Old Gundagai Gaol (Under Consideration) | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Old Gundagai Gaol (Under Consideration)

Item details

Name of item: Old Gundagai Gaol (Under Consideration)
Other name/s: Gundagai Gaol
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Law Enforcement
Category: Gaol/Lock-up
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number


1,821sq m Lot (Reserve No.34414 for Gaol, Gazetted 10 May, 1902). SE cnr Byron Street


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Cootamundra Gundagai Regional CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

The Old Gundagai Gaol is of state significance for its historic, associative, and rarity values. This item functioned as a small rural gaol within the NSW prison system from 1859 to 1909. It is one of the few extant gaols constructed during the short-lived country goal building program conducted by Sheriff John O'Neill Brennan, the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson, and his Clerk of Works William Coles in the late 1850s. It is of its own architectural type as it was built and expanded by three successive Colonial/Government Architects, Alexander Dawson, James Barnet, and Walter Liberty Vernon, who have collectively fashioned its unique design. Considering its unique design and association with several periods of country gaol building the Old Gundagai Gaol is rare in the state context.

The Old Gundagai Gaol, and specifically the Cell Block, has a strong historical association with the notorious criminal Captain Moonlite (Andrew George Scott) as it was where he was held and displayed following his capture after the ill-fated holdup of Wantabadgery Station. The Cell Block also has a strong historical association with the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson as one of the few extant gaol buildings he designed during his short tenure. The Gaoler's Residence also has a strong historical association with Walter Liberty Vernon as one of the few extant gaol buildings designed by him during his tenure as Government Architect.
Date significance updated: 08 Apr 19
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/Government Architects: Alexander Dawson, James Barnet, Walter Liberty Vernon
Builder/Maker: Charles Hardy (1859), Thomas M'Beath (1881-1886), W. Warbrick (1899-1900)
Construction years: 1859-1900
Physical description: The Old Gundagai Gaol is located on the southeast corner of the intersection between First Avenue and Byron Street in North Gundagai. It is located to the rear of Gundagai Courthouse which fronts onto Sheridan Street.

The gaol compound consists of a cluster of seven structures:
1. The Gaoler's Residence (1899-1900);
2. The Kitchen Block (1863 - extended 1881-1886);
3. The Hospital Block (1881-1886, extended 1899-1900);
4. The Cell Block (1859, extended 1881-1886);
5. A single Outhouse;
6. An Outhouse Building (Courthouse); and
7. Garage (1970s).

The gaol is surrounded by a high boundary wall constructed of slate with a rendered capping. As the site slopes dramatically from north to south, the height of the boundary wall differs markedly between the north and south sides. It is perhaps a meter high on the north sides and 2-3m on the south side. Today the wall is not continuous and has been mostly removed along the south side adjacent the Courthouse block and replaced with a corrugated iron fence. It appears that the wall originally excised a small section in the southeast corner (the location of the Outhouse Building). This may have later been rectified with the addition of a brick wall around the last section of the square perimeter. A large hole has been knocked into this wall in the recent past (to allow illegal access) which has been covered over with a section of mesh fencing.

The boundary wall on the north and west sides is in good condition. The east side is buckling and is unsafe, especially at its southern end. This is due to the placement of fill material in the former Women's Yard which is leaning against this wall and causing its destabilisation.

There are two doors in the boundary wall on the west side and a vehicle gate on the north side. The southern most door in the west boundary wall appears to be the original entrance. It leads to the west entrance of the Cell Block. However, it appears that the slate wall around the door has been repaired or restored in the recent past suggesting that the door might have been replaced. The northern most door in the west boundary wall seems to be a twentieth century addition and leads to a path along the front (south) faade of the Hospital Block. Originally, another door entrance was present along the south boundary wall leading from the Cell Block to the Courthouse for prisoner transfer. This door has been removed with the majority of the southern boundary wall, although the pathway leading to it is extant.

The gaol site is multi-levelled and features several retaining walls. The northeast corner, which was originally the Men's Yard (square in shape), is built up at the highest level. It features a slate constructed retaining wall along its west and south sides. This wall was originally higher, but has been demolished to the original floor level of the Men's Yard. The Garage building is situated in this area. A cement driveway leads to it from the gateway in the centre of the north boundary wall. A simple white pipe frame guard rail has been installed along the remaining southwest corner of this retaining wall for safety purposes.

