Old Dubbo Gaol | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Old Dubbo Gaol

Item details

Name of item: Old Dubbo Gaol
Other name/s: Dubbo Jail, Dubbo Gaol
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Law Enforcement
Category: Gaol/Lock-up
Location: Lat: -32.2459195964 Long: 148.6024757690
Primary address: 215 Macquarie Street, Dubbo, NSW 2830
Parish: Dubbo
County: Lincoln
Local govt. area: Dubbo
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Dubbo
Hectares (approx): 1695
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP40398
LOT12 DP40398
LOT2 DP40398
LOT3 DP40398
LOT4 DP40398
LOT5 DP40398
LOT6 DP40398
LOT8 DP40398
LOT9 DP40398
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
215 Macquarie StreetDubboDubboDubboLincolnPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

Old Dubbo Gaol is of State, regional and Local significance and is listed on the register of the National estate. The presence of the Gaol is a significant reminder of the unusual origins of the City of Dubbo as a regional centre for the judiciary before it became a location of commerce and habitation. Although no longer a working gaol, it served the area both as a Police and minor Gaol in the 95 years of operation as part of the facilities for the administration of justice across the region. It is a survivor of the 'Hay' type of Gaol typical of the New South Wales justice system. Most of these have now disappeared or are very much altered. It is associated with a James Barnet Court House within the precinct.

Old Dubbo Gaol also has social significance as a major tourist attraction in the city and is also seen as an underutilised civic amenity. It is of social significance for the fact that it was saved from demolition by State government actions by a group of local citizens in 1974. The survival of the Gaol is due to their enthusiasm and energy. Its social significance is also extended to surviving inmates and their relatives and descendants, both of European and Aboriginal extract.

The Old Dubbo Gaol has aesthetic significance as a group of well proportioned and well constructed buildings surrounded by grass lawns set within a brick walled compound. It is an oasis of peace and calm in the middle of a bustling modern city.
(draft nomination, 2002)
Date significance updated: 24 Jul 03
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Colonial Architect's Office
Builder/Maker: Varies, 1862-63 James Atkinson Jnr 1871 – William Moffatt 1874 – William Moffatt
Construction years: 1847-1945
Physical description: The Old Dubbo Gaol is a small, compact gaol located within the CBD of Dubbo City. The enclosing wall is extensive and high. It is built of Dubbo red-brown bricks in English bond, with piers, laid in lime mortar. Above the north-eastern corner of the wall is a watchtower having a wide eaved roof of corrugated iron. Originally a catwalk extended from the watchtower. The structure inside the gaol wall include:- the main male cell block with 12 ordinary cells and specialised cells comprising two solitary confinement cells, a padded cell, a condemned cell; the female cell block comprising two cells, a bathroom and exercise yard; the infirmary and kitchen block, including a kitchen, infirmary, Library, bathroom, two store rooms, two offices; two remand yards adjacent to a debtors exercise yard and an early toilet block, laundry building with toilets and fenced exercise yards, sanitary disposal facility, toilet. The buildings are mainly sandstone with hipped corrugated iron roofs, while the entrance, watchtower and women’s cell block are of brick. The infirmary and kitchen and the male exercise yard feature simple wooden brackets to the verandah posts. The gallows have been re-erected. (draft nomination, 2002)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical condition of the buildings is good, however, rising damp is a problem in some areas. Fences are suffering from dry rot. The re-erected gallows are in poor, deteriorating condition. The first two public buildings in Dubbo - a police residence and court house/lockup were built in this precinct. There were two prisons and two court houses built within the precinct prior to the construction of the present buildings. Archaeological potential would be expected to be medium to high in a number of areas. (draft nomination, 2002)
Date condition updated:08 Dec 10
Modifications and dates: 1847-48 – first police residence and courthouse/lockup built
1862-63 – New court house and watch house built, designed by Colonial Architects office.
1869-70 – Additions to back of court house.
1871 – New stone watch house or lock up built – beginning of Dubbo Gaol.
1873-74 Additions – extension to cell block with 5 cells, fenced enclosure around the east end of cell block,
1877 – 1880 – major extensions – hospital and kitchen block, perimeter wall and two watchtowers, shelter sheds.
1886-87 - major alterations and additions including construction of residences (gaoler’s), re-located entrance, women’s cells & bathroom, new gateway/entrance
1895-1898 – extension of gaol wall, removal of one watchtower, new trial yard, shelter sheds, new office and guard room etc
1928-29 – extensive renovations and additions, including new gaolers residence
1934 – sewerage connected and modifications to bathrooms etc
1945 – two trial yards extended
(draft nomination, 2002)
Current use: Museum and tourist attraction
Former use: Gaol


Historical notes: Erected on the site of the original courthouse. Believed to have been officially opened in 1887. Many of the buildings however were already in existence by this time. Many changes and new buildings followed. The surrounding wall also changed shape. Closed in 1966, the complex re-opened as a tourist attraction in 1974 (Dubbo LEP).

In 2015 Old Dubbo Jail won a silver prize in the cultural tourism category of the 12th Travel Inland Tourism Awards. The Gaol was inducted into the Tourism Hall of Fame (Dubbo Photo News, 30/7/2015).

