A VISIT TO OLD MELBOURNE GAOL

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By Jessica Pantou | Photo via

 

 

Immediately as you step into this century old building you realise it’s not exactly the cheery Sunday afternoon you had hoped for. The walls of limestone stained from years of punishment and the echo of the 3-storey east wing send chills down your spine.

 

Today young children run through the halls as their parents read the walls of this prison turned prison-museum. Where once silence would have been deafening, there is now laughter and joy of a day out with the family.

 

Inmates were locked in small cell rooms in isolation and under a strict silence rule for 23 hours of the day. For one hour each day they were allowed into the exercise yard although they were never able to communicate with other inmates as even the exercise yard had separation. In each cell on the first floor you are introduced to a new in mate. You hear their story of how they came to be in Australia and what they did to deserve a prison sentence at the Melbourne Gaol.

 

One such case was that of Frederick Bailey Deeming, considered to be victoria’s most dangerous criminal (after Ned Kelly). Deeming was seriously thought to have been Jack the Ripper for sometime in the 19th Century. He made many voyages back and forth between England and Australia with his first wife and family of four at the time. However, upon his return to Australia in 1891 he remarried. His second wife was found encased in cement in their family home. This death sparked investigations, which lead to the findings of Deeming’s first wife and four children buried similarly in his other home back in England. In March 1892 Deeming was set to marry yet again but was arrested before the wedding went ahead. He was hung in the Melbourne Gaol on May 23rd 1892 for his crimes.

 

A building that was built above the city skyline to stand as a symbol of authority is now a reminder of a dark period of crime for Melbourne.”

 

The tale of Frederick Bailey Deeming was presented in his cell next to a death mask of his face. To read his story and glance over at a 3D model of his face staring at the back of you is an unsettling experience. The Death masks were produced after the hangings of criminals so the Phrenologists could study them. Phrenology was a science developed in the 18th century where these phrenologists would determine personality and human behaviour based on the shapes of their skull. It was believed that a person was destined for a life of crime and evil if they carried a certain head shape.

 

As you walk up the scaffold stairs and walkways to the second floor things become much more sinister as the second floor is devoted to discussing how prisoners were punished. From lashings to hangings the floor encompasses pain and death. Upward again the third floor is quite possibly the eeriest. As you walk along the cells you suddenly feel more and more secluded. Fewer visitor’s are walking around you find yourself in cells alone. An odd feeling surrounds you and suddenly it feels too disturbing to continue down the halls.

 

The East wing is all that remains preserved from what was once a very large prison compound. 133 people were hung at the Melbourne Gaol. A building that was built above the city skyline to stand as a symbol of authority is now a reminder of a dark period of crime for Melbourne. Some of the original prison head quarters have now been transformed into classrooms for RMIT University and are not open to the general public.  You can however jump on a guided tour of the grounds, where guards will treat you as if you have just been arrested in the 19th century and brought to the Gaol. Not for the faint of heart.

 

To plan your visit, here’s the website:

http://www.oldmelbournegaol.com.au/

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