The Women's Yard is situated along the east boundary wall to the south of the Men's Yard. It is rectangular in plan and slopes from north to south. It has a slate retaining wall around its west and south sides and similarly to the Men's Yard, this wall was originally higher, but has been demolished to the original floor level of the yard. However, in this case the material from the demolished wall appears to have been added to the yard area as fill to raise its surface/floor height. This has put pressure on the east boundary wall, causing it to buckle. The south retaining wall of this yard is also in poor condition and is beginning to collapse.

A tower was originally located in the northwest corner of the Women's Yard. It has been demolished, but the (stone) steps leading up to it, and its stone/cement foundation are extant.

A second cement retaining wall is located roughly across the centre of the site in a dog-leg shape. This retaining wall raises the Hospital and Kitchen Blocks up on a higher level than the southwest half of the site. This retaining wall features a concrete pathway along much of its length. The stairway between this level and the lower southeast corner was originally between the Kitchen Block and Gaoler's Residence. However, as this area has been covered over by a c.1970s weatherboard extension, an additional metal staircase has been installed in line with the front of the residence. A modern simple white pipe frame guard rail has been installed along the top of this retaining wall.

The Gaoler's Residence, Cell Block, and both Outhouse buildings are located across the lowest level of the site. Both the Residence and Cell Block are built parallel to the slope. A courtyard is located between these two building with a well in the centre. Beneath the well is an underground tank that was originally fed by pipes connected to the downpipes from the roofs of the compound buildings. This tank is still operational and approximately 6m deep (Noel Thompson Architecture (NTA), 2018). It is covered with a raised rectangular stone cap.

The compound yard features a number of garden beds that were replanted c.2016/2017 by the Friend of Gundagai Gaol (FOGG). These beds are the restored original garden features (from the early twentieth century). They are mainly associated with the Residence. Garden beds and trees are arranged along the south boundary wall to the south of the courtyard in front of the Residence up to the single Outhouse. Another long garden bed (lavender, agapanthus) is arranged along the west retaining wall of the Women's Yard. A smaller garden bed (of rosemary) is located along the front faade of the Residence. Assumedly this arrangement originally allowed the Gaoler (and his family) to soften (or domesticate) the otherwise austere and bleak character of the gaol in their immediate living area.

1. The Gaoler's Residence (1899-1900)
This building was constructed in two stages: the northern two-thirds of the ground floor was originally constructed as an additional external kitchen in 1881-1886 to a design by the office of the Colonial Architect James Barnet. The rest of the building was constructed in 1899-1900 to a design by the office of the Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon.

The Residence is a substantial two-storey structure of face brick and local slate construction. It is rectangular in plan and orientated north-south. The ground storey is of local slate construction with face brick detailing to the corners and opening surrounds (stretcher bond). The second storey is of face brick construction (stretcher bond). The front (west) elevation is covered by a two-storey verandah which was restored in 2010. The verandah is supported by timber posts. The back (east) elevation features two large two storey chimneys/fireplaces (English bond).

The roof is a gabled hip structure of corrugated iron with overhanging eaves and exposed rafters. Two face brick chimneys with brick strapwork run along the east (rear) faade. Windows are spread across the north, west, and south sides with one on the east side. Window openings are 2x2 double hung sash with rendered sills.

A single storey weatherboard infill (or a lean-to) has been attached to the ground storey of the north elevation. This links the Residence to the originally free-standing Kitchen Block.

The ground and first floors are identical in layout. They each feature two square rooms with a separate stairway in the centre. All doors are located adjacent to the west wall. Original plans indicate that the ground floor north room was the living room and the south room the sitting room. A rear door was originally located in the north room to the south of the fireplace from when this building was an external kitchen. However, this was bricked up when the building was converted into the Residence. The two first floor rooms were bedrooms.

The building interior retains its original joinery, timber mantlepieces, and floorboards and is in relatively good condition. However, it requires painting and other cosmetic repairs. It seems each room originally featured a central carpet or rug as only the edges of each room had been stained dark brown while the centre sections are untreated (with their original finish). Each of the stairs are marked in a similar way suggesting each originally had a central carpet tread. Each of the fireplaces appear to have had semicircular openings with brick bases and square timber mantlepieces. However, the two ground floor fireplace openings have been boarded-up. Ceilings appear to be plasterboard.

Generally, this building is a quiet and simple domestic space, without ostentation. It stands out within the goal complex due to its brick design compared to the dull grey ashlar type render over the rest of the buildings. The building may be of the Federation Arts and Crafts Free Style which was a common style used by the Government Architect's Branch under Vernon (Boyd, 2010).