In August 2016 the gaol will be closed to allow extensive restoration and renovation of the site (Star FM, Dubbo, 1/8/16).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures-Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practices, past and present. Wiradjuri Nation - places of detention and confinement-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures-Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practices, past and present. All nations - places of battle or other early interactions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples-
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Ethnic influences-Activities associated with common cultural traditions and peoples of shared descent, and with exchanges between such traditions and peoples. Controlling ethnicity through detention and imprisonment-
7. Governing-Governing Law and order-Activities associated with maintaining, promoting and implementing criminal and civil law and legal processes Incarcerating prisoners-
7. Governing-Governing Law and order-Activities associated with maintaining, promoting and implementing criminal and civil law and legal processes Policing and enforcing the law-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Visiting heritage places-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Tourism-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Developing and maintaining a local museum-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Rolf Boldrewood, author-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with James Barnet, Colonial (government) Architect-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Old Dubbo Gaol is one of many country gaols erected in the 19th century to cope with the burgeoning population as it spread west and opened up the interior of New South Wales. By 1900 there were many prisons and lockups across the state. As such then, Old Dubbo Gaol is not important in the course, or pattern of NSW's cultural or natural history. However, it is of EXCEPTIONAL significance locally. The buildings erected for the purpose of the administration of justice for Dubbo and the surrounding region were the first to appear in the new settlement. The Gaol therefore traces its lineage to the beginning of the city. Aboriginal association with the gaol, in terms of intercultural relations on the frontier of white settlement is EXCEPTIONALLY high. (draft nomination, 2002)
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Dubbo Gaol was never more than a local and regional gaol. The staff, inmates and other visitors were similar to other gaols and judicial institutions of this type across the state. The Gaol has associations with some infamous criminals, in particular, Jackie Underwood who was hanged in the Gaol in 1901 for his part in the Breelong Incident near Gilgandra. The Gaol is also associated with the Dubbo Court House, a remarkable James Barnet Court House designed c.1887. While working as the Clerk of the Court in Dubbo, Rolf Boldrewood penned the Australian classic novel, Robbery under Arms. (draft nomination, 2002)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Old Dubbo Gaol sits within a high gaol wall in the main street of Dubbo. While the gaol itself does not have any extraordinary aesthetic appeal, the location and ambience of the buildings within the busy Dubbo CBD, provides an appealing oasis within the Dubbo CBD. Its close proximity to the aesthetically outstanding Dubbo Court House and gardens adds to this setting (draft nomination, 2002)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Old Dubbo Gaol does not have strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group in NSW (or the local; area) for social, cultural or spiritual reasons. It does however, have association with the "under-classes", in particular, rural poor, itinerant rural workers, hawkers and "swaggies". The Gaol did incarcerate a surprisingly large number of prisoners from culturally diverse backgrounds, particularly the Chinese. Of the eight men hanged in the Gaol, two were Aboriginal, two were Chinese and one was a Dane. (draft nomination, 2002)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The history of the Gaol is now well researched and it is unlikely that any significant new material will emerge from the place. Archaeological excavations may reveal some interesting information or remains but nothing that could be gleaned from other sites. A very large number of Aboriginal people from the region were incarcerated in the Gaol during the process of dispossession, and future research may reveal some interesting episodes in the history of inter-cultural relations in a "frontier" location. (draft nomination, 2002)
SHR Criteria f)
Old Dubbo Gaol is uncommon in its completeness. It is possibly the most complete country gaol listed on the register of the National Estate for New South Wales. Most of the other country gaols have been removed, demolished, or altered so significantly that it is not easy to interpret their origins and functions. In this respect Old Dubbo Gaol has HIGH significance for the State and for the region beyond the Blue Mountains. The free standing , demountable scaffold, is probably unique in Australia and therefore HIGHLY significant to the study of capital punishment in Australia. (draft nomination, 2002)
SHR Criteria g)
Old Dubbo Gaol is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of NSW's cultural; or natural places in that it closely follows the "Hay" style of country gaol as identified by J.S Kerr. In this it is judged as being of HIGH significance. It would gain a higher rating if the Gaoler's Cottage was still standing. As both the early and the later cottages have been demolished the Gaol is not complete. However, in its current state of preservation it is a remarkably intact survivor of its type (draft nomination, 2002)
Integrity/Intactness: Some features lost but reasonably authentic restoration overall. Built over a number of different periods always changing. More sympathetic signs suggested.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0168926 Mar 04 631721
Local Environmental PlanOld Dubbo Gaol 08 Feb 91   
National Trust of Australia register Goal Group 09 Nov 81   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Writtenanon Old Dubbo Gaol, NSW Australia (leaflet with plan)
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Old Dubbo Gaol View detail
WrittenDesign 5 Architects2003Old Dubbo Gaol, Dubbo NSW, Conservation Management Plan (draft - in preparation)
WrittenHorndage, Bill1986Old Dubbo Gaol, 7th revised edition
WrittenKass, Terry2001Thematic History of Dubbo
WrittenPerumal, Wrathall and Murphy Pty Ltd in association with Cameron McNamara.1987Dubbo Heritage Study : Specialist Reports Volume.
TourismTourism NSW2007Old Dubbo Gaol View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5050315
File number: 10/22231 ; S90/02895

Every effort has been made to ensure that information contained in the State Heritage Inventory is correct. If you find any errors or omissions please send your comments to the Database Manager.

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