29 October, 2012

...and they went down to the River Barwon...

Whilst researching my recent posts on Geelong's criminal classes, I came across an article which made reference to a visit to Geelong by the English evangelist John Wroe.
Wroe was the founder of the Christian Israelite Church which he established in England in the 1820s after recovering from a serious illness. Claiming to have visions, he gave up his farming life and took to preaching and prophesying. Initially he joined a sect which had been established by the prophetess Johanna Southcott, soon convincing them that he should lead them and that he was the new messiah.
Wroe must have been a seriously convincing speaker as he is described as a small man with a slight stoop, piercing eyes and scruffy appearance.
Backed by a variety of wealthy merchants, they built a temple and a large house for Wroe and developed strict codes of conduct. Diet and clothing even down to jewellery were dictated and conventional medical care was not allowed. Shaving was forbidden as was the graven image. They believed that the ten scattered tribes of Israel would be reunited at the second coming of Christ and followed the teachings of both the Old and New Testaments, observing both the Jewish and Christian sabbath, attending divine service on both Friday and Sunday evening. Only through complete compliance with Christ's laws could followers expect resurrection.

The only known depiction of the prophet John Wroe
In establishing his mission, Wroe underwent public circumcision and dictated the same for all his male followers. He further decreed that seven virgins should be chosen from amongst his followers to accompany him on his missionary journeys and there were suggestions made by his critics that there was a definite sexual element to his religious practises. Perhaps not surprisingly, support for Wroe's movement waned somewhat when two of the "virgins" were rumoured to have fallen pregnant in 1830.
He was forced to move away from his base at Ashton-Under-Lyne and there was a riot when he attempt to return to his home town of Bradford. Finally he settled at Wakefield where his followers built Melbourne Hall for him. From this base, he concentrated his efforts on spreading the word further afield, travelling to parts of Europe before making his way to the US and Australia.
 He first preached in Sydney and surrounds in 1847, but returned a few years later in September, 1850, arriving on the ship Digby. By this time, the Israelite movement was well established in Australia (indeed this was the strongest branch of the sect and still exists in Sydney and Melbourne to the present day) and Geelong was no exception. A report taken from the Geelong Advertiser noted that during his visit in 1850, Wroe addressed a local gathering of followers at their temporary chapel in "Welsh's old store" which as far as I can tell was possibly located in Corio Street roughly opposite where the Scottish Chiefs now stands.
Wroe was accompanied by followers from Melbourne and local leaders from Geelong addressed the throng which had gathered to hear him preach. So well attended was the gathering that "a great many were obliged to go away".
It was soon after on 9th December, that the foundation stone of a more permanent chapel was laid in Spring Street, Geelong West, close I gather to the corner of LaTrobe Tce.
Christian Israelite Sanctuary, Spring St Geelong West. Image held by the
Geelong Historical Records Centre
 So, the connection between the Christian Israelites and the Barwon River?
Well it was probably during his 1850 visit to Geelong that the following sequence of events (described the in the Horsham Times Friday of 5th August, 1904) were alleged to have occurred.
[NB: as can bee seen from the comments below, a letter debunking the following article is alleged to have been in circulation at the same time. I can find the 1918 reference to this letter, but not at this stage, the allegedly published letter.]

