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.

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