2. The Kitchen Block (1863, extended 1881-1886, alterations 1899-1900)
The western two thirds of this building were completed in 1863 probably to a design of the office of the acting Colonial Architect James Barnet. In 1881-1886 the building was extended to the east to a design of the office of the Colonial Architect James Barnet. In 1899-1900 alterations were made to the former store room to convert it into two bathrooms. Finally, in the 1970s it appears alterations were made to the kitchen and wash room to provide modern services.

The Kitchen Block is located to the north of the Residence and is orientated east-west. While it was originally a separate building it is now connected to the Residence by the weatherboard infill that links the Kitchen Block's south door with the north door of the Residence.

The Kitchen Block was originally a rectangular structure with a sitting room in the west half and store and kitchen in the east half. In 1881-1886 a dining room was added to its east side and the original sitting room was converted into the prisoner's kitchen. Today it is organised into three square sections: the western section contains the original sitting room with fireplace, in the centre are a washroom and bathroom, and the eastern section contains the Gaolers kitchen.

The building is of brick construction with a (dull grey/brown) render finish lined to resemble ashlar coursing. The main roof is hipped and constructed of corrugated iron which appears to have been replaced or painted in the recent past. Despite the building having two fireplaces, one in each kitchen section, it only has one tall rendered chimney located at the east end of the north side. Windows are located on the north and south sides.

The interior of the prisoner's kitchen appears to retain much of its original design and fabric. The interior brickwork is of stretcher bond and the lower course appear to be of slate (or built on a slate foundation). It has a simple brick fireplace with a square opening and a single board mantelpiece. The floor of the room and fireplace appears to be (smooth) concreted, suggesting the fireplace housed an oven. The ceiling is of timber boards (looking similar to a timber floor). This room was painted (or been rendered) blue in the past, but the paintwork has faded and is falling/chipping away exposing the underlying brickwork.

The remaining part of the building has been modernised for use as a modern kitchen, laundry and bathroom (1970s).

The original external steps down from the Kitchen Block to the Residence have been maintained inside the weatherboard infill. Part of the infill has been used to create a pantry. The laundry floor is tiled and the ceiling appears to be plasterboard.

This building displays the differences between the Gaoler's and prisoner spaces within the Gaol. The living spaces of the Gaoler have been modernised for his and his family's comfort in the central and western sections, while the west kitchen space is austere (grim and foreboding) with a concrete floor like the Cell Block.

3. The Hospital Block (1881-1886, extended 1899-1900)
The majority of this building was constructed in 1881-1886 to a design by the office of the Colonial Architect James Barnet. A small extension to the west of the entrance was added in 1899-1900 to a design by the office of the Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon.

The Hospital Block is a rectangular building orientated east-west located in the northwest corner of the compound. It is constructed of brick and local slate. Similarly to the rest of the gaol it is rendered (dull grey/brown) and lined to resemble ashlar coursing. It has a gabled roof of corrugated iron with minimal eaves. Chimneys are located at the east and west ends of the structure. Windows are spread along the north and south sides. They vary from double hung 2x2 sash to double hung sash surmounted by fanlights (the majority appear to be these). The majority are rectangular in shape with only the dispensary window having an arched head/top. Security bars cover all the rectangular windows.

The building is accessed via an arched portico where side dressings and a central keystone are created by imitation ashlar coursing. Three openings present to the portico's interior (porch) leading to former wards to the east and west and a small box-room, the former dispensary, to the north. The floor of this portico/porch is smooth concrete. The door to the west ward is an original iron cell door. The dispensary door is wooden with a top fanlight and the east ward door may be a modern replica (or replacement) type cell door, but painted black.

The east ward is the largest room and the original hospital ward. Its fireplace has a timber mantle and a brick base with a semi-circular indent. It retains its original floor boards, skirting boards, and other basic joinery. The interior walls have been rendered in imitation ashlar coursing and painted white. The ceiling is lathe and plaster. This room has been converted into a gallery and has fittings placed along the walls with dangling wire hooks. A series of spotlights have been installed along the centre of the ceiling to provide lighting.

The dispensary is a small 'box' room. It retains its original timber floor and skirting boards. Based on nineteenth century plans it may have originally featured cupboards or shelves, but these have been removed.

The west ward is far smaller than the east ward. It comprises the 1899-1900 extension to the building. Prior to this extension the west wall originally had three arched windows. Evidence of one that has been filled is observable in the portio/porch area. This room retains its timber floors, skirtings boards, timber board ceiling, and other joinery. Its floor boards may have been repaired c.2010 following weathering damage. The walls are rendered in imitation ashlar coursing and are painted white. The fireplace may have previously been closed-up, but has been reopened recently. It now comprises a semi-circular opening with a simple timber board mantlepiece. The fireplace has a brick base with a semi-circular inset. This room has also been converted into a gallery using the same fittings as the east ward.

