Friday, December 28

In Adelaide Gaol

It is something that is indelibly marked in my memory – the Adelaide Gaol, which came into view as the train to school was a short distance from  the Adelaide Railway Station.  We would look out the window at the austere building, and see the prisoners working on the prison vegetable garden.  As little children we all knew that this is where one ended up if we broke the law, so it was rather unsettling to see it.  We would be locked up away from friends and family for our bad behaviour, and we were in fear of ending up there.

The Entrance to Adelaide Gaol


Even in the past years as I caught a train to the city one could look out the window and see the now unused gaol.  I learned that it was now open to the public, so decided to visit.

The state was settled in 1836, with the good ship Buffalo, with some of my ancestors on board arrived at Glenelg.  South Australia was a ‘free colony’,  not settled by convicts from England, as other states were, and history says that they had initially believed that they would not need a prison, but within a short time, it was clear that not everyone was going to obey the laws.  Initially the ship that brought the new settlers to Adelaide was used as a prison ship, but it was recalled to England, and prisoners were chained to logs preventing them from escaping.  There were other temporary prison, before the Adelaide Gaol was built close to the city, in 1841.  It was a working gaol until 1988.

Much of it is as it was when it was closed, and now a wonderful band of volunteers and others work to preserve this amazing piece of history and show the public around.  The Gaol is open Sunday to Friday (except public holidays), and one can do a self guided tour – they give you a few pages of laminated information, and there are plenty of information boards and notes around, and you can follow the directions through all areas of the gaol.  Some of the cells and other rooms are not open, but there is more than enough to keep one fascinated about the place.

Some of the things that  particularly interested me, are the stories about the women who were there, and in particular, the story of the only woman to be hanged in South Australia.  Elizabeth Woolcock apparently poisoned her husband, and was hanged inside the gaol on portable gallows in 1873.

I spent some time in the Hanging Tower, which was used between 1953 and 1964.  It was a weird feeling sitting in the tower, reflecting    the lives cut short in that place.  When one was hanged, their bodies were buried within the gaol compound, and one can walk around and see the markings that indicate where the prisoners were buried. The stone work of South Australia has really impacted on me this time – and I marvelled at the amazing work of the stone masons who worked on the gaol wall.

There is so much to see, read and understand at the Gaol and is well worth a trip.  It is within walking distance from the city of Adelaide.

The Adelaide Gaol brochure states "The Adelaide Gaol is one of South Australia's oldest public buildings.  It operated continuously from 1841 to 1988 and is now a significant State Heritage Place entered in the South Australian Heritage Register."

It is at 18 Gaol Road, Thebarton.

Visit the Website.  Adelaide Gaol. 

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