Old Dubbo Gaol
Humans are inherently drawn to the macabre.
Whether it’s television shows that dissect bodies, horror movies with serial killers, or seeing old prisons where executions took place, most people love a dose of horror.
A love of horror aside, I did extensive study during my law degree on the criminal justice system, so I’ve checked out modern day prisons as part of my studies too – like the women’s prison at Berrima, that focuses on rehabilitation over retribution during their sentences.
In this instance, it’s a love of the macabre that has us visiting Old Dubbo Gaol. (For our American readers, Gaol is the British and Australian spelling of jail.)
We arrive at the gaol on a stunning 30+ degrees Celsius day in Summer. As we enter, it’s hard to feel a sense of foreboding when the sun is shining down on you, the birds are chirping, the cicadas are stirring in the background, and you get a friendly hello from the lady working at the entrance.
Whilst there are theatrical performances during the day and themed tours, numpty me has forgotten my hat and sunscreen in the middle of Australian summer, so we opt to do the Self Guided Tour.
Prison security systems were a little different in older eras. To safeguard the occupants, they used The Watchmen’s Telltales. The Telltales look like locks in walls. Wardens would insert a key to wind up the spring inside. If this wasn’t done every hour, an alarm bell would ring.
Our first glimpse inside is the Male Cell Block. It’s the oldest part of Old Dubbo Gaol, built in 1871. It initially housed the warden and his family, but grew to have 14 cells and two solitary confinement units. In 1873-74, female cells were added, which were sealed away from the male section.
Apparently two prisoners tried to escape during the 1950s by burning a hole in the ceiling of their cell! I also noticed a particularly creepy shadow cast by North Nomad when I took this photo of him in the solitary confinement cell. It looked like an enormous, but invisible person is standing behind him. The use of dark cells in solitary confinement was discontinued in 1896 after being found to be inhumane.
We pass by the Condemned Cell, which housed the murderer Thomas Moore on the eve of his execution in 1897. Prisoners were usually held in this cell for a couple of months before their execution, and were only allowed out for one hour per day.
The Hangman’s Kit is a fascinating, but gory display. Old Dubbo Gaol holds the original hangman’s kit. It’s one of the few in existence, and on display in Australia. You can see how they used different sized ropes for different sized prisoners. The hangman’s mask and the prisoner’s hood is particularly creepy, even behind glass it gives off bad ju-ju. The leather strips and gags to hold and bind the prisoners make it seem even more torturous.
Eight men were hanged for murder between 1877 and 1904. Nearly all of them claimed it was in self defence or in passion, but mitigating circumstances were not a complete or partial defence under the law at that time.
Outside the prison cells, we’re back in the courtyard in the blinding sun. We check out the exercise quarters, the library (formerly a surgery), and the watch tower. The Watchtower is the perfect vantage point to check out Old Dubbo Gaol from, particularly on such a beautiful day.
Back down in the yard, we saunter out of the gaol. I stop, taken by the realism of a theatrical performance. The guards are yelling at the prisoners to get back into their cells. I’m standing in the shadows trying not to get burnt, and peek my head around a corner to get a better look at the show. A guard sees me, “Oi! What do you think you’re looking at?” he yells at me, and I burst into giggles.
It was a fun day, and we enjoyed the self-guided tour. Given how much fun the theatrical performances looked, I think one of the spookier night tours could be a lot of fun.
Location: 90 Macquarie Street, Dubbo NSW 2830 (near the Clock Tower and Commonwealth Bank)
Contact Details: Phone: (02) 6801 4460, Fax: (02) 6801 4469, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening Hours: 9:00am to 4:00pm everyday (except Christmas Day)
Night Tours: Old Dubbo Gaol night tours run in School Holidays or by group booking on their website. There’s a Family Friendly Night Tour, and an Adults Only Beyond The Grave Tour
|Student (16 Years & Above)||$12.00|
|Child (4 to 15 Years)||$5.00|
|Child (Under 4 years)||Free|
|Family Pass (2 Adults & 2 Children)||$36.00|
|Extra Child (4 to 15 Years)||$4.00|