4. The Cell Block (1859, extended 1881-1886, alterations 1899-1900),
The southern three quarters of this structure (the symmetrical section) was constructed in 1859 as the original Watch House and Cell Block on site. It was designed by the office of the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson. An additional two cells were added to the north in 1881-1886 to a design by the office of the Colonial Architect James Barnet. The alteration of the original gaoler's bedroom to a storeroom occurred in 1899-1900.

Across (west) the courtyard in front of the Residence is the Cell Block. It is a long single storey rectangular building constructed of local slate which is rendered and lined to resemble ashlar coursing. It has a corrugated iron hipped roof with (small) eaves. It has two timber doors, one on its east side and one on its west, towards its southern end. The west door is parallel with the original entrance in the west boundary wall and the east door is almost parallel with the main door to the Residence. There are single rectangular double hung sash window to the north of both doors.

The interior of the building is divided into six cells, an office, and store room. The former two rooms are located between the two entrances and feature the two main windows in the building. The office also features the only fireplace which has a rectangular opening, timber mantlepiece, and brick floor with semi-circular indent. The store room is now bare, but likely originally featured timber cupboards or shelves. These two rooms and the hallway between the two entrances have timber floorboards. To the south of these rooms are two cells and to the north four. They are accessed by a hallway that stretches along the majority of the west side of the building. The cells at each end of the building are larger and stretch the entire width of the structure. The hallways and cells retain their original iron security doors with locking mechanisms and small semi-circular openings. Each of the cells and the hallway are minimally lighted by high slit window openings with iron bars. These areas feature smooth concrete floors and are bare of furnishings except for small/low toilets in the north four cells. The cells may have been remodelled in the 1930s/1940s to install these toilets. All the cells have graffiti on the walls dating from various periods.

An exercise yard is attached to the northern end of the west side of the Cell Block. It appears to be a later (twentieth century) addition to the building. Another door/gate has been cut into the northern hallway to allow access. The exercise yard is concrete floored and has an overhead domed security grill. The walls are all rendered, but this finish is deteriorating. The west boundary wall acts as the west wall of the exercise yard. It seems likely that he additional north and south walls of the exercise yard are of brick construction.

The Cell Block has recently (2018) suffered from subsidence issues at its south end due to unmanaged drainage across the site undercutting its foundations. The foundations were repaired in late 2018, but the subsidence caused major cracking in the walls and floors of the southern end of the structure. These interior issues have not yet been repaired.

5. Single Outhouse (Possibly 1881-1886)
A single outhouse is located to the southeast of the Residence along the south boundary wall. It is rectangular in shape and of brick construction (Flemish bond) with a steep gabled corrugated iron roof. A small, high set, vent opening on the north faade has a rendered sill and brick head. The timber door is on the south side and has an arched top. It has concrete foundations and timber floorboards. Considering its location is seems likely that this was the outhouse for the Residence.

6. Outhouse Building (Courthouse)
This Outhouse is located in the southeast corner of the site. Nineteenth century maps of the Gundagai Gaol and Courthouse indicate that this structure was originally part of the Courthouse lot and contained four water closets. Assumedly after the south boundary wall was removed and a new fence was installed this section was fenced into the gaol lot.

It is a rectangular building of brick construction (common bond) orientated east-west with a gabled corrugated iron roof with the original shingle roof beneath. Two door openings are spread along the north side. The majority of the structure is face brick except for a portion of the east end of the north side which has been rendered, as well as the lowest portion of the walls that appears to have been rendered to resemble concrete. Another two doors are thought to be present on the south side.

This building is in poor condition and is not weather proof. Much of the corrugated iron sheeting has blown away (or been removed) exposing the original shingle roof which is deteriorating. The interior of the building is covered with debris from the collapse of the roof. The structure is also surrounded by debris from the collapsed south retaining wall of the Women's Yard and the hole which was bored through the brick exterior wall. This structure requires clearing and maintenance works.

7. Garage (1970s)
The modern Garage is located in the northeast corner of the site within the former Men's Yard. It is a rectangular brick structure (stretcher bond) orientated east-west with a low gabled corrugated iron roof. It features a roller door on its west side and a door at the east end of its south side.