The commotion occasioned by the public utterances of the Rev. J.A. Dowie has recalled to the minds of many old Victorians the sensation that occurred many years ago in connection with the visit to Port Phillip of John Roe, the leader of the Israelite movement, the followers of which were commonly known as the "Bearded Prophets," whose headquarters were in England. Following upon the gold discoveries a band of these reformers came from the old country, and settled in Melbourne and Geelong. They were peculiar in their dress, inasmuch as the men allowed hair to grow to great length, which they then plaited and rolled round their heads as the Chinese do with their "pig-tails." Their head-wear usually consisted of "belltoppers" composed of white silk, but the hats were not so high as those worn by other folk. The rims of the hats had an all round width of 5 inches. The women belonging to the sect appeared in public with "poke bonnets" of a style that was fashionable in the days of Queen Elizabeth. When intimation was given of the intended visit of John Roe great preparations were made for conducting services in various parts of the colony, and it was stated that the prophet would perform a number of miracle and indicate that he was an inspired man such as St. Paul or any other of the apostles. Geelong was selected as the centre of a great public demonstration in connection with the visit of John Roe, who, it was promised, would imitate Christ by walking across the Barwon River. A Sunday afternoon was selected for the performance of this miraculous felt(sic). As the hour of 3 o'clock approached thousands of persons assembled on the banks of the river to await the arrival of Roe and his band of long-bearded followers. In due time they hove in sight, and when they marched to the northern bank of the Barwon near the bridge leading on to the
Colac road [this was the Barwon Bridge at the bottom of Moorabool Street] loud cheers were given, followed by cries of "Bravo, John Roe." Great excitement prevailed as the prophet divested himself of his outer garments and approached the water's edge preparatory to trying to walk across the stream to the north bank. At this point the river has a depth of about 60 feet, but nothing daunted the prophet Roe pulled off his Wellington boots, and then performed a number of movements similar to those of a person dancing a sailor's hornpipe. The assemblage viewed this performance for several minutes, and finally there were loud cries of "Walk across, John." One of the henchmen of the miracle worker responded by saying "He has not yet got the spirit to work;" and then Roe danced another fandango, to the great amusement of the assembled thousands. Finally he placed one foot in the water, and after a deal of splashing brought it back to dry land, and then placed the other foot in the stream also subsequently withdrawing it. Roars of laughter followed, and then the prophet turning to the throng exclaimed: - "Brethren, I cannot walk across the river to-day, because I have temporarily lost the faith, but next Sabbath, D.V., I will pass over the water to the opposite side." On hearing this announcement the people rushed the prophet and his party, and assailed them with sods and other soft missiles. The followers of Roe hurriedly picking up their paraphernalia, hastened towards the township, followed by by the crowd, which included gold-diggers from Ballarat, shepherds from the surrounding stations, sailors from the ships in the bay, and about 200 aboriginals from neighbouring mia-mias. Accompanying the blackfellows were about 50 dogs, which joined in the uproar by loud barking. During the stampede into Geelong a number of persons were knocked down and trampled under foot, and it was not until Chief Constable Carman and Constable Collins - a notoriety in the police force of those early days, and who afterwards distinguished himself in connection with the pursuit of the outlaw, Captain Melville -  assisted by a strong body of mounted men, arrived on the scene that order was restored, and John Roe and his followers were escorted to a place of safety. On the departure of the "prophet" for other fields, his adherents organised for the carrying on of the work originated by him, and at one time their community numbered about 200. The leaders of the movement preached for many years on the Geelong wharves, and they also held public gatherings on the Eastern Beach, in the Market Square, and Botanic Gardens. They built a sanctuary in the early fifties in Spring Street, Geelong West, and the structure still exists in that thoroughfare but it is not now utilised for "worship." The community as a sect is extinct, for as the enthusiasm died out its members joined with other denominations in the conduct of service on more modern lines. Mr. John Stoneham, one of the most respected citizens of Geelong, a gentleman who was noted for his philanthropy and general charity among all classes, was a leading spirit in this movement, to which he remained up to the time of his death. He conducted a temperance boarding-house on a hill-top near the Yarra Street pier, and proved himself a friend to needy immigrants arriving from the old country.

An 1850 engraving of the Barwon Bridge looking north west to the site where
Wroe attempted his miracle. Engraving by Ham Brothers Engravers.
Image held by the Victoian State Library
It seems that the expectation or perhaps just the hype around the event was quite high, as a crowd of thousands would have accounted for a significant proportion of Geelong's population (even allowing for those who came in from outlying areas) which in pre-Gold Rush 1851, stood at just 8,000 people.
Clearly the good citizens of Geelong and surrounds did not suffer fools gladly and were less than impressed when the promised miracle was not forthcoming. Despite this early setback, the Christian Israelites flourished in Geelong until 1873 and were known colloquially as "bearded-prophets" or simply as "Beardies". A second, probably less high-profile visit took place in 1853 which seems to have gone unnoticed in the media. However the sect was not without its critics and did from time to time rate a mention in the newspapers. Most notably in 1863 there was unrest when "Beardies" clashed with citizens - in particular one Allan Stewart - who found their teachings and writings blasphemous and obscene. Words were exchanged and a few hats squashed, but violence was avoided.
Wroe paid a return visit to Geelong, arriving on the Shalimar in 1862 as an elderly man of about 80. According to the Ballarat Star of 29th November, he was "attended by a short-hand writer, who takes down the precious doctrine that falls from his lips." Lips however, which were soon to be silenced as the prophet died at the Christian Israelite Sanctuary in Fitzroy on 5th February the following year.
From 1873 however, there were no new converts and their numbers declined until 1918 when the chapel was demolished and remaining worshipers either dispersed or attended the sanctuary in Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne which is still in use by the sect today.

27 October, 2012

Jail break!

As I alluded to in my post A model prison there were numerous escape attempts at the Geelong Gaol over the years, several of which were at least for a time, successful. One of the most daring - and which conveniently had at least a little relevance to the Barwon - happened at 1:30am on Tuesday 8th October, 1889 when Frederick "Josh" Clark and Christopher "Christie" Farrell made their getaway. This was no spur of the moment decision, but an escape which was months, possibly years in the planning. Both men had arrived in Tasmania as convicts under the old transportation system and with the arrival of the gold rush had made their way to Victoria where both are separately documented as preying upon those returning from the gold fields. By 1889 both were recidivist criminals with extensive records. Farrell was over 60 and Clark was of a similar age. By 1888, both men were serving 14 year sentences in Pentridge Gaol in Melbourne - Farrell for the attempted murder of a police officer during his arrest at Fitzroy in 1887.
Through what the media of the day referred to as "systematic malingering" both prisoners had convinced authorities that they were frail enough to warrant transferring them to Geelong Gaol which at that time was being used as a hospital facility for aged and infirm prisoners. Once there, the pair appeared to behave in an exemplary fashion for some months with Clark working in the blacksmith's shop and neither attracting any untoward attention. Until that was, they made their bid for freedom.
The west wing, ground floor. Farrell's cell was at the far end, second from the left.
Clark's was third from the end on the right
In the early hours of the morning, with only two warders on duty and only one of those on watch, Clark called out to Warder Cain that he needed a drink of water. Cain brought the requested water and passed it through the bars to Clark who occupied cell 13. As he did so, he was grabbed from behind by Farrell who had escaped from his cell - number 7 - which stood almost directly across the hall. Clarke quickly emerged from his cell then Cain was pushed inside and restrained. They then took the warder to the cook's room where they left him gagged and bound to a bed, awaiting discovery by his sleeping workmate and the morning shift.

