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Episodes in the history of the Hobart Gaol, c. 1910-1955


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Graham, P. J 1993 , 'Episodes in the history of the Hobart Gaol, c. 1910-1955', Unspecified thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The old Hobart Gaol's history spans some one hundred and fifty years:
from 1813 to 1963 when the last female inmates were transferred to the current
Risdon Prison. During that time, its development as a gaol complex was
haphazard and unplanned in the long term.
The oldest part, portion of the House of Correction (H.C. Building)
was originally erected not as a gaol, but as a Prisoners' Barracks or
Penitentiary. The gaol proper, was in Murray Street opposite the Court
House. The latter, "a miserable, small, ill-constructed brick building" was
used by prisoners awaiting trial across the road at the Supreme Court or for
those awaiting execution. The gibbet was so placed that it protruded above the
10 ft. high wall which ran around the gaol. Between 1824 and 1839, there
were 302 people executed here, sometimes up to nine at a time. The gaol
doubled as a Female Factory for female offenders up to 1827 when Thomas
Lowe's Distillery at South Hobart was purchased and converted into a Female
House of Correction. The Murray Street Gaol continued to be Hobart's Gaol
until 1 January 1857, when the Campbell Street Penitentiary was proclaimed a
Gaol and House of Correction.
Additions and extensive alterations always needed to be made but these
were done on an "ad hoc" basis. At Campbell Street, a new barrack for the
accommodation of male prisoners was needed and in 1821, Governor Lachlan
Macquarie was able to report that a "commodious" building was nearing
completion. This would house up to 300 male convicts. However, this
"barrack" was not intended as a gaol, but as a holding station for male convicts
arriving from England by ship and waiting for assignment. It was also used by
the government to accommodate public works gangs and loan gangs who had
to sleep there at night.
Further alterations were needed five years later. In 1826, a committee
consisting of the Colonial Architect, the Superintendent of Public Works, the
Superintendent of the Barracks and the Principal Superintendent of Convicts
reported that another barrack was needed "at the further wing, fronting the gate and extending in a line to the Superintendent's quarters." This would
accommodate another 640 men primarily engaged in public works.
Internal alterations were also needed. In 1827, the Principal
Superintendent reported that a further twenty to twenty four cells and a lock up
room for country convicted persons was needed. From these statistics, it can
be deduced that the Barracks were no longer being used simply as sleeping
quarters for convicts. The need for more convict cells was all the more urgent
as the Female Factory had still not opened to take female offenders from
Murray Street. By 1841 approval had been given for the construction of 33
new cells. The numbers of men held in the Barracks and the House of
Correction was nearly 1000. Further alterations in 1859 cost £1750.
Having a gaol situated within the city boundaries was not unknown,
but where a city had been planned, such as Hobart was, questions concerning
its placement and reasons for its construction, need to be asked. There are
several reasons: firstly, the unpredictable but obvious development of Hobart
from a prison colony to a flourishing free colony very soon placed the site of
the Campbell Street Gaol in the middle of an expanding metropolis: Sprent's
map of 1841 shows the Gaol no longer discretely at the village of Hobart
Town but very much in the middle of town. Even by 1839, the town boundary
had been pushed as far north as Burnett Street and the village of New
Town, further out, had many "tasteful" residences of "the wealthier merchants,
government officers and professional men." The bureaucracy could not have
predicted nor even imagined the objections by the turn of the century that the
Gaol had become "an eyesore", a constant reminder to the citizens of their
convict past, and, with the frequent escapes of the inmates, a danger to
themselves. A second theme which runs in the background of this study of the
Hobart Gaol, is the nineteenth century view of penology: Reformers believed,
by the end of that century, that gaols should be quite separate institutions to the
Houses of Correction. The Penitentiary in Campbell Street had been set up
after 1857 with the idea that time there should be thoroughly unpleasant, with
"hard labour", "possibly on a treadmill." In addition to hard labour,
reformation of the individual through "religious education and moral training" was necessary. Selected prisoners could serve their sentence in
these carefully controlled conditions and ideally be returned to society,
reformed individuals. By the end of the century, the treadmill concept had been
replaced by a trade: bootmaking, carpentry, blacksmithing. Borstal prisons
were set up to take in adolescent offenders in the hope that by concentrating on
their special needs, psychological and physical, they too could be rehabilitated
and returned to society. On the other hand, there were the criminals. The nineteenth century
view of these can clearly be seen in the 1883 Report on Penal Discipline in
Tasmania. Their treatment, no matter what the term of their sentence in gaol,
included solitary confinement, single cells and exclusion from human contact
except at work and in exercise yard.

Item Type: Thesis - Unspecified
Authors/Creators:Graham, P. J
Keywords: Hobart Gaol, Prisons
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1993 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (M. Hum.)--University of Tasmania, 1994. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 74-80)

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