This building is not of heritage significance.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
1. The Gaoler's Residence is in good condition and is weatherproof. Repairs have been made since c2010 to correct maintenance problems. The interior requires minor works to correct cosmetic deficiencies. The weatherboard infill on the north side needs to be removed to stop water from pooling on its roof and causing water damage to the Residence.

2. The Kitchen Block is in good condition and is weatherproof. The interior of the building requires minor cosmetic maintenance, especially the original prisoner's kitchen room.

3. The Hospital Block is in good condition and is weatherproof. A range of repairs have been undertaken since c.2006 to correct former maintenance problems stemming from vandalism. Recently a Heritage Near Me Activation grant funded the installation of new interpretation signage relating to the story of Captain Moonlite.

4. The Cell Block is in fair condition and is weatherproof. In 2018 the foundations of the southern end were repaired to restabilise the building after unmanaged stormwater flow had undercut the foundations. However, this problem caused a range of structural cracking within the interior of the building that is yet to be repaired. Some of these cracks are large in size, particularly in the south cell. The east wall of the store room is also buckling and needs to be stabilised.

5. The Outhouse is in good condition and is weatherproof. It is in danger of being recovered by vegetation from the surrounding garden. Garden maintenance in this area needs to undertaken.

6. The Outhouse building is in poor condition and is not weatherproof. This building requires urgent repairs to its roof. The surrounding area also needs maintenance works and the nearby south retaining wall of the Women's Yard and brick section of the east boundary wall repaired and stabilised.

7. The Garage is in good condition and weatherproof. This building is considered to be intrusive.
Date condition updated:25 Feb 19
Modifications and dates: 1859: Cell Block (Watch House) constructed.
1863: Kitchen Block constructed.
1881-1886: Series of extensions carried out: Hospital Block constructed, additional external kitchen built, Men's Yard built, Kitchen Block extended, Cell Block extended, and well and underground tank installed.
1899-1900: Series of extension carried out: second external kitchen extended into Gaoler's Residence, Hospital Block extended, and alterations made to rooms in Kitchen Block and Cell Block.
Current use: Available for self-guided audio tours.
Former use: Gundagai Gaol


Historical notes: TRADITIONAL OWNERS
Gundagai is the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people. It is unknown if the land on which the Gundagai Gaol was built had any special spiritual or cultural value for the Wiradjuri in pre-invasion or historic times.

What became known as the Gundagai area was initially settled by British settlers in the late 1820s following in the footsteps of the explorers Hamiliton Hume and William Hovell who passed through the area in 1824. From this time a small settlement gradually developed on the low-lying flats on the north bank of the Murrumbidgee River near the river crossing. By 1840 the settlement had grown enough to be gazetted as a town. A few years later in 1843 there were four hotels, a post office, several stores, a school, blacksmith, and 20 houses. The following year this settlement was hit by the first of what were to be several floods. The local Wiradjuri continued to warn the settlers that this area was a poor choice for a settlement and it was only a matter of time before there was a large flood (NTA, 2012:8).

This flood finally came on 25 June 1852. It destroyed the entire settlement, consisting of 71 buildings, killing 173 people (of a population of around 400). Many people were forced to shelter in the lofts of their houses or in trees. The Wiradjuri men Yarri and Jackey Jackey heroically saved many of the settlers by braving the torrent in their canoes (NTA, 2012:8).

In the aftermath of this flood the settlers drastically rethought their settlement and moved the town to the higher slopes north of the river, founding the current North Gundagai. Within this new town plan a reserve was put aside for a Courthouse and Gaol along the main street.

The old town of Gundagai had been provided with a simple wooden Courthouse in 1847 when it was initially provided with a Bench of Magistrates. A small lock-up was also provided to hold prisoners awaiting trial and those sentenced to short terms by the court. This Courthouse and lock-up was destroyed with the rest of the town in the 1852 flood (Butcher, 2002:119, 122).

As the town began to rebuild court sittings were held in the Crown Hotel. During this period the continued gold discoveries across the colony had led to an increase in bushrangers and general lawlessness (due to these mobile populations). Consequently, the inhabitants of Gundagai urgently sought an imposing new Courthouse to reflect their desire for law and order in the area. This would also allow regular court setting to be held (Butcher, 2002:120).

Due to the steady turnover of Colonial Architects during this 1850s it was not until 1859 that construction of a new Courthouse, designed by Alexander Dawson (1856-1862), began. Tenders were called on 1 August 1859 with that of Charles Hardy of Wagga Wagga being accepted on 21 October 1859. The contract was signed on 9 November 1859 for a first class Courthouse built of rubble masonry for the sum of 1985 pounds. Construction on this building was completed in 1860 (Butcher, 2002:120-121).

