Richmond Gaol

02 Jan

After visiting the Old Hobart Town Model Village,

we wandered over to the historic Richmond Gaol.

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The Richmond Gaol is the oldest existing colonial gaol in Australia.

It was built in 1825 by convicts

(well, they kept adding bits to it until 1840),

and it continued to be used as a lock up until 1928.

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Today, it looks much the same as it did back in 1840,

when the gaol was necessary because of the number of convicts working in the area

– needing nightly accommodation and a place to punish those who needed to be kept in order.

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The oldest building is this little whitewashed single-storey building.

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Inside, you can walk through the rooms where the convicts were held.

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The front two rooms are where they slept,

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sometimes with up to 40 men in these two rooms.

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And, no, they are not big rooms,

by any means!!

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Oh and check out the outfit convicts had to wear if they were repeat offenders.

It’s called the ‘magpie’ uniform.

Wearing it was humiliating but it made the repeat offenders easy to identify.

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The back two rooms in the building were the ‘day rooms’

where the men spent their days when the weather was bad

and they were without work.

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In these rooms you can see some graffiti made by the convicts.

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Look closely…

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See, here on the window shutter.

Thomas Lake was in Richmond Gaol for burglary when he carved his name (T.Lake), his village (Writtle) and county (Essex) on the shutter.

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In the back of the building,

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there is also a dark punishment cell

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where the prisoner could be restrained in chains.

(My ‘prisoner’ wouldn’t put on his chains!)

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In this building,

we also saw evidence of how superstitious the colonial people were.

(See the shoes hidden under the floor boards.)

It is very common in Australia to find items,

like dead cats, clothing, children’s toys and shoes,

hidden under floors and in wall cavities in colonial buildings.

They believed that these items would lure evil spirits into tight cavities in the building,

which would trap the evil spirits,

and hence protect the inhabitants of the building.

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Heading back outside,

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we walked around the ‘airing yard’.

This is where the convicts exercised.

They were given an hour in the morning

and an hour again in the evening.

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The only people not given time outside

were those in solitary confinement

(and apparently they were given a whole day outside after their confinement).

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There were 12 solitary confinement cells for the men

and 4 for the women.

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Each cell was 2.13 metres by 1 metre.

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Some of the cells were dark cells

and some received a little light.

The occupants received only bread, water, a blanket and a ‘night’ bucket.

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It doesn’t sound like a very pleasant way to spend a few days to a month.

I would be wanting a bed, some light, air conditioning and a good book at least.

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Looking at the communal toilets,

I’m thinking the private night bucket might actually be a better option.

I mean, gosh, your bottoms would virtually be touching each other on these loos!!!

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But I suppose you could swing the door open

and get a good view of the daily floggings.

Yes, the dunny was in the flogging yard,

where at 9am the flagellator would administer lashes to his victims.

The flagellator was not a popular bloke, as you can imagine.

In fact, one flagellator, George Grover,

(and probably plenty of others),

used to lead people into trouble

because he got paid to flog them.

George Grover was so unpopular that he was thrown off the Richmond Bridge and killed.

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A doctor was always present when a person was being flogged.

They had the power to suspend a flogging,

however, the victim would have to return to receive the rest of their lashes

once the doctor had made them well again.

And yes, salt water would be applied to wounds to help them heal

which is where we get the expression,

‘rubbing salt into the wound’.

What I didn’t know is that women were not flogged in Australia.

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No, no executions were held here.

However, the colony’s hangmen, Soloman Blay, did reside at Richmond Gaol

He was doing four years of hard labour in Richmond,

but would be escorted to Hobart when needed to hang people.

He hung over 150 people.

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In 1834,

the gaoler’s house was added.

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(the cookhouse, solitary cells and women’s room were added in 1835

and a stone wall was erected around the gaol in 1840)

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The gaoler’s house was used as a residence

but also a watch house and a place for the javelin men to sleep.

The javelin men were basically gaol wardens,

who were convicts themselves.

(They were called javelin men because of the long weapon-like pole that they carried).

As you can imagine,

these javelin men were not the most reliable wardens

and could easily be corrupted.

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I wondered whether any families lived in the gaoler’s residence.

Imagine looking out your window and seeing a yard full of convicts.

Or, worse still, having them look in!

I can’t imagine it would have been a nice place to live.

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We spent over an hour exploring Richmond Gaol,

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but we are the kind of people who read every single plaque

and make sure we don’t miss a thing.

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I think the gaol was my favourite thing in the little town of Richmond

but, then, I’m very partial to history.

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