I am a amateur freelance writer from Sydney. My passion is Aboriginal history, Australia and its unusual places. My aim is to share my knowledge to better your experience. Thank you
Published February 19th 2014
Gallows, padded cells, escapes, at Old Dubbo Gaol
Dubbo Gaol, or Old Dubbo Gaol as it's known today, was a very harsh, inhospitable prison. When you arrive the alley way alone gives you a glimpse of what you are about to embark on. You'll get a taste of the grueling conditions, the barbaric life and constant escape attempts of the prisoners.
In 1859 Dubbo Gaol was recognised as an official gaol. The original Dubbo Gaol was a mere single hut with 1 room and 2 cells including a portable lock up box cell. These cells were transported from the outback regions by horse and cart to the gaol, with the prisoner already imprisoned. Construction of the new gaol was completed in 1871, consisting of 4 cells and a bedroom for the gaol officer. In 1874 Dubbo was considered a circuit court, housing serious offenders and those sentenced to death by the hangman's noose.
A portable cell similar to this was used to transport Ned Kelly
What we see today is a replica of the gaol in 1887. During this tour, you will not only feel the pain and torment, but sometimes you may feel the presence of a past prisoner attempting to tell their story. Dubbo Gaol has kept it as real as possible and it certainly makes you think how lucky we are. Never in our lifetime will we endure those conditions inflicted upon prisoners in those times. Upon entry the children may purchase a Super Sleuth package. With this they must follow the clues and decode a message to receive a certificate and badge at the conclusion of your visit.
Many pathways in the 1800s were created from wooden blocks placed on their ends. George, King and Pitt Streets in Sydney used this form of paving, as it was inexpensive and wood was a plentiful source. This method has been used here, too. Horses' hoofs and footsteps were dulled by the wooden blocks, allowing prisoners to enter the gaol with little attention. The entrance pathway holds many of the original block ends made by the prisoners.
My son in The Stocks, all fun till he read the notice
Starting the self guided tour and having a Super Sleuth with me, the Infirmary Block was our first point of call. The Infirmary was added when Dubbo Gaol grew to more a permanent and independent institution. Looking up, you will see the bars in the chimney to stop escapes. The original block had a cook house, dispensary, hospital, bathroom and surgery. In the hospital plans it shows a bath in the centre of the room, that was used for the hospital and prisoners every couple of days.
In 1934 the officers' day quarters, tool room and clothing room were created. There is a corridor linking the kitchen to the workrooms. During the construction of the additions the original well was discovered. During the discovery an inmate nearly fell into the almost 10 metres deep well.
The kitchen was run by 1 or 2 prisoners. If an inmate was in for hard labour, they got a larger meal of hulled and dry kernels of boiled corn. Extreme temperatures, extreme conditions, and nothing but gruelling labour awaited these inmates on a daily basis. The infirmary has displays of medicinal equipment, a dock and a holographic style video, recounting the life of certain prisoners and of the ghosts that may walk the grounds. In the hallway are the batons, leg irons and clothing made and used at the gaol. Heading out the exterior corridor walkway we went to the male cells. While walking the corridor, please take note of the walls that were hand picked by the prisoners.
In the male cell block we went into solitary confinement. For a harsh punishment some prisoners were in solitary for up to 21 days at a time, being allowed out for 1 good meal every 7 days and then straight back into their world of eerie, nothingness and silence. The prisoners would rip their buttons off their shirts and throw them against the dark cell walls, spending the next few hours trying to find the button and then repeating this endlessly all day long. This was the only thing that kept them sane. Solitary in this manner was no longer used from 1895, when authorities realised the psychological effects on prisoners.
Something got my son's attention in solitary confinement
They say there are spirits and ghost in these grounds. I was never a believer, but I'm sure when we were in one of the cells we felt something eerie. My camera didn't want to work in this section of the gaol. They say to just take numerous photos with a flash, if this occurs, so we did.
Imagine the fear that would go through a prisoner's mind on the arrival of the hangman's kit. The hangman's kit would travel from Darlinghurst Gaol in a large black trunk, by horse and cart. The kit came complete ready for a hanging, consisting of ropes of different lengths to accommodate different size prisoners, block and tackle and weights for the gallows trap door. It was not on display the day we visited as Sydney has it on loan. There are very few complete kits still in existence today.
There is a locked cell locked and inside are replicas of the Geyer brothers, who in 1958 attempted to escape by burning the ceiling. Unfortunately for the Geyer brothers the smoke of the roof burning sealed their fate. They were sent to solitary confinement for their actions.
Hear the story of Thomas Newman, who in 1887 was the first and oldest man hanged at Dubbo Gaol, sentenced for a brutal murder. Condemned prisoners could await their hanging for up to 2 months in the condemned cell. A guard watched the prisoner 24 hours and the prisoner was chained to the cell with only 1 hour exercise.
The youngest prisoner hanged was Harold Dutton Mallallieu who was 19 years old when he was hanged in 1891. Those hanged are buried within the grounds in an unknown location. There were 7 other hangings. Thomas Keneally's wrote a book, "The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith", based on the life of Jacky Underwood, one of the leaders in the Breelong Massacre of Gillandra.
There are a couple of cells that you can enter. One of the cells displays sentence records of the inmates held at Dubbo Gaol. Sentences ranged from 6 months hard labour for idle and disorderly behaviour to 12 months hard labour for stealing sheep. This room is a fascinating read and the part of the Super Sleuth for children.
The cells consisted of flat wooden boards. During the hot summer months they got 2 blankets and in extreme winter months, they got 3 and slept in hammocks as the floor sometimes was known to freeze. The padded cell is the largest in the male cell block. Many orbs could also be seen on my photos from this cell.
The female cells are separate and out the back near the watchtower and had a separate exercise yard and bathroom. This is where female prisoners would wash, iron and mend items for Dubbo Base Hospital and the gaol. One prisoner was known as the Old Grey Mare . Nothing about her life is known except she was the oldest female prisoner and is buried alongside those hanged. Many female prisoners were charged with neglecting their children. There were only 2 cells in the female block.
Old Dubbo Gaol had many escape attempts, including the Geyer brothers. There was a female prisoner who broke her ankle when she fell from the drainpipe. The most daring escape attempt on record was the prisoner who managed to climb over 3 rooftops to jump the wall of the gaol. The conditions here were so harsh and punishment considered unbearable, that escape attempts were not uncommon. Dubbo Gaol has placed escapees around the grounds for the Super Sleuths to discover.
Southern gates with a constable sitting on a barrel with a prisoner inside