Cell 13 from which Josh Clark escaped. Without the iron bar
across the trapdoor it is easy enough to reach the exterior lock
Authorities later suspected that a key had been passed to Clark from outside - possibly via his window - or as suggested by the media, Clark himself may have produced the key during his time in the smithy in anticipation of their escape.* When the opportunity arose, he called the warder, then whilst Cain was getting the requested water, Clark secured his own release by the simple expedient of opening the trapdoor in his cell's main door, reaching through and using the key on the lock. Once free he quickly unlocked Farrell's cell before returning to his own and waiting for Cain to return.
Christie Farrell occupied cell 7 at the time of the escape
In any case, with the warder out of the way, the pair headed for what the papers described as a partially completed wing (presumably some renovations or an extension were underway but I can find no mention of such). There, they climbed an unfinished wall and made their escape and despite the feverish attempts of the police to recapture the pair, it seems that Farrell and Clark managed to slip through the net of those searching for them.
However, whilst their escape from the gaol had been planned in detail, neither seemed too sure of what to do next - or that is what Farrell wanted the police to think. Realising that every road out of town was being closely watched they travelled by night and hid during daylight. Not having been free in the town for the last 36 years, Farrell later stated he struggled to gain his bearings, but by daylight, they found the Barwon and followed its bank. They struggled up and down hills and stayed out of sight - not an easy task if the photos below are an accurate depiction. At some point they decided to head for Ballarat.

The view from Queen's Park in 1880
 There is no mention of exactly how far they followed the river, but it would be reasonable to assume that they stayed on the north bank at least as far as Fyansford as this was the easiest point to cross the Moorabool and leave the district in the direction of their intended travel. However, progress was slow and by Wednesday evening they were still near Geelong.

Near Queen's Park, 1882. It is easy to see why the escapees felt they travelled
constantly up and down hill
Prior to Clark's recapture but after his own, Farrell claimed to have left Clark at this time on the Barwon Flats "in a moribund state" and headed to Ballarat alone to look for some old mates. (As far as I can ascertain, the Barwon Flats were the low-lying area of land near today's Moorabool Street Bridge and including Belmont Common and surrounds).
Meanwhile, the search for the pair continued unsuccessfully throughout the rest of the week, despite reported sightings. Information concerning a pair of suspicious travellers at Meredith on the 13th October, proved false when the "suspicious looking men" reported to police were found to be "a pair of Indian hawkers".
However things were not quite as Farrell would later have had the authorities believe. Clark was anything but moribund and had not been left on the banks of the Barwon gasping his last. In truth, the pair had travelled as far as Buninyong together, presumably living rough and avoiding the main road. At this point, they had a falling out over the fact that Farrell refused to exchange his prison clothing for less incriminating civilian attire - a decision which was ultimately responsible for his downfall. Understandably, he did not have a change of clothes available and was reluctant to draw attention to their whereabouts by stealing some as suggested by Clark.
A depiction of the well-known bushranger Harry Power in 1880. This prison
uniform would be similar to that worn by Clark and Farrell. Note the
button-up legs for ease of use when in irons and the arrow
stamp on the leg with the letters P and D, marking the wearer as a felon
As a result they went their separate ways, Farrell to Lake Wendouree to look for his old mates and Clark to Ballarat where he was given food by an ex-prison mate who worked in a bakery. Still not trusting Farrell, Clark made haste to get out of the district and headed north west out of town.
Farrell meanwhile, discovered that his mates had moved on in the 12 years since he had last seen them and like Geelong, found Ballarat much changed. His next move was to head for New South Wales. His first attempt to locate the road which would take him towards the border in fact saw him heading back towards Geelong! Realising his mistake, he returned to Lake Wendouree hoping to pick up the correct road and to get back into the bush. At this point he was soaking wet from recent rain and had not eaten in four days being, he later claimed, too proud to beg and not into petty theft.
Regardless of their intentions, neither man remained at large for long. Farrell was the first to be recaptured at Lake Wendouree on that morning of 16th October. As he tried to make his way out of town, two young men saw him and became suspicious. He had found an old overcoat but was still wearing his uniform. He had attempted to disguise his pants by covering the broad arrow insignia with cloth. In the end, it was the distinctive cabbage tree hat marking him as a prisoner which gave him away.
Example of a cabbage tree hat. These were made by prisoners from
palm fronds and could be sold to earn money. Worn by the working class
across the country, a black band on Farrell's hat marked him out as an
escaped prisoner.

