaol. Their bodies are buried in various locations around the Gaol with their initials and date of death being marked on the walls nearby. Look out for the grave of Elizabeth Woolcock and those of the believed to be falsely accused men mentioned in my review of the Kapunda Ghost Crime Tour.
You will be offered the opportunity to lock yourself in a cell and listen quietly for the sounds of the current inhabitants. I used my phone to try to capture any possible ghostly sounds, however when I went to listen to the recording some days later it was no longer there. Draw your own conclusions!
Many displays are to be found throughout the gaol including one of a typical cell, the padded cells, and a mockup of an execution using manikins.
There is also a great museum with interactive displays. You can lock yourself in irons and feel the weight around your ankles, and gaze upon the various items and artefacts which are on display and which give you some concept of the Gaol's working life. There are uniforms, contraband, weapons and items used for punishing the prisoners.
It has also recently been discovered that the site was used during early settlement as a camp site. An archaeological site which is open to the public, has been established and much is being discovered about the site prior to the Gaol's establishment.
As you leave the gaol you will be given the opportunity to ring the bell. The ringing of the bell occurred at the start of each new day during operation of the gaol, however the ceremonial ringing of the bell as we leave the tour felt like we were letting the ghosts know that we were leaving.
Tours can be booked through the Ghost Crime Tours website and cost $35 per person. I can highly recommend this company, on every occasion I have toured with them the tours have been informative and fun. Ghost Crime Tours also do a Paranormal Lockin at the gaol for the braver ones amongst us. Lockins are $65, commence at 8.45 pm and run for approximately 3 hours.
If you are not up to a ghost tour, the Old Adelaide Gaol website provides other options. There are Twilight Tours for those not up to the possibility of encountering a ghost or those under 16 years of age. These tours run for about 90 minutes, cost $20 per adult and $14 per child and exclude some of the more grisly stories. There is a general history tour which can be undertaken during the day or evening and costs $20 per adult and $14 per child under 12. Finally, there is a Paranormal Investigation/Workshop which runs for about 4 hours and can be tailored to suit your requirements. Cost is $95.
There is also a significant amount of information about the gaol, tours and visits on the SA Government's Adelaide Goal website.
Whether or not you believe, the Gaol provides some an amazing array of information and insight into Adelaide's history and the people on which this wonderful state is built. It is one of those places that has left me wanting more.