The Gaol's History

Experience the Old Melbourne Gaol.

Old Melbourne Gaol dome.

 

When the Old Melbourne Gaol as built in the mid-1800s, it dominated the Melbourne skyline as a symbol of authority.

Inside the Gaol, dangerous criminals were held alongside petty offenders, the homeless and the mentally ill.

Between 1842 and its closure in 1929 the gaol was the scene of 133 hangings including Australia's most infamous citizen, the bushranger Ned Kelly.

Today you can visit the Old Melbourne Gaol to find out was life was like for the men and women who lived and died here all those years ago.

Visit the Old Melbourne Gaol.

Visitors on the first floor walkway.

 

1839–40

 

First Melbourne Gaol was built in Collins Street West, but more space was needed.

     

1841–44

 

Second Gaol was built, adjoining the then Supreme Court at the corner of Russell and La Trobe Streets, but this was demolished early in the 20th Century when the Magistrate's Court complex was built.

     

1852–54

 

A new wing (stage one of the third gaol) was built. It was bluestone rather than sandstone, and had its own perimeter wall.

The new design was based on the designs of the British prison engineer Joshua Jebb, particularly the Pentonville Model Prison in London. The building was a model prison and based on the current prison reform theories of the day. In spite of the building and extension work, the Gaol was consistently overcrowded.

     

1857–59

 

Gaol and boundary walls extended.

     

1860

 

Present north wing—entrance buildings, central hall and chapel was begun.

17 gaolers' houses built on Swanston Street.

     

1862–64

 

Western cell block, virtually a replica of the present east block, was built to house female prisoners.

     

1864

 

Perimeter wall finally completed.

West wing extended into what is now the RMIT site (since demolished).

Hospital was built in one of the yards.

     

1870

 

Review of the penal system recommended that the gaol be closed and the prisoners be moved to a more 'suitable' location.

     

1880–1924

 

The Gaol was slowly rundown and portions of the original site demolished.

     

1929

 

The Gaol was finally closed.

     
   

Reopened briefly during the Second World War as a military prison for Australian soldiers who were Absent Without Leave (AWOL). Later used as a storage depot for the Victorian Police force.

     

1972

 

National Trust of Australia (Victoria) began management of the Old Melbourne Gaol as a tourist attraction. The National Trust is Australia's largest community conservation organisation: its aim to conserve Australia's heritage for future generations.