The men quickly informed Police Constable Muldarry who approached Farrell and questioned him as to his identity. Farrell gave a false name, denied being one of the escaped prisoners and refused to accompany the constable to the station, at which point he produced a knife stolen from the gaol. Muldarry was wounded in the ensuing struggle, but with the help of the two informants was able to subdue Farrell who at the time stated: "I wish I had done for you, and then I would be hung, and then it would be all over; I am tired of my life." He was taken back into custody where he had his first meal in four days, was interviewed and returned to Geelong by train.
Farrell's statements to the contrary notwithstanding, the authorities thought it likely that Clark was also somewhere in the Ballarat area and in this they proved correct. His re-arrest however, took a further two days by which time he had travelled some 20km or so north west of Ballarat and had holed up in an unoccupied hut near Mount Boulton. Like Farrell, he was spotted by a pair of boys who felt that something was not right and, all too well aware of the reward on Clark's head, made haste to tell the authorities in the form of Mounted Constable Tobin (or Loton depending on which newspaper report you believe).
Under cover of darkness, Tobin and a young man from the locality approached the hut where the constable forced his way through the locked front door. On his own, with the young recruit slow to appear on the scene, he forced a second door and struck a match. On seeing a figure he believed to be Clark on the bed, he quickly attempted to restrain him. This resulted in a struggle during which Clark tried desperately to reach the mantle piece where he had placed the second knife from the gaol. Tobin however, managed to handcuff Clark and had subdued him before his assistant arrived on the scene. Once restrained, Clark denied he was the escaped prisoner from Geelong but was forced to admit his identity when Tobin pointed out his identifying tattoos.
He too was taken back to Geelong where both men received an extra two years on their sentences as a reward for their efforts.
A subsequent inquiry into the escape was held on 31st October, 1889 which saw the governor of the gaol reprimanded and the warders on duty demoted - this despite Farrell's saying that the warder Cain had fought like a lion and should not be punished for is failure to prevent their escape. The whole affair was a litany of lax procedures, poor maintenance and general ignorance stretching all the way to the top with the warders claiming that requests for maintenance were ignored and the governor blaming a lack of staff and worn facilities capable only of containing infirm prisoners, not dangerous criminals such as Farrell and Clark. The external walls of the gaol were not manned at all during the night and only two warders shared night duty inside the building.
In a classic case of stable doors and absconding horses, thirteen prisoners sentenced to long terms were transferred to Pentridge and the cells were immediately fitted with external metal bars which would have prevented the prisoners from opening their outward-swinging doors even if they had managed to obtain a key. In fact, Clark's cell was already fitted with an external bolt but it was not standard practise to use it.
By the time of his death in Geelong Gaol on 4th August, 1904, Clark who had arrived in Tasmania in 1847 at the age of 18, had amassed sentences equating to 85 years and 7 months and had spent more than half his life in gaol. He was 75 years old. When inside, he was generally a model prisoner. Outside he was a known sneak-thief, burglar and receiver of stolen goods. He also went by the names of Josh Clark and Joseph Clark, but was most commonly known as Josh. In 1891 whilst occupying a cell on the top floor of Geelong Gaol, Clark made one last, unsuccessful escape attempt, but was discovered when he or a cellmate dropped a brick as they were attempting to cut their way through the exterior wall.
Like Clark, Farrell was also transported to Tasmania, arriving in 1848. By 1851 he was in Victoria and had turned bushranger at which time he and the well-born Owen Suffolk (aka George Mason and known as the Convict Poet) teamed up to form the "Suffolk Gang". They held up two mail coaches including the Portland-Geelong coach which they bailed up near Bruce's Creek in May, 1851.

Depiction of Farrell and Suffolk waiting to hold up a mail coach, by GD Bruny
Of the 48 years he spent in New South Wales and Victoria, he was at liberty only for about two years in total. More than half of the years he spent in custody were served in irons. After the escape attempt in 1889 he remained in Geelong Gaol, dying at the age of 70 on 1st September, 1895. Like Clark, he also used a number of aliases including Thomas Connors, Charles Farrow and Charles Shaw, the latter being the name he gave to Constable Muldarry at the time of his arrest in Ballarat.

*In 1923 a large brass key which proved to be a master key from the era of Clark and Farrell's escape was found when grounds west of the Geelong Supreme Court were being cleared. Its rough-cut appearance suggested that it was an illegal copy and it was widely believed that this was the key used by Clark and Farrell in their escape. A version of events described in the gaol display has an elderly Clark claiming that he threw the key into the grounds on his way to court however, it seems highly unlikely that having been found in possession of such a key, Clark would have been allowed to keep it. A report in the paper a few days after his arrest indicated that he was found with a skeleton key on his person which had been cut from a penny. At the time the authorities were quick to point out that the make of the key was not such as could have been made in the gaol.
UPDATE: on 2nd September, 2016 the Geelong Indy newspaper published an article indicating that what appeared to be a ball and chain worn by 19th century prisoners had recently been discovered on a farm near Bannockburn during an excavation. The article speculated that it could have been shed by Clark or Farrell as they made their escape from the Geelong Gaol and headed towards Ballarat.

