Maitland Gaol

 


Prior to the construction of Maitland Gaol in the 1840's the facilities for holding prisoners in Maitland before transfer to Newcastle gaol were appalling.  Missionary James Backhouse wrote of the gaol after he visited Maitland in July 1836:

 

After calls for a new gaol, a facility was constructed on a hill overlooking East Maitland. The site commanded a fine view over the country for miles around.

The first stage was constructed by contractors  Messrs. Brodie and Craig who were under the superintendence of colonial architect Mortimer Lewis Esq., the architect responsible for numerous constructions in New South Wales,  including five other prisons as well as eleven courthouses and the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. His son Mortimer William junior was also employed in the Colonial architect's department and in 1848 was appointed Clerk of Works on the breakwater at Newcastle. He married Ellen, a daughter of Dr. Stacy in December 1847 at Newcastle.

In 1845 the sum of 1000 was voted in Council towards completing the gaol. Alterations to the original plan were suggested at this time.

Instead of wings with many solitary cells and no yards attached it was proposed to have a number of smaller buildings with separate yards for classification. The Colonial Architect agreed that the range of cells could be shortened by one half and two wings which might be curtailed so as to admit of their being completed for about 5000. By putting five persons in a cell the gaol would hold three hundred prisoners. In 1847, the Government expected to contribute another 2,500 towards the construction of the new gaol.

The foundation stone had been laid at 10am on the 16th February 1844 near the north-west corner of the enclosure within the walls. Very few people turned up for the ceremony owing to the showery day and short notice and Edward Denny Day was assisted in laying the stone by just a few men. Several coins of the reigns of George III, George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria, together with an inscription were placed in a bottle, sealed up, and deposited within the stone. The inscription read:

ON THE 16TH DAY OF FEBRUARY,

IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD

1844,

IN THE SEVENTH YEAR OF THE REIGN OF

HER MOST GRACIOUS MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA,

AND

IN THE SIXTH YEAR

OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE GOVERNMENT

OF

NEW SOUTH WALES

BY

HIS EXCELLENCY SIR GEORGE GIPPS,

THE FIRST STONE OF THIS GAOL WAS LAID BY EDWARD DENNY DAY, ESQUIRE,

POLICE MAGISTRATE OF

MAITLAND

MORTIMER WILLIAM LEWIS, ESQUIRE

COLONIAL ARCHITECT(1)

 

On 30th December 1848 the prisoners confined in Newcastle Gaol numbering about forty and accompanied by gaol keeper William Tristram and his turnkeys and watchmen, were loaded onto the Steamer at Newcastle wharf to be transferred to the new gaol at Maitland. Maitland Gaol had been declared the gaol for the Northern Circuit District a few days previously.

On arrival in Morpeth a few hours later the prisoners were transferred to Maitland where they would have been ushered to the walls of the gaol that enclosed an area about 300 feet square.

On entering the compound they would have been confronted with a substantial building giving the impression of vast strength; a solid building made from the best and most durable stone in the neighbourhood. The stones were dovetailed into each other in such a manner that to escape a prisoner would have to cut through  the solid stone wall, the outer wall being 2 1/2 feet thick. From the outside the prisoners would probably have observed the roof of slate and the large, handsome, vertical ironed windows that opened from inside passages. (to allow breezes on a hot day). In the yard they would have noticed the space 120' x 36' between the new wing and the outer wall (fenced off for an exercise yard) and other temporary sheds, store houses and loose rejected stones spread about the yard where soon other buildings would be constructed. Perhaps the gallows, which had arrived the previous day from Newcastle were also on view in this area.

One wing of the intended buildings within the gaol walls had been completed. It was 108 feet long by 40 feet wide and contained 28 cells.  When the prisoners were moved to the interior of the wing they were confronted with cells measuring 12 feet by 8 feet.  Two smaller cells 5' x 8' were intended for condemned prisoner cells. The cells were arranged in a similar manner to other prisons, with 7 cells on the ground floor on each side of a 15'  passage; and 7 cells on each side of the second story; a stone walk or parapet 3' and with an iron railing  ran past the doors of the upper cells. A stone staircase led up to these parapets. Each cell was considered sufficient to house five prisoners.