Following the 1852 flood a series of temporary structures were used as a lock-up for the new town. In June/July 1855 a new timber slab hut was purposefully constructed for use as a lock up. This building was on the lot where the current Courthouse stands. It was common for prisoners to escape from this timber lock-up by removing slabs from the walls or floors. These escapes were frustrating for the townspeople who made continual calls for a good substantial brick or stone building. By May 1857 it was noted that Gundagai had been promised a new Courthouse and Watch House once plans, specifications, and tenders had been agreed upon (Butcher, 2002:122-123; SMH 9/6/1855:3; Empire 14/5/1857:2; Maitland Mercury 19/1/1860:3).

Tenders for the construction of the Watch House were finally called on 24 June 1859 (NSW Government Gazette 28/6/1859(126):1422). This building was designed by the office of the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson and the tender was won by the local contractor Charles Hardy. Plans indicate it was built along the centre of the west side of the block to the rear of the Courthouse along Byron Street (State Archives 2/595). It seems likely that construction had begun by mid year as by October it was reported that the new Gundagai Lock-up would soon be roofed. Local reports suggest the Watch House was completed by the end of the year or January 1860 and it was of a large and commodious size (SMH 10/1/1860:3; Butcher, 2002:123; Empire 18/10/1859:2).

It is slightly unclear which of the current gaol buildings is the original Watch House. Butcher (2002:123) suggests that it is the current Hospital Block (the building on the corner of Byron Street and First Avenue). The CMP (NTA, 2012:11-12, 16) generally follows this argument, although it's list of modification dates follows a different sequence of events. Unfortunately, neither of these authors provide compelling evidence for this argument.

Based on historical documentation from the NSW State Archives (2/595) it seems most likely that the original Watch House building is the original part of the Cell Block. This comprises the southern two thirds which is symmetrical in shape. These plans and specification are undated and unsigned but provide building details for the North Gundagai Courthouse and Lock-up. These specifications relate to wooden buildings. The different plans show several designs for a lock-up with the final one showing the same layout as the southern section of the Cell Block. A site plan shows a Courthouse of a different layout and a Watch House positioned in the location of the Cell Block. It is possible that this document contains the original designs and specifications provided by Alexander Dawson.

On the 12 July 1859 the government legislated the Public Goals Act with declared 27 buildings in country towns as public gaols or prisons under the Act. This included the new Watch House at Gundagai. This enabled these places to come into operation as police gaols: a small goal or lock-up manned on behalf of the police, not the Prisons Department (GML, 2017:8-9). From this time this allowed this gaol to act as a prison for short term offenders sentenced at the Gundagai Court, or prisoners held for trial there. Sentences were usually a number of months, but could extend to 18 months, and often involved hard labour.

From this time Gundagai Gaol became one of a series of country or rural gaols used across NSW for short sentence inmates. Its purpose was to support the Court of Quarter Sessions held at Gundagai. Throughout this time the problem of distance and transport greatly influenced the NSW prison system. A network of small rural gaol was needed to manage short term prisoners because of the difficulty of transporting them to the few major prisons (GML, 2017:18-19).

After the construction of the Watch House the Gundagai Gaol appears to have been regularly altered and expanded. Unfortunately, the available historical documents and plans do not provide exact dates on when all changes occurred.

A call for tenders for additions to the Watch House were called on 26 September 1860 to be provided before the 30 October (NSWGG 2/10/1860(183):1861). These additions are thought to have been made in 1861 by the builders Hardy and Hobson. The nature of these additions is unclear (Butcher, 2002:123; CMP, 2012:11).

Another call for tenders for outbuildings, etc. to the Gundagai Courthouse and Gaol was made on the 14 March 1861 to be provided by the 23 April (NSW GG 9/4/1861(80):792). The tender of Hardy and Hobson was accepted on 10 May (NSW GG 10/5/1861(99):996). The nature of these outbuildings are also unclear, but they were likely outhouses.

The NSW Legislative Assembly discussions about expenses for NSW gaols in 1862 provides details about the number of gaols across the state, as well as how the Gundagai Gaol fitted into this network (SMH 30/10/1862:3). The expenses indicate that the large gaols (gaoler, matron, surgeon, clerk, multiple male and female wardens, and chaplain) were Sydney, Parramatta, Bathurst, Maitland, Goulburn, and Berrima. The medium sized goals (gaoler, matron, and several wardens) were: Albury, Braidwood, Mudgee, Grafton, Wollongong, Armidale, Wagga Wagga, and Eden. The small gaols (one or two wardens) were Yass, Gundagai, Tamworth, Orange, and Deniliquin. Consequently, Gundagai with only one warden was one of the smallest gaols in this network of 19 gaols.