25 October, 2012

Gaol birds

Whilst doing some further research for subsequent posts it occurred to me that something was completely missing from this picture of Geelong's gaols. Women. Where were the female prisoners? My post A Model Prison mentioned that the Geelong Gaol for a time served as a reformatory for homeless girls, but I'd not seen a word about adult women prisoners, until I came across an article in the Argus of the 13th May, 1859. The piece gave a rather damning report of the condition of the South Geelong Gaol which was now being used to house female prisoners. The article bemoaned the lack of guttering and tanks which would have provided fresh water for the women, saying that instead, the government was paying to have inferior quality water carted from the Barwon which by that era would have been well and truly fouled with the byproducts of the tanneries and woollen mills which were driving the town's prosperity.
Jewell's water pump on the banks of the Barwon just east of the Barwon
(Moorabool Street) Bridge, note the horse-drawn
water cart taking on water at the tank
The journalist also complained that there was no laundry, so women were required to do the washing outside regardless of the weather which on that day was pouring with rain. Additionally, the only washing facility for the women themselves (and the children who often accompanied them) was a large tub, meaning that they were required to "promiscuously wash themselves, in presence of each other and their children". At the time of his visit, there were 18 women in the gaol. Two were on remand awaiting their day in court, 11 were serving sentences and a further five were classed as lunatics. Mention of female prisoners at South Geelong Gaol was made in January, 1861 where it was stated that the only inmates were female prisoners and about 20 children below the age of six. In 1867, a young woman was taken to the South Geelong Gaol to be held pending a trial for infanticide.
This photo shows female prisoners at Brisbane's Boggo Road Gaol in 1903
but female prison attire would have been similar in Victorian gaols in earlier decades.
Photo held by the Queensland State Library
Also in 1867, it was decided to build a "Lunacy Reception Ward" at nearby Geelong Hospital, thereby removing quite a number of both men and women from the prison system.
The first mention I find of adult female prisoners being held in Geelong Gaol (as distinct from the Myers St Industrial School For Girls which operated in the gaol's east wing from 1865 to 1872, housing girls aged between 9 and 16) is a record of 10 female "lunatics" at the gaol in 1857, whilst an information board at the gaol itself indicates female prisoners as early as 1860. I imagine therefore it was possible that women were held at the gaol from its earliest days, in addition to those held at South Geelong. In 1873 it was remarked that female prisoners were being retained in the Geelong Gaol rather than being sent to Pentridge. By 1888 there were 72 women being held in the Geelong Gaol.
East wing of the Geelong Gaol, used as a girls' industrial school 1865-1872
A later article in 1922 discusses a ban on female prisoners at the Geelong Gaol with an allowance made for remand cases, whilst in this same year, it was planned to temporarily house female prisoners at Geelong whilst Pentridge underwent renovations. Four years later in a complete about face however, the authorities were considering turning the Geelong Gaol into a female prison. Clearly this did not come to pass and I found no mention of female prisoners in the gaol past this point.
I can find no mention of the closure of South Geelong Gaol.

22 October, 2012

A model prison

Following on from my last post on the South Geelong Gaol, I thought it appropriate to continue the theme by looking at its successor the Geelong Gaol or - as it is now known - the "Old" Geelong Gaol. To be honest, it was originally this jail which got me thinking of crooks in connection with the Barwon in the first place. In addition to being an interesting old local building, it is located on the corner of Myers and Swanston Streets, only a short distance from where I live so I pass it almost daily. As a result, I have often wondered if I could find a connection between the gaol and the river and sneak it into a blog post. This is that post.

The front enterance to the Geelong Gaol
Not surprisingly, the Geelong Gaol comes with the expected array of hangings, murders, ghost stories  and daring escapes, many of which were recorded in the newspapers of the day and make fascinating reading. What I was also hoping to find were tales of desperate chases on horseback along the riverbank, whispers of caves where villains hid from the law or stashed their ill-gotten gains and dramatic escapes across the rushing waters of the Barwon.
Of course the aftermath of all these grievous deeds would see the malefactors summarily brought to justice by the local constabulary and cast into the dank, forbidding surrounds of the gaol, whose imposing bluestone walls had been hewn from the very rocks of the Barwon itself.
Well, the latter is quite likely the truth as I found several websites which indicated that the gaol was built from locally quarried bluestone, but none of them wanted to tell me which quarry.
Other presumably locally acquired building materials were brick and volcanic rock. The gaol was designed by the Colonial Clerk of Works Henry Ginn and built in stages using convict labour between 1849 and 1864. It received its first crop of villains in 1853. And yes they were indeed villains - a term which derives from "Pentonvillians" the name given to inmates of Pentonville Gaol in England after which model the Geelong Gaol was built. This type of prison was based on the principle of isolation meaning that prisoners could not see each other and were not allowed to communicate, instead being expected to spend their time in contemplation.
Overhead view of the Geelong Gaol in 2008 showing the radiating arms
typical of the Pentonville model. The east and west wings were used to house
prisoners with administration in the north wing and various amenities in the south wing.
 Throughout its almost 160 year history, the gaol has served a variety of roles. Initially used to house convicts and other prisoners from 1853, between 1865 and 1872 the east wing was used as an industrial school for vagrant girls. From 1877 until the Second World War it was used as a hospital gaol for older and infirm prisoners (and was, it has been suggested, staffed with men of a similar ilk). From 1940 to 1947 it served as an army detention barracks after which it was again used as a hospital gaol until 1958 when it became a training prison where the inmates were taught various trades. It continued in this role until its final closure in 1991 when most prisoners were transferred to the newly built maximum security Barwon Prison.
There have been several paranormal investigations conducted at the gaol over the years but not surprisingly, no concrete evidence of haunting has emerged. There have been anecdotal reports of past inmates hearing female voices - particularly in the east wing where the girls lived - as well as a number of reports of strange activities and odd sensations.