For ventilation, a perpendicular tube was cut out of the middle of the solid stone outer wall of each cell and in addition there were two open windows of 6" at the top of each cell. There was a circular opening at the outer corner of the floor of each cell opening direct to the outer air to allow the escape of water. Each cell had two doors, the inner one of open bars of iron and outer of hardwood sheeted with iron.

The ceilings and floors were of large stones 1' thick, the ceilings strengthened by iron girders, the floors on dwarf walls so that they would not become wet or damp.

The prisoners were moved from Newcastle gaol before the new gaol was completed as the Newcastle gaol was considered so insecure that it was imperative that the prisoners be removed at the earliest moment. Still to be finished on this first wing was the entrance area and rooms and bedrooms for the turnkeys. The turnkeys' room was to have a window overlooking the gaol yard and two open slits to be provided with shutters looking into the interior passage of the gaol.

Also still to be completed was a stone kitchen  near the turnkeys end of the wing, a wing for female prisoners and a lodge on each side of the entrance gateway. The prison was  also without a well or water catchment system within the walls.

Joining the newly arrived prisoners from Newcastle in the gaol in the first few days were Joseph Sullivan a shepherd employed by John Bingle who had been sentenced to three months in prison for a breach of the Masters & Servants Act and John Smith a cook employed by William McDonald who was sentenced to 14 days in the new cells.

It was recorded in the Government Gazette on 2nd January that Edward Denny Day was to be appointed visiting magistrate and Dr. William Wilton surgeon at the new gaol. (Major James Crummer who had previously been stationed in Newcastle replaced Edward Denny Day as Magistrate at the gaol in 1849).

With no kitchen, no nearby water and far less chance of escape, it is hard to imagine the prisoners being as enamoured of the gaol as others in the town who considered it would stand in comparison 'with any building in the colony not excepting the new Victoria Barracks in Sydney'.

 

 

THE EXECUTION OF GEORGE WATERS WARD 1849

'On Monday morning George Waters Ward, convicted at the late Maitland Circuit Court of the murder of Richard Connelly, was executed inside the walls of the Maitland gaol, in the presence of several hundred persons, including a great number of children, and some women.

About five minutes past nine o'clock Ward was brought out from the gaol into the yard accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Rusden (who had been with him since six o'clock that morning), C. Prout, Esq., the Under Sheriff, E.D. Day, Esq., Dr. Wilton, Mr. Tristrem, and others. The Rev. Mr. Rusden read prayers, in which Ward joined with apparent fervour. Having reached the scaffold, Mr. Rusden knelt down with the unfortunate man, and passed some minutes in prayer, Ward audibly joining in the responses.

About twelve minutes past nine Ward mounted the scaffold, Mr. Rusden still accompanying him, and the executioner following. On reaching the platform Ward called out in a clear firm voice, 'Good bye, Mr. Tristem, God bless you, and you all', looking round on the crowd. Having engaged in prayer with Mr. Rusden for a minute or two, Ward addressed the crowd assembled nearly as follows: "My friends, I am going to die this day, and I hope that you will take warning by me and keep from drink, and that if any of you ever give evidence in a court of justice you will speak the truth. I am not going to accuse any one, but I will only say that some spoke the truth on my trial, and some spoke false. I die in peace with all the world, and in the hope of a better life. I pray for you all, and hope you will all take warning by my example".

The executioner then fastened the rope round Ward's neck, and put a white cap over his head and face, during which Mr. Rusden continued praying and Ward joining with him. Mr. Rusden then left the scaffold, and the bolt being drawn, the wretched man fell, and died after struggling convulsively for a few minutes. Ward's bearing on the scaffold was firm and composed throughout'

.......Maitland Mercury 21 March 1849

 

 

References

(1) 17 February 1844

 

 

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