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...

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