Long before modern police vehicles and Audio-Visual Link, Mudgee needed its own prison. So here is a look at the gaol that housed prisoners up until the turn of the last century and what it was like to 'do time' there.
There were a number of different forms of gaols in Mudgee over the years, including an old slab lock-up just outside town at Menah. In the 1840s a police watchhouse/gaol was built near the intersection of Market and Court streets.
However, this was supervised by monthly police patrols from Hartley. It was then staffed by civilian police, but only had three cells and sometimes they had to walk with prisoners up to two weeks to Bathurst (and even) Darlinghurst gaols.
In 1862, the Mudgee Gaol with 26 cells was established on the western side of the Courthouse. It was extended in 1873 and again in 1875 when Mudgee was approved as a Circuit Court.
This lead to prisoners being sent to the local gaol from as far away as Bourke, usually convicted of such crimes as; stealing; murder and attempted murder; manslaughter; assault; horse stealing; and robbery.
'We cannot say that we hope for its enlargement'
The following is a description of the Mudgee Gaol, from the Mudgee Guardian, December 20, 1895.
"The Mudgee Gaol is a comparatively old structure, in which improvements have been carried out from time to time to bring it up to the state desirable for such an institution.
"We cannot say that we hope for its enlargement, because that would mean that we would like to see an increase in crime and convictions.
"There is accommodation for 72 prisoners, 60 males and 12 females. At present there are only 22 prisoners in the gaol.
"There is the usual hospital, a condemned cell, and a yard in which, as occasion demands, a gallows can be erected. Executions, however, are few and far between in Mudgee. "
Doing time at the time
Prisoners were locked up at 5pm and released at 6.30am.
Prisoner tradesmen were also sent to Mudgee from all over the state and were employed in areas such as saddlery, bookbinding, shoe repair, and road building - with some of the more unpleasant jobs including sewerage collection. When the gaol was expanded in the 1870s, prisoners planted trees and shrubs around the town.
Some were made to work in chains and the prison scourger was assigned to flog convicts assigned to work for local graziers.
But work got them out of the cells, which were normally unheated, and the facility did have high death in custody rate - including 12 in a three year period in the 1870s. Furthermore, the chief gaoler, doctor and warders held internal inquests, which likely explains why most deaths were recorded as "natural causes".
The death penalty was mandatory for murder, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm and rape. And in the last quarter of the 19th century 18 people were sentenced to death by Supreme Court judges at Mudgee Court.
However, only four were executed, with the others having their sentences commuted to imprisonment. One who earned a reprieve was gaol governor John Dick, who agreed to return to England in lieu of a prison sentence.
It wasn't all gloom though. Prisoners were helped to learn to read and write. They were allowed visits by ministers, priests and nuns, and always had access to medical assistance.
And upon completion of their sentences received funds for clothes and to return to where they came from.
What happened to it?
In 1909 the gaol building became the police lock up and keeper's quarters after it was taken over by the Police Department, with the adjacent gaol governor's residence becoming a constable's quarters.
It was used as until 1931, then vacated, by which time both the gaol and residence had deteriorated badly and were demolished in 1936.
All that remains is the brick wall on the western side of the Courthouse.
This article was produced from the Mudgee Guardian/The Weekly archives and with thanks to the Mudgee Historical Society.