Rear view of the Geelong Gaol showing the south (left) and east (centre) wings
and a guard tower in the external wall
For all its reputation as a hell hole (even the notorious Chopper Reid claimed to have no desire to return to the gaol where conditions remained primitive until its closure), there were only two hangings ever conducted within its walls: James Murphy was hanged in 1863 for the murder of a police officer at the Warrnambool Court House and Thomas Menard who was also hanged for murder in October, 1865. Four earlier hangings took place outside the gaol at nearby Gallows Flat on the north west corner of Bellerine and Myers Streets. Of course, there were also numerous suicides and murders which resulted from violence amongst the inmates over the years.
There were also a number of escape attempts and one of the more sensational will be the subject of my next post.

20 October, 2012

Doing time

As I am currently unable to spend much time taking photos of the present-day Barwon, I thought I'd do a bit of historical research and see what I came up with. My starting point was the history of penal servitude in Geelong which dates back to the town's earliest days when convict labour under the guidance of Captain Foster Fyans built the first breakwater across the Barwon below the town. Naturally it was necessary to house Geelong's early felons and this was done in various police watch houses and at the South Geelong Gaol which was located on the south west corner of Yarra and Balliang Streets which at that time overlooked the Barwon which lay less than 500m away.
Building at the South Geelong Gaol taken 1904. Reproduction rights held
by the Victorian State Library
This early gaol is described as consisting of four slab huts, one of which was used as a watch house, one as a court house and the other two as police offices. The facility held up to 60 prisoners in appalling squalor. Newspapers of the day confirm that it was originally built as a watch house with £750 assigned for its construction in 1839, however a display at the "Old Geelong Gaol" indicates that the original huts were built in 1838 with the watch house deemed unsuitable and replaced by a more permanent structure between 1841 and 1842. The new building was constructed from freestone quarried, it is indicated, about 1.5 miles upstream on the Barwon. This is confirmed by a contemporary newspaper report which stated that the new watch house was the first structure to be built using stone from the quarry which I suspect may have been the one near the bottom of Pakington Street.
This upgraded facility according to the "Old Geelong Gaol" exhibit contained 6 solitary confinement cells, a keeper's room and "two balancing cells".
Reproduction of a photo at Geelong Gaol, showing part of the South Geelong Gaol
In June, 1850 it was recommended that further funds be allocated to allow another upgrade of the premises for use as a temporary gaol, pending the construction of a new building - the Geelong Gaol which opened in 1853 on the corner of Myer and Swanston Streets (which is the subject of a subsequent post: A model prison). A stone wall was eventually built to enclose the complex, although this it seems wasn't added until around 1851 perhaps as part of the upgrade recommended in 1850. Within the outer wall was also a kitchen and gaoler's room, located in the forecourt area along with a privy and night soil pit. The buildings stood until 1906 when they were demolished.

A current photo showing the south west corner of Yarra and Balliang
Streets from Yarra Street, looking south towards the Barwon
An account of the South Geelong Gaol published in 1899 in George E Boxall's book "History of the Australian Bushrangers" describes it thus:
The Geelong gaol, in fact, was little more than a lock-up, and it was only within the past two years that the gaol had been enclosed within a high wall. In 1850 it stood out on the hill, a short distance from the banks of the Barwon River, an ordinary-looking brick building, with the Governor's House and other offices grouped near it, and all opening out directly on the level flat which stretched from the top of the banks of the Barwon River to the hill on which the main portion of the town of Geelong was situated. On the top of this hill, the last building in that direction, in "old Geelong" as it was called, although it had only been founded about twelve years before was the court house, and there was no other building along Yarra Street, on the southern side of the hill and across the little flat (a distance altogether of about half-a-mile) until the gaol was reached.
This latter statement is clearly shown to be correct on John Taylor's map of Geelong, published by the Melbourne Surveyor's Office in 1855 which shows only vacant land on the west side of Yarra Street from Balliang to McKillop Street where the court house stood on what is now the site of the fire station.
Photograph of a sketch of the first Geelong courthouse with accompanying
stocks, 1842 © Deakin University 2009
The stocks which can be seen beside the building were, according to Boxall, removed in about 1854 when construction of a new courthouse began. They were the last remaining in Victoria at that time, those in Melbourne having been removed some time before. It should be noted that a copy of this illustration is labelled as the South Geelong Gaol in a display at the Old Geelong Gaol, however Deakin University who hold the image copyright seem clear on the topic.
It was from the South Geelong Gaol to this building that the infamous bushranger, Captain Melville was taken by dray to stand trial before Captain Foster Fyans on 3rd January, 1853.
But that's another story...

