Sunday History Photo / Vic

Submitted: Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:11
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The now closed HM Prison Beechworth is located at the corner of Sydney Rd and Williams Road, Beechworth and was built on the site of Beechworth's first stockade between 1859 and 1864 at a cost of 47,000 pounds. The prison ceased to be operational in 2004 and was subsequently sold into private developers hands.
The old Beechworth Prison was designed and constructed by Victoria's Public Works Department between 1857 and 1864.



The prison was built in stages between 1858 and 1864 using granite quarried on site. H. Dalrymple and George Simmie were the contractors. The Beechworth Gaol is one of nine Victorian prisons designed on the radiating 'panopticon' principle which had proved an efficient, cost-effective design for easy surveillance of prisoners by allowing guards to watch over a large area from a central observation point.
When opened in 1860, Beechworth provided single cells for 36 prisoners. Accommodation was doubled on the building's completion in 1864. The prison initially housed male and female prisoners, who were kept occupied with work of practical benefit to the town. Between 1918 and 1925 the prison closed from lack of numbers, then operated as a reformatory for habitual male offenders between 1925 and 1951. It became a training prison for straight-sentence prisoners after 1951 until its closure in 2004.




Despite numerous minor alterations since 1864 the largely intact features include the cell blocks, observation hall, turnkey's quarters, gaoler's quarters, kitchen wing exterior, warder's quarters, watch towers, perimeter and division walls, the iron entrance gates, entrance court, and yards with the exception of the 1861 female yards which were built over in 1925. Original stairs, balustrades, architraves, skirtings, doors and windows also survive. Slate roofing has been replaced with corrugated iron and louvered ventilators have been removed from cell block roofs. The quarry is a significant feature in the grounds.
The prison is historically significant for its associations with the early development of Beechworth as the government administrative centre of north-eastern Victoria. It is part of a major precinct of public buildings, and has links to numerous other buildings in Beechworth which used granite quarried and broken at the prison by male inmates. It is also significant for its associations with the bushranger Ned Kelly and the Kelly story. Kelly served six months in the prison in 1870-71 for assault and was held there during his committal trial for murder in 1880. It was also in Beechworth Prison that Kelly's mother, Ellen and two associates of the Kelly family served sentences in the late 1870s for the attempted murder of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick. It was this incident and the resulting convictions which are credited as being the catalyst for the so-called Kelly Outbreak.





The last photos of Ned Kelly were taken by the official Melbourne Gaol photographer, Charles Nettleton on November 10, 1880, the day before Ned's execution.


Beechworth Gaol is further associated with Kelly as the place where twenty suspected Kelly sympathisers were held in 1879 in an attempt to limit support to the Kelly gang. The iron gates were installed at this time as it was feared that there might be an attempt to break the sympathisers out of the prison. The bushranger Harry Power was also imprisoned here. It was with Power that Kelly became involved in bushranging as a teenager and it was information supplied by Kelly to the police that eventuated in Power's arrest.




Beechworth Prison is architecturally significant as an outstanding example of a panopticon prison, of which nine erected in Victoria, and as one of only two which continue to operate as prisons. Its architecture epitomises the severely simple Classical style of nineteenth century prisons commissioned by the Public Works Department.
Notable prisoners were Ned Kelly, Joe Byrne, Steve Hart, & Aaron Sherritt.
Executions were Patrick Sheehan 6th November 1865 , John Kelly, 4th May 1867 , James Smith 11 November 1869 , James Quinn 4 November 1871 , James Smith 12 May 1873 , Thomas Brady, May 12, 1873, Thomas Hogan 1879 , and Robert Rohan 6 June 1881


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Reply By: Member - Alan H (QLD) - Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:21

Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:21
Thanks Doug

Alan
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Reply By: Member - Tony H (touring oz) - Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:23

Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:23
Thanks Doug :-)
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Reply By: Member - mechpete - Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:55

Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:55
a few years ago I did one of their tours through the prison .
not sure if they still do ,but it was great
mechpete
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Follow Up By: Life Member-Doug T NSW - Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:57

Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 08:57
AND THEY LET YOU GO..........................!!!!!!!
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Reply By: Mick O - Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 10:56

Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 10:56
Great choice Doug. Fantastic place Beeechworth. Thanks

Mick
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Reply By: Ron N - Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 11:11

Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 11:11
Thanks, Doug, another interesting article about a place that I find interesting in its architecture, but depressing in its history and stories behind the walls.

"The prison initially housed male and female prisoners, who were kept occupied with work of practical benefit to the town" ...

I think most people would agree this system must have benefits to society overall, particularly if prisoners are taught some skills, and shown how to take pride in what they make/achieve. Graffiti artists in particular come to mind.

I'm always amazed at the sheer amount of grunt work involved in constructing the old stone buildings.
Anyone who has shifted a few big rocks or handled a few big building blocks, knows just how heavy each of those pieces of stone must be.
That's a lot of sheer grunt, getting multiple thousands of those stone blocks out of the ground, chiselled to shape, then lifted into position.

An uncle of Mum's was the head stonemason on the University of W.A. He was a Scot, and the Scots, followed by the Germans and Italians, always seem to be the "guns" on stonemasonry.
It's a fascinating art, but not one that many people choose to follow.
Most stonemasons today seem to be settled into the gravestone/headstone industry, and it's rare to see any stonemasonry building work today, apart from small feature sections.

I'd guess horrendous cost is the major reason why stonework is no longer utilised, apart from those few rare individuals who build their own homes.
Reinforced concrete wasn't utilised in buildings here until 1903 - but it rapidly gained ascendency as a universal, cheap and strong construction product.

Cheers, Ron.
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Reply By: kevmac....(WA) - Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 12:10

Sunday, Feb 22, 2015 at 12:10
Beechworth has a well known bakery as well does it not?

Thanks for another excellent Sunday History Doug. Is always first thing I read whilst having first morning cuppa.
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Tuesday, Feb 24, 2015 at 15:37

Tuesday, Feb 24, 2015 at 15:37
That's correct, Kev.

Just wondered if Beechworth isn't better known for its bakery, than its other landmarks?

Tom O'Toole is the owner of the bakery, an innovative, live-wire person. Some years back, the company I worked for for many years, introduced training for senior staff, and middle management. One of the first training videos was of Tom O'Toole, explaining his ideas for the bakery, as well as staff management and other methods that I've since long forgotten. :-) Am pretty sure he would have been one of the first to start these bakery/coffee shop/cafe type establishments. Now they're everywhere.

Bob



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Reply By: 581 - Tuesday, Feb 24, 2015 at 14:54

Tuesday, Feb 24, 2015 at 14:54
Thanks, Doug T, for this and all the other Sunday History Lessons.

I think that the razor wire spoils the look of Beechworth Prison as it is not of the period. It is very obvious driving around the prison.

Fascinating town. There is a whole block in the "CBD" that does not have a modern building and I think that would be a rare thing.

Cheers,
"A".
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