Sunday History Photo / SA

Submitted: Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 06:53
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Adelaide Gaol was located in Thebarton, South Australia. The gaol was the first permanent one in South Australia and operated from 1841 until 1988. The Gaol is one of the two oldest buildings still standing in South Australia, the other being Government House which was built at the same time. The prison is now a museum, tourist attraction and function centre.

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As the population expanded, a temporary lock-up became necessary, which was built in early 1838 near Government House, Adelaide (then a mere hut) so the marines could guard both prisoners and Governor John Hindmarsh. This was a wooden slab affair, with timber palisade fences, although one room was freestone, which became known as the 'stone jug'. It was located at the north-east corner of present Government House Domain. In 1838, the first Sheriff, Samuel Smart, was wounded during a robbery that led to one of the offenders, Michael Magee, becoming the first person to be hanged in South Australia on 2 May 1838. When Governor Hindmarsh left, he also took all his marines, so the South Australia Police then ran the temporary gaol (through until Adelaide Gaol was built). Long term prisoners were sentenced to transportation in the eastern penal colonies, escorted there by police on inter-coastal ships. Even so, the gaol was overcrowded, sometimes holding up to seventy prisoners. Parts of the gaol became so "dilapidated that if it had not been for the building behind, it would have collapsed". In July 1838, it was reported that prisoners easily escaped because "the walls were rotten and there were gaps in the foundation".

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When Governor George Gawler arrived he was appalled at the conditions, saying that security was only being maintained by an "expensive multiplicity of sentries". London police sub-inspectors James Stuart and William Baker Ashton arrived in November 1838 to form the first police force, but found it had already been formed, in April 1838, under Henry Inman (police commander). Sensing that the gaol needed its own professional management, Gawler thereupon appointed Ashton to the new position of Governor of the Gaol, effective 1 January 1839, but still answerable to Inman for funding, administration, and staff.

The original estimate for construction was £17,000 however in late July 1840, one month after construction began, the plans were altered by Governor George Gawler. Although all the foundations had been laid the new plans halved the building work, which effectively reduced the contract cost to £10,000 although this did not include the cost of work already completed. In October, Gawler again altered the plans by now including the gaoler's house he had earlier dropped from the original plans, added two more towers and increased the quality of the stonework by specifying ashlar which cost fifty percent more than the wrought stone specified in the original contract. These new alterations added £9,000 to the cost. By March 1841 the goal was nearing completion, the builders Borrow and Goodiar had already received £l0,950 and they now requested a further £8,733 which Gawler refused. The dispute resulted in the claim being arbitrated in court and the arbitrators requested an independent valuation of the work completed.

The Gaol has a radial plan which means access is gained to all the cellblocks and exercise yards from one central point. This point was called "The Circle" as wagons delivering supplies or prisoners to the gaol would have to complete a full circle in order to leave. The cellblocks were divided into "yards" which offered varying facilities and housing for prisoners based on their category.

Until an Act of Parliament in 1858 mandated private executions, seven hangings were held in public outside the gaol walls with the first occurring in November 1840 while the site was still under construction. From 1861 to 1883, 13 prisoners were executed on portable gallows erected between the Gaol's inner and outer walls. Executions were moved to the "New Building" in 1894 where a further 21 prisoners were executed. The "Hanging Tower" was converted to that use in 1950 and used for the last four executions before Capital Punishment was abolished in 1976. From 1840 to 1964, 45 of the 66 people executed in South Australia were executed by hanging at the Gaol. William Ridgway was the youngest at 19 in 1874, the only woman in 1873 and the last was Glen Sabre Valance in 1964.

Elizabeth Woolcock - The Only Woman Hanged In South Australia, this clip below is a re-enactment and very well done, very dramatic.

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Reply By: Member - MUZBRY(Vic) - Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 08:07

Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 08:07
Gday Doug
Poor Elizebeth,, these days she would have been sentenced to six months and a pat on the back for doing the community a service .

Great place to be Mt Blue Rag 27/12/2012

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AnswerID: 491396

Reply By: Member - Alan H (QLD) - Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 08:31

Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 08:31
Thanks Doug

AnswerID: 491397

Reply By: Member - Peter H1 (NSW) - Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 09:13

Sunday, Jul 22, 2012 at 09:13
Another good Sunday story.

Thank you

AnswerID: 491401

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