07 October, 2012


In some of my posts from last month, I looked at the idea of "naked running", running without distractions and with a minimum of equipment. After a recent longer run (Queenscliff to South Geelong) I found I had aggravated an ongoing issue with one of my feet. This was a problem I couldn't really afford to have as it not only affected my running, but my netball as well. Something needed to be done.
One of the things which was suggested might reduce the discomfort and strengthen my feet was running in Vibram Fivefingers - which I have also mentioned before. The idea of minimalist running shoes fits nicely with the whole "naked running" concept which I find rather appealing, so  accordingly, I purchased myself a pair of Vibrams and headed out last Saturday for my first run.
Vibram Fivefinger Bekilas
Knowing I had to give my feet time to get used to this new way of running, I chose my Saturday morning group run with Geelong Runners at the Waterfront where I knew I could take it easy if I needed to. The run was a success although it was quite a different experience from my usual runs.
The most notable difference of course is the way I ran. My stride felt significantly shorter and I was probably landing with less of a heel strike, although I was definitely not landing on my toes. As a result, my balance felt completely different and took a bit of getting used to. I had expected of course, that all of this would result in sore calves for a while as my muscles adjusted, however I was pleased to discover the following day, that I was discomfort free.
Not wanting to push things too far, I returned to my usual running shoes for our longer World Rivers Day Run the following day. No problem there either.
Geelong Runners at Barwon Valley on World Rivers Day
After a couple of days doing other things, I ran again - about 5km all up, but done in short sections of 1-2km around the river. The next day my calves finally caught up with me - or should I say one of them did. It was sore, so not wanting to push it too much I restricted myself to a couple of kilometres round the track at Landy Field, hoping the soft surface and the short distance would help stretch things out a bit without doing any further damage.
Likewise on Friday afternoon I did two slow, 3km runs along the river. Still sore, but no apparent problems. On Saturday I headed off for my run with the group. Still stiff, I was happy to take it slowly. We headed out to the turn around point and began to make our way back. I noticed a small amount of pain in the top of my right foot. In an attempt to ease the discomfort I wiggled my toes a few times. As I did so, I felt a pop. That wasn't good. It wasn't painful, but running was no longer an option.
Realising that something wasn't right, everyone stopped and together we walked - well they walked and I hobbled - back to our starting point. From there it was just a matter of heading to the x-ray department (via a much needed coffee at my favourite haunt in East Geelong: Gobble Food and Coffee).
Several hours and an x-ray later the end result...
The injured limb
...is that I have fractured the second metatarsal bone in my foot and once the orthotics centre is open on Monday I will be the lucky owner of a boot which will seriously reduce the muscle tone in my right leg for the next six weeks.
So, my challenge now is firstly to stay fit without doing any form of exercise which substantially involves my legs and secondly to consider ways of accessing the Barwon which don't involved running, riding or - for the moment - walking any great distance.
I suspect perhaps that my next post may involve disabled access to the river - not an issue I've considered prior to the present...

04 October, 2012

Around the bay in a day

The weather over the last few days has been sunny and our waterways have been sparkling. As per yesterday's post, we were down by the river for a stroll. Today and on Tuesday however, we headed away from the river, to that other water source in which Geelong takes so much pride - Corio Bay.
Since my last post on this topic, I can say that the bike lane linking the Barwon with the Bay is complete and gets regular use.
The Esplanade, Eastern Beach
Today the fine weather was showing signs of drawing to a close so it was warm and windy. Well, actually, at Eastern Beach it was blowing a gale and I was very glad it wasn't 9am Saturday morning when I would have been running into that blast!
None-the-less it wasn't too unpleasant and the view was as spectacular as always. Of course, with the co-incidence of school holidays and a temperature increase of a few degrees, it seemed like we were jostling for space with half of Geelong. And the powers that be have certainly done a great job of creating a world class public open space.
The Geelong skyline from Western Beach
On Tuesday however, in search of new running routes and with perfect riding weather we grabbed the bikes and headed around to the less-publicised side of the bay. This was not the first time we'd been in this direction. Every Saturday  I run part of the way to Rippleside with Geelong Runners and somewhat less frequently we take the kids to the playground in the park as we did last week.
Boats moored at Western Beach
On one previous occasion as described in my post from last year, we followed the trail on and off road right around the foreshore, through the industrial northern suburbs of Geelong to the banks of Hovell's Creek and then onwards to Lara. On Tuesday we retraced our steps. This time I was looking at the route not only as a cycling path, but also as a potential running track.
Most people would know the path which runs from Limeburner's Point on the east to Rippleside on the west, with its views towards the You Yangs and Jan Mitchell's internationally famous bollards (a concept which I think could readily be extended to the banks of the Barwon).
Bollards at Western Beach
From this point however, things became less obvious. The track disappeared and a short section of onroad travel between Rippleside and St Helen's was necessary.
Once there however, we came across the following residents enjoying the weater and the low tide:
Pied Oystercatchers at St Helen's Beach
Eleven-armed Sea Star
I had not to this point met a Pied Oystercatcher, nor an Eleven-armed Sea Star (yes, this is the correct term as they are not technically fish and yes, there were eleven arms in this case - feel free to count them!), although I believe the former can be found at Barwon Heads. The views here were equally as panoramic as earlier sections and the track good, until that was, we reached the amassed bulk of Geelong's industrial sector.
At this point we were required to navigate a few back streets and semi-trailers before we picked up the bike path once again beside Corio Quay Road. Sadly, not much has changed since last year and several parts of the route were more overgrown with weeds and less appealing than they were over a year ago which is disappointing to say the least. There was still not the slightest indication of where any of this section of the trail lead or where connections needed to be made. Were these issues to be addressed, this could be an interesting and informative ride through Geelong's industrial heartland.
Piles of wood chips at Corio Quay
Of course, I am far from the first person to have this idea. In 2005, a bold plan was put forward by local historian Ferg Hamilton to create a continuous walking/cycling track from the Geelong Waterfront to Lara, but despite support and lobbying by all levels of government, no progress has been made - a point of which we were recently reminded in a short article published by the Independent last month.