Another call for tenders for additions to the Watch House was made on 18 March 1863 to be provided by 21 April (NSWGG 14/4/1863(63):860). A Kitchen Block designed by the office of James Barnet (the then Acting Colonial Architect) was added to the Gundagai Gaol in 1863. Early (undated) plans indicate this building was rectangular in shape with a sitting room (with fireplace), kitchen, and store. It appears to constitute the western two thirds of the Kitchen Block as it is today (Butcher, 2002:123; NTA, 2012:11).

The 1864 NSW Legislative Assembly discussions about Gaol expenses reveal that Yass had become a medium sized gaol and Tenterfield (Matron and Warden) had been added to the small gaols. The Gungagai Gaol retained only one warden, probably the smallest of all the gaols (Empire 24/3/1864:3). By 1866 Eden had been demoted to a small gaol, Deniliquin and Port Macquarie had become medium sized gaols, and Windsor and Cooma had been added to the list of small gaols. Gundagai still retained a single Warden similar to Tamworth, Orange, Tenterfield (Matron) and Cooma (SMH 27/11/1866:2). This suggests that the importance of gaols within the NSW prison network could change over time. However, Gundagai was still one of the smallest gaols in this network consistently during this early portion of its lifespan.

Butcher (2002:123) notes that unspecified repairs to the Cell Block were undertaken in 1865.

In 1866 it appears the former Warden was replaced with a Gaoler due to the establishment of a District Court of Petty Sessions at Gundagai. A Gaoler was a higher rank of prison official who oversaw an entire gaol or prison and managed a range of staff. It is unclear if this Gaoler had another warden or other staff to oversee at Gundagai Gaol. However, soon after his appointment he complained that the sitting room also had to serve as a turnkey's bedroom, as well as a guardroom, store, and kitchen (Butcher, 2002:123; NTA, 2012:12). This complaint appears to relate to the Kitchen Block built in 1863.

These complaints may have led the citizens of Gundagai to take action. In mid-1866 they forwarded to the Government a petition for the construction of a larger gaol. They argued that the present goal accommodation was inadequate and that their town deserved a new larger gaol like that which had recently been constructed in Wagga Wagga. They also argued against the enclosing of the present lock-up with a new fence. Members of the Government were persuaded by this request to enlarge the gaol, but were not convinced by the argument against erecting a new fence (Wagga Wagga Express 7/7/1866). It is unclear if the gaol was actually enlarged after this, however, a new stone wall was erected this year by Hammond and Bocking. It is unknown if this wall enclosed the whole site. The former timber fence was re-erected at the National School (NTA, 2012:11; Butcher, 2002:124).

In 1870 the Gundagai Gaol was still classed as a 'lock-up' or 'proclaimed gaol' and could accommodate from four to twenty prisoners. This description fits with the Cell Block being the original Watch House as it had four cells at this time. It is suggested here that each cell could accommodate up to five prisoners. During this year the actual number of prisoners received included four debtors; 19 male and two female awaiting trial; 55 male and three female 'in transit'; 11 male under sentence to labour; seven male and three female sentenced to imprisonment; and none in solitary confinement. The greatest number received at one time totalled nine (NTA, 2012:11).

By 1874 the NSW prison network comprised the major gaols of Sydney, Parramatta, Berrima, Maitland, Bathurst, and Goulburn which could all house over 50 inmates and 30 smaller gaols most of which could house less than 20 inmates. Gundagai was one of these 30 smaller gaols (GML, 2018:18-19).

In November 1876 tenders were called for repairs to the Gundagai Gaol (Gundagai Times 8/12/1876). These repairs might have been carried out as in July 1877 Mr Leary of the Legislative Assembly put forward a motion calling for all tenders, letters, and other papers relating to the contracts for repairs to Gundagai Gaol to be presented to the assembly (Freeman's Journal 7/7/1877:10).

Generally, throughout the 1860s and 1870s Gundagai Gaol was a small country or 'police' goal. Offenders were often sentenced to hard labour during the Court of Petty Sessions based on newspaper reports from this period. It seems likely that prisoners slept in the Cell Block and spent their days breaking rocks for construction works in the yard. However, 1879 was to see the most memorial event in the history of the Gundagai Gaol due to the latest (and last) escapade of the notorious criminal Captain Moonlite.


