gaol was constructed in
1818 on a site overlooking the ocean above Newcastle Beach and
divided from the inhabited portion of the town by a
of sand. The vegetation had been
removed from these sand hills to prevent escaping convicts concealing
The gaol was a two storied building and surrounded by a stone wall 12 feet
high with foundations of stone and walls of brick. In the interior of the
structure, wide corridors ran the entire extent of the building on either
side of which were strong barred cells. The upper story was similar. In the gaol yard, various instruments of torture stood out prominently
Outside the walls a cottage stood which was occupied by the keepers and
turnkeys; through this cottage an entrance led to the interior of the gaol.
The building was substantially constructed of brick, stone and hardwood. Here
the convicts were flogged and public
were carried out.
Morris Landers was appointed gaoler in 1819.
He gave evidence before
Commissioner J.T. Bigge -
January 1820. 1. How long have you been in your present situation? About ten
months. 2. Are you a prisoner? I am a prisoner for life. 3. What is your pay
or allowance? I have no pay, but 1 have a ration and a half and the indulgence
of a government man. 4. How do you employ the government man? He works for a
settler who allows me seven shillings per week and he [the settler] gets his
[the convict's] ration. 5. What is the number of prisoners now confined in the
gaol? Sixty six and of these twelve are sick........Read
In May 1822 James Croft was appointed
Gaoler. Croft was an ex convict who arrived on the
in 1818 after being sentenced to transportation for life in Leicester.
John Hooper who arrived on the
in 1819 was turnkey at the gaol in 1828.
The gaol became overcrowded as the Assizes
dates neared. In the beginning of 1842 a total of 164 people were incarcerated
behind the walls - 111 men and 53 women. The Governor of the gaol was
congratulated for his management of the situation at this time for preventing
an outbreak of 'pestilential fever' due to the overcrowding.
Prisoners may have been
forced to travel great distances. In Scone a complaint in the early 1840's was
that even those convicted of minor offences such as drunkenness were harshly
treated. If they were unable to pay their fine they were sentenced to 48 hours
in Newcastle gaol, despite the availability of two pairs of stocks in the
Scone lock up. Many were willing to make any sacrifice to save themselves the
walk to Newcastle and were known to pay 10/- for the loan of a guinea to pay
the fine. If they were unable to raise the required amount they could expect
to be absent for up to a month as the escort to Newcastle was often very slow.
By 1842 executions were no longer being
carried out within the walls of the gaol or in a prominent position nearby.
who was executed for the murder of his overseer Mr. Stone had to walk quite a
distance to the gallows which were erected in a hollow and able to be
'witnessed only by those assembled on the spot'.
In June 1842 a
correspondent wrote to the Sydney Gazette telling of the decayed state
of the Newcastle gaol - 'a military guard is requisite to prevent the
escape of the prisoners. About sixty men were sent for trial to Maitland and
were it not for the military guard stationed at the gaol day and night, the
prisoners with ease may have thrown it down and escaped'. The gaol was
said to be capable of holding only half the number that were incarcerated
Select here to read a former inmate's description of the gaol in 1843
1843 Maitland was campaigning for a new gaol.
Situated 20 miles from Maitland, Newcastle Gaol was described as miserably
deficient both as regards safe custody and the classification of prisoners.
Bond and free, debtors and felons were all indiscriminately mixed together.
The gaoler John Field thought some committed petty thefts for the
purpose of being sent to gaol as they had nothing to do and lived better
than they did out of prison; there was not only no hard work in the gaol but
there was no work of any kind by which the prisoners could be employed.
Besides the inadequacies and risk of escape, considerable expense was incurred
in the transmission of prisoners from Newcastle to Maitland at each Circuit
Court and Quarter Sessions and back to Newcastle after they had taken their
Sometimes the military were called
on to restore order at the gaol. In 1844 a disturbance took place in the gaol
airing yard where male prisoners were confined. The main instigators were
Norfolk Island expirees who were again imprisoned after escaping from the
Newcastle hospital in the cutter 'Brothers'. The men became unruly and
insubordinate towards the gaol constables and Mr. Field immediately called for
a military guard from the barracks. The soldiers secured the prisoners who
were later sentenced to solitary confinement for a month.
A Proclamation dated December 20
1848 was published in the
Government Gazette declaring the gaol in East Maitland to be the gaol
for the Northern Circuit District.
On 31 December 1848 the Newcastle Gaol was closed and inmates
were transferred to
although some convicts remained in Newcastle to work on construction of the
They lived at the gaol until 1855 when the
formidable old building was closed as a prison. It was used for some years for
the storage of gunpowder before being condemned. Some of the walls and
foundations were removed when the site was excavated for the tram terminus at
the eastern end of Scott Street. However even in 1897 parts of the foundations
could still be seen cropping out of the sand on the 'Old Gaol Hill'.