Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Home Front: Old Melb Gaol grounds.

So .. .long time no post from me.

LONG STORY SHORT: I had a "massive stroke" that was luckily caught really early so I have been making " a remarkable recovery" at the expense of a lot of motivation, but here's my return to writing ..

Museum trips are something that are good for us as a family but we took  a chance on a variation and visited the infamous Old Melbourne Goal one weekend and I was struck by its castle-like construction, and thought it would be an interesting site to add to my list of bug-in locations; following on from Ikea, self-storage facilities and the like.

The Old Melbourne Goal is a retired corrections facility,  built between1843 and 1864 during the Gold Rush,  and  expanded  between 1852 and 1854; the construction using bluestone instead of sandstone. 

The design was based on that of British prison engineer Joshua Jebb, and especially the designs for the Pentonville Model Prison in London (which suited the current prison reform theories at the time). The boundary wall also being extended during this time. In 1860, a new north wing was built; which included entrance buildings, a central hall and chapel. Between 1862 and 1864, a cell block was built for female prisoners on the western side – it was basically a replica of the present east block (until this time, female convicts were not kept apart from the male prisoners).[4]


 Started in 1843 and not finished until 1864, the ironstone perimeter wall, and the gaol overall, was completed; making it a dominant feature of authority on the Melbourne skyline.

As the Gaol was progressively decommissioned, the building’s fabric, including bluestone grave markers of executed prisoners, was incorporated into a sea wall at Brighton in Victoria in the 1930s. The grave marker for Martha Needle, executed in 1894, has recently been rediscovered after being buried by metres of sand.


The Second Cell Block is scientifically significant as an illustration of the Pentonville type gaol based on the universal specifications of the British prison engineer Joshua Jebb. The complex of buildings is historically significant for its role as Melbourne’s oldest surviving gaol and as the Remand, Trials, Debtors and Females prison for the metropolitan area for much of its functioning life. The site of the whole extent of the original complex is archaeologically significant in so far as it contains remnants of the original gaol structures and the site of the original burials of prisoners hanged at the gaol, including Ned Kelly.  That old style construction is what made it appeal to me.  Thick, thick solid bluestone walls and fittings, made to last! The current facility features the large securing wall, with heavy metal gates and barred windows still in place to keep the general public out...

Garden beds line the walls in its current setting, the large forecourt big enough for concert marquis to be set up ... outside the main cell block but still within the thick and high external walls.

The main cell block is three stories with iron gantries and stairs connecting the floors. Electric lighting has replaced the gaslights originally fitted, but light is supplemented by vaulted windows in the walls and the ceiling.









Based on the Pentonville prison style, It had a central hall with five radiating wings, all visible to staff at the centre. This design, intended to keep prisoners isolated – the "separate system" first used at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia – was not, as is often thought, a panopticon. Guards had no view into individual cells from their central position. Pentonville was designed to hold 520 prisoners under the separate system, each having his own cell, 13 feet (4 m) long, 7 feet (2 m) wide and 9 feet (3 m) high with little windows on the outside walls and opening on to narrow landings in the galleries.[2]  The cells currently are empty but for museum fittings, and the occasional replica mattress... barely big enough for a Tactical Baby ...




Each cell comes with its original door, complete with portal and two-stage lock. With a little work the doors could be rigged to open and lock from the inside, if you don't care about the Heritage listing and have powertools...

There is also a window set high into the outside facing wall which allows a considerable amount of light and air into the rooms.

The floors are polished, these days, which helps to keep it clean. There is also a drain hole set into the bottom corners of the rooms, allowing them to be washed and to drain out over the outer wall... Reports from the time suggest the cells were "admirably ventilated", a visitor wrote, and had a water closet, though these were replaced by communal, evil-smelling recesses because they were constantly blocked and the pipes were used for communication..... as horrid as that sounds.




On the top floor there were double sized rooms, with double windows, and are currently fitted out with lounges for when the Gaol is hired as a social venue for events! Back when they were in use as prisons, Mental disturbances were common. An official report admitted that "for every sixty thousand persons imprisoned in Pentonville there were 220 cases of insanity, 210 cases of delusion, and forty suicides".[3] However, conditions were better and healthier than at Newgate and similar older style prisons.
That said, the renovated and cleaned for public viewing cells were clean, neat and presentable, if sparse. outside bars, behind smoked glass, reduce the prison-cell aspect slightly, and keep the weather out. even in high summer, he facility is cool, due to the high vaulted ceilings, and by virtue of the thermal mass of the bluestone construction.


The ironwork is all sound, the stairway and gantries as well as bars are all in good order. lending the site a very sturdy, robust and long lasting feel. The wash houses and kitchen facilities are not open to the public, so its hard to say what they are like, ut there is certainly lots of space to accommodate both many inhabitants, but also by cross-purposing:storage and amenities on site.

So. Given its age pre-dates running water I suspect it will have or have easily  restorable water reservoirs or at least drainpipes that could be diverted. The courtyards are already fitted with raised garden beds and the makings of vertical gardens all behind the heavy walls and bars of HM Prison Melbourne!the garden beds around the inside of the outer wall could also be converted for crops. Plenty of space in the courtyards,so given water and exposed soil, there could be land enough to grow substantial crops in a secure environment... not unlike the rather more flimsier-perimeter walled West Georgia Correctional Facility ... 

So, it may not be that prisons, active or retired make excellent refuges in a post-disaster setting, but what they lack in amenities and comfort hey certainly make up for in security and robust design. These are places built to last ... inexpensively and generally in harsh settings.

The Old Melbourne Gaol would certainly seem like a secure and defensible bug-out destination, if the food and water situation could be addressed, and there is much to be said for getting as far from civil centers as possible. However, you'd be hard pressed to find a more castle like site near where I live, should you be of a fortification minded perspective, as I am ...

Of note is that  in 1974, several buildings in the complex have been given over to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and were refitted as college style teaching facilities; The Melbourne Gaol's main entrance gates, governor's residence, female hospital, service wing, bath-house and chapel were constructed in 1860-61. Collectively these facilities are known as RMIT Building 11. Architect: Colonial Government Architect. Remodelled for the food and fashion departments of the Emily McPherson College by architects Eggleston, McDonald and Secomb in May 1974. The bath-house and chapel now serve as art studios.

So, all told. I was impressed with the potential the old Melb Goal showed as a bug-out stronghold and in the event of som kind of society-crumbling event, it would appear well suited for re-purposing into a reasonably simple to maintain and defend keep.








Even with its modern restorations and conversions, and lack of internal resources, its imposing structure and history lend itself to the mind as a suitable "fall of civilization" fall-back point. Imagine a supermarket resupply semi-trailer parked in the main courtyard, and corn and cabbage in the vegetable plots, barrels of water filled by re-routed gutters, street-facing windows blocked up ...... solar panels and windmills.


1 comment:

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