Captain Moonlite, the alias of the Irish immigrant Andrew George Scott, had spent the last 11 years scandalising the colonies of Victoria and NSW with his crimes while also amazing them with his criminal genius. On 8 May 1869 the legend of Captain Moonlite was born when Scott, then an Anglican Chaplain, was somehow involved in the robbery of the Mount Edgerton Branch of the London Chartered Bank. After talking himself out of trouble and pinning the crime on his former associates he embarked on a spending spree on the profits of the crime through Melbourne, Fiji, and Sydney before being caught offering fraudulent cheques in December 1870. He was then sentenced to a year's hard labour in Maitland Gaol. Upon his release in March 1872 he was immediately arrested for the Mt Edgerton robbery. Unable to afford bail he was imprisoned in the new Ballarat Gaol to await trail. This new gaol was promised by the Victorian Government to be escape-proof due to its high walls and innovative (Pentonville model) design. Scott proved them wrong by leading a sensational breakout with four accomplices on the night of Sunday 10 June 1872. He used his freedom to try and organise an alibi for the Mt Edgerton robbery and remained on the run for over a week before he was recaptured by police near Bendigo (Terry, 2013).

These events set the scene for a spectacular trial where Scott used every ounce of his charm, wit, and intelligence to conduct his own defence. During this trial Scott's former associates attempted to pin the blame of the robbery solely on him. Scott conducted a brilliant defence to a packed courtroom, demolishing the testimonies of his former associates and one of the expert witnesses of the prosecution during cross-examination. However, while sowing considerably doubt and confusion, he was never able to provide a waterproof alibi and fully convince the jury of his innocence. They found him guilty and he was sentenced to ten years on the roads with hard labour to be served at Melbourne's HM Prison Pentridge (Terry, 2013:79-90).

During his time in Pentridge Scott befriended the young James Nesbitt. It is thought they were lovers as they developed a strong and unbreakable friendship. Nesbitt was released in September 1878 and he was there waiting when Scott was released in March 1879. Scott and Nesbitt then became prison reformers and attempted to join the Victorian lecture circuit. Over the following months they were continually harassed and vilified by the police and media. Almost penniless they left the colony on foot over the Albury border in November with four impressionable, destitute, and troubled young men: Frank Johns, Augustus Warnecke, Thomas Rogan, and Graham Bennett, who had joined them in their search for a better life (Terry, 2013:96-133).

Their plan was to travel to Sydney and find a berth to Fiji to escape from the persecution they faced. Due to the financial crisis of the time work was hard to find and life on the roads was desperate. Scott, Nesbitt, and their mates wandered the southern Riverina searching for work and surviving on charity. The soon arrived at Wantabadgery, which was a station famed for its hospitality. However, it had recently changed ownership unknown to Scott and his mates. Arriving desperate and hungry in poor weather on Thursday 13 November they were met with rudeness and hostility by the new manager. Forced to find shelter in the surrounding countryside for the night in wet weather, they determined to try their luck again the next day, when they were again refused. After another wet and miserable night, tired, miserable and hungry, Scott snapped and determined to demand help (Terry, 2013:133-143).

The next day, Saturday 15 November, at about three-thirty Scott and his mates arrived at the station and simply held up the staff at gun point and seized the station's firearms. What followed was a bizarre affair driven by the lack of planning and purpose of Scott and his increasing mental instability. As staff, visitors, and owners (the McDonald brothers) arrived over the rest of the day they were taken hostage until the manager Baynes appeared. Scott himself confronted Baynes and accused him of poor and heartless conduct and informed him he was now master of this station and that Baynes would have to follow his orders. From this point Scott attempted to initiate a 'civilised hold-up' ordering his men to treat the prisoners well and keep them from harm. Scott collected the station's valuables and handed them over to the owners. That night he treated his gang and the hostages to a feast using the station's provisions (Terry, 2013:143-147).

The following day Scott developed a friendship with the owner Claude McDonald while his relationship with Baynes turned increasingly toxic. Baynes continued to irritate and frustrate Scott forcing him to try and control him with violence. Scott first threaten Baynes with a knife which proved ineffective resulting in him almost hanging him in front of the assembled hostages. Bizarrely, Scott next determined to take more hostages. He rode to a nearby farmhouse on the property and took the couple there hostage and then proceeded along the road to Wagga Wagga to the Australian Arms Hotel where seven or eight people were also taken hostage. As the owners were not present Scott cruely determined to take two of their children hostage to ensure they would join him at their station when they