Richmond Gaol


Ok about time to tell you that I am going crazy this morning with two little boys running around and going crazy and of course not listening to what nanna says.

Now let us move onto something different from me and my family, Old Richmond Gaol, located in Richmond in Tasmania. Never heard of the gaol that’s ok me either till we went there and we went to Richmond for something different but ended scrapping the first thing and touring the gaol.

Richmond was named in February 1824 and within a decade the region had the third largest population in the island, later on Richmond would become an important centre for the military.

Now Richmond gaol was built in 1826 and it is the only gaol with the original buildings, it hasn’t been restored like most old gaols. It was in the mid 1820’s that there was a burst of building activities requiring a large number of convict labourers and so a local place of imprisonment was needed for those who committed offences while employed on the new public works. Also there were surrounding rural properties which belonged to gentlemen farmers which had a large number of assigned convicts who acted as slave labour. So what better way to keep all those convicts in order then to have the threat of a stretch in the local gaol or lash of course.

The first gaoler was W J Speed and ex-schoolmaster from Clarence Plains who had many personal family problems he was appointed on the 1st February 1826 but only served as gaoler for 4 years before being removed from office after charges of keeping rations for himself. The man also abandoned his wife and the mother of his 12 children, denying his marriage and tried to get his wife committed to the Lunatic Asylum in Sydney. He was 66 when he was appointed gaoler and 70 when he was dismissed.


The gaol held many Aborigines usually without charges being brought against them, their only real crime was being an Aboriginal, members of the Stoney Creek tribe were placed there in late 1828. Yummarra, the tribal chief managed to escape only to be recaptured later. At the request of Governor Arthur the conciliator and protector of the Aborigines George Robinson visited the gaol he was compelled at one visit to complain about an assault upon an aboriginal female by a soldier sentry who attacked her with the butt of his musket.

The of course there were bushrangers in 1827 the gaoler requested arms as he felt it was likely that the gaol would be attacked, the sheriff expressed doubt as to whether Speed would be able to make a defence, however, the gaol was not attacked.

In 1832 a Gaoler’s Residence, Watch House and Javelin Men’s Room were constructed because of a letter from Lt Barrow which pointed out that 42 men in irons as well as others waiting for trial occupied a room .72m x 4.11m with some prisoners having to sleep in the cells and passage ways.

Now I mentioned that Yummarra escaped but of course he was not the only one to escape from the gaol. The insecurity of the gaol was highlighted through a number of escapes in 1834, with one break-out being achieved by going through the floor boards and cellar with eight men escaping. Another escape involved the piling up of bedding to such and extent that the prisoners could simply jump over the paling fence. In 1849 six men escaped by stacking bricks from an old privy against the corner wall to climb over it, after removing stones and lintels from their cell windows.

Leg irons

In 1839 the Gaoler Randall Young was gaoled in his own gaol for debt, he was replaced by a Samuel Whittacker who proved from his want of energy method and regularity totally unfit for the Office of Gaoler what that means I don’t know. However, he was replaced by a William Jemott in May 1844 and this man had a disagreement with the hangman of Hobart concerning carrying of water to the gaol the matter was referred to the Visiting Magistrate and resulted in the Gaoler being threatened with being locked up in his own gaol for disrespect.

When the transportation of convicts ceased and the operation of the gaol moved pasted its peak the Colonial Secretary suggested to the Sheriff that the gaol could be better used as a Watch House so the gaol passed from the jurisdiction of the Sheriff to that of the Police.

On the 10th June 1861 Richmond became a Municipality and the gaol again passed hands to the the newly formed Municipal Police. The opening minutes of the Richmond Council moved that the present force continue for one month and it was determined that one Sergeant was to act as Watch House Keeper and that the Superintendent was to reside in the Gaol House and keep a horse ready for immediate use. Various people were designated as Gaoler at Richmond up to 1880.

Council minutes show that councillors were quick to sieze any opportunity to keep the Gaol in repair and prisoners were detained for the purpose of erecting stables, with enticements offered of money, sugar, tea and tobacco to be shared between them.

A circular from the Colonial Secretary in 1877 suggested the centralisation of the Police and the closure of the Municipal Force at Richmond by the Police Act of 1898. The gaol, however, was still in need of repairs and another inmate with roofing skills was utilised to do the repairs.

In 1943 the Richmond Council agreed the Gaol should be returned to the State Government and as a result the Richmond Gaol became a State Reserve on the 18th December 1945, under the control of the Scenery Preservation Board. In 1971 the National Parks and Wildlife Service was formed and Richmond Gaol was then classified an Historic Site.


2 thoughts on “Richmond Gaol

  1. You’ve written about gaols before and I guessed they were some type of prison but today I looked it up to confirm my suspicion and it’s a variant of jail, probably pronounced that way to, huh? Interesting post Jo-Anne! ❤
    Diana xo

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