Ever since I moved to Melbourne I’ve wanted to visit the Old Melbourne Gaol! One of Melbourne’s oldest architectural buildings right at the heart of Melbourne’s CBD, situated on Russell Street, only minutes’ walk from the train station and one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
Our experience at the Old Gaol started by getting arrested at the 1900s City Watch House. The Watch House Experience lasted for approximately half an hour, one of the most interactive and engaging experiences I’ve had in a museum. We had a female Charge Sergeant as a guide, who made the whole experience so real. We were “arrested” and unexpectedly faced with what it was like to be locked up at the City Watch House. It was quite confronting, but it made it all more interesting. On the way out, my fellow convicts and I queued in line for souvenir mugshot photos. There was a booth for more photos but sadly it wasn’t working. (I absolutely love photos so it was rather disappointing to me).
Once the City Watch experience was over, we headed back to the Old Gaol. The construction of the Gaol began in 1839 and opened its doors to convicts 6 years later in 1845, but by 1850 it was already overcrowded and an extension was added. Between 1845 and 1924, Melbourne Gaol contained some of Australia’s most notorious criminals, including the outlaw Ned Kelly, and serial killer Frederick Bailey Deeming. The now museum of three storeys is the remaining wing opened up to guests with its cells filled with letters and memorabilia, photo archives and death masks.
To be quite honest we were expecting to have a quick walk around the Gaol, but we were pleasantly surprised by just how much there was to see. We did in fact spend about 2 hours or so. The Gaol has so much to offer and we learned a lot more about the Australian history, which was rather interesting.
In each cell there was a different prisoner of whose story was told by the storyboard, the death masks, written letters and other various memorabilia. The hanging gallows still remain in the Gaol as well as a whipping triangle used to lash prisoners. There were hanging executions at the Old Melbourne Gaol and is listed as one of the most haunted spots in Australia. Women were hanged there as well, with Elizabeth Scott on 11th November 1863, being the first woman to be hanged in Victoria. For any paranormal enthusiasts out there, be sure to try the gaol hosts after-dark ghost tours that you might be lucky enough to see a ghost or two. Myself, I get too creeped out on something like this so I wouldn’t try it, as much as it tempts me a little…
The experience is great and so much to learn and educate yourselves on or your children. Visitors are free to explore themselves the lofty cell blocks on the ground floor and two higher levels, which are connected with metal stairs and walkways and get the whole meet the inmates experience. A few of the cell blocks are locked closed, whilst others provide spy holes onto tortured mannequins dressed in prison smocks of the period, and most have been turned into exhibition rooms however, chronicling the lives of the gaol’s inhabitants through a collection of personal effects, letters, contemporary news clippings and death masks.
The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) has been running the museums’ cell block since 1972. The general entry ticket for the Old Melbourne Gaol includes the Watch House Experience which is run regularly. The tours are held every half hour or so and groups are limited to 60 people. For an additional $5 per person on top of your general entry ticket, you can take an escorted tour by one of the guides to help understand a bit more about the Old Melbourne Gaol’s grim past.
If you are looking to learn a bit of history about some of Australia’s most infamous criminals who were held within these walls, many executed by hanging this would be great experience.
Visit the official website for Old Melbourne Gaol
If you want to learn more about the building click here.