Melbourne Gaol

Originally posted


This is the Old Melbourne Gaol Crime & Justice Experience. Russell Street used to be the location of the gaol, the magistrate's court, the city watch house and police headquarters, all of which have moved on.


The first part of the gaol was built in 1841, but quickly became overcrowded so a new cell block was built in 1852, and extended a few years later. This is the building that currently exists & I think the left wing on the model. It's based on the Pentonville system of silence and separation. I've read comments that by the time the Port Arthur separate prison was built, those responsible should have known that this approach didn't work, and that was a couple of years before this block was constructed. Did they think the theory behind it was sound, it was just the way it had previously been put into practice that was flawed?

The next wing, at the front of the model, with the chapel and entrance was added about 1860. The west wing, right side of the model, was added a couple of years later to house women. Now demolished, it was apparently a replica of the existing men's cell block.

Later in the century, operations at the gaol were wound down and the place closed in 1924 or 1929 (depending on whether you want to believe their brochure or their website). In WWII it saw use as a military prison for Australian soldiers who were Absent Without Leave. The National Trust took over it in 1972.


So what we have here is three levels of cells, with walkways and connecting staircases at each end.


There are displays in most of the cells, on former inmates and life (or death) in the gaol

Death Masks

They're very fond of death masks around here.


The displays about former inmates involve a mask, with accompanying information and pictures on the wall.


This one is for Frances Knorr (or here).

The Brunswick Baby Murders

People like Frances and Rudolph Knorr found life desperately hard in Melbourne during the 1890s Depression. Jobs were scarce, there was no state welfare and it was difficult to avoid becoming involved in petty crime.

When Rudolph Knorr was sent to prison in February 1892 for selling furniture being bought on hire purchase, his wife was left pregnant and penniless. She managed by 'baby farming' - looking after children whose mothers could not care for them.

In September the bodies of three babies were discovered in Brunswick. They were buried in the gardens of two houses Frances Knorr had rented. She was arrested and sent for trial in December. The Weekly Time described the 23 year-old woman as "white and careworn".

The public was deeply divided when Knorr was sentenced to be executed. The hangman, Thomas Jones, committed suicide two days before the event. His wife had threatened to leave him if he hanged Mrs Knorr.


Less controversy about Frederick Deeming's execution: serial killer, bigamist and Jack the Ripper suspect. But my photo is too blurry for me to transcribe, so just links: just the facts in the Wikipedia article or online documents from the Victorian Public Records Office


135 executions took place here.




There are a couple of sample pages from a book The Particulars of Execution. This is a list of weights as a guide for the hang man. Another has sketches of nooses "showing typical knots used on the rope. The placing of the knot behind the ear was important to achieve a clean break. Sometimes photographs were taken or sketches made during an autopsy to demonstrate the efficiency of the technique."



The equipment in the Hangman's Box was used by various hangmen this century and was stored in the Sheriff's Office. The weight was used to stretch the rope while the leather covering the noose helped to prevent lacerations and bruising. The leather covering, introduced in 1939, was waxed to ensure that the brass ring slipped smoothly over the rope. The arm and leg shackles restrained the prisoner before the execution. After the hanging, the body was placed in a canvas bag and removed.


Calico Hood (centre), c. 1875
These were worn by all prisoners held in solitary confinement when outside their cells. The Pentonville system of reform aimed to isolate inmates from each other in all possible ways.

Leather Gloves (bottom left). Photo of caption is hard to read.
These gloves were secured to the prisoner's hands in order to prevent "self abuse" (masturbation)

Mask (top right). Even less chance of reading this one. Something about "an additional form of punishment."

Remand Yard
Through wall

This recently revealed space was the entrance in the lowest level of the now demolished female cell block. Both male and female prisoners were locked in these 'punishment cells' -- cells with no windows -- for days at a time. The purpose of these cells was to break the prisoner's spirit by total sensory deprivation -- no light, no sound, no human contact and limited food.

Gaol inside



South-west door to the 2nd Cell Block. Between 1861 and 1907, all condemned prisoners passed through this door on their way to the gallows in the Central Hall of the Gaol.

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