Looking across Limeburner's Bay towards Point Henry
But back to the point! The track once it returns to the foreshore past Shell is excellent and the views of this lesser-used side of the bay are no less impressive than from the east. We paused for lunch (and a discussion on the metabolic needs of distance runners) at the beginning of the Hovell's Creek Trail.
Back on the bikes we headed up the creek. I would like to be able to say that Hovell's Creek is somehow connected to the Barwon and thereby provide a little more relevance to this post, however this is not the case as Hovell's Creek rises in the foothills of the Brisbane Ranges and the You Yangs before flowing directly into Corio Bay at Limeburner's Bay.
Mangroves lining the banks of Hovell's Creek
However, there are some similarities between the mouth of the Barwon and that of Hovell's Creek, the most notable of which are the mangroves which line the banks of both waterways at the mouth. Likewise, each has a raised boardwalk which enables close access without damaging these fragile environments.
In the case of Hovell's Creek, it was only on this second trip that we discovered the boardwalk. From it, we were able to get up close and personal with the creek, the mangroves and any number of White-fronted Chats which at one stage looked as if they were sprouting from the mangroves. They were accompanied completely unseen, by an endless chorus of Little Grass Birds as well as a few swans and high overhead, a Black-shouldered Kite.
Boardwalk extending into the mangroves at Hovell's Creek
It is also worth noting, that like the wetlands around Lake Connewarre, those near the mouth of Hovell's Creek and Lime Burner's Bay have been listed as an international Ramsar site, thus highlighting their environmental signficance.
By this point in our ride, time was of the essence, so suffice to say that once again we rode as far as the Princes Freeway, looked up the hill in the direction of Lara, paid a quick visit to the monument to Hume and Hovell which stands nearby and then headed for home at a somewhat less leisurely pace the outward journey.
On returning home, I think I calculated the entire distance from Lara to Limeburner's Point below the Eastern Gardens as somewhere between about 18.5km and 19.5km depending on the exact route. Not a bad distance for a run and with some stunning views along the way, but I am yet to decide how keen I am on sharing road space with semi-trailers while I'm running.
One way around the problem however, may be provided if plans I have seen mentioned in the paper go ahead. This would involve the addition of a section of track extending the current Ted Wilson trail beside the Ring Road to connect at some point with the trail at the foreshore leading out to Lara.
I might also add that this is just on point at which the Ring Road trail comes close to the various sections of track around the bay and where a connection could be made. As I believe I have mentioned before, the Weir Deppler Park at the end of the Cowie's Creek Trail is only a matter of 800 metres from the end of the Tom McKean Linear Trail running over to Fyansford via the old train line and some 600 metres in a direct line from the Corio Quay track which we used on our ride to Lara on Tuesday. So near and yet so far...

03 October, 2012

Copping a spray

The weather today was perfect for a stroll along the river, so with the kids in tow, I decided to do just that. We wandered towards Breakwater where they were quick to discover the many attractions of a bridge, some fast flowing water and a few sticks.
Playing at the Break
A diverting few minutes were spent paddling, poking, splashing and "fishing" before we headed off once more.
Of course we were not the only ones making the most of the weather. Pedestrians, cyclists and joggers of all ages were in abundance. The golfers were on the greens, a group of enthusiastic athletes was cutting laps at Landy Field and the usual array of birds was making itself both seen and heard.
We soon discovered however, that they weren't the only ones making use of the river.
The CFA at the Barwon
As they sometimes do, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) were taking the opportunity put some of their equipment through its paces. Much to the delight of a group of children on the bank, they backed two of their trucks up to the boat ramp and proceeded to pump water from the river, spraying it back through smaller hoses.

Boys and their toys: the CFA testing equipment at the Barwon

I had hoped for a spectacular display with streams of water arching out across the river, catching the sunlight and throwing up rainbows or sparkling like jewels. All of which I would have captured in perfectly framed shots and posted on this blog.
However the boys on the opposite bank did not seem keen to oblige and so the best I could manage was a few quick photos as they gave the hose a quick flick, no doubt wondering why the strange woman on the other bank was pointing a camera at them. They will no doubt be back so perhaps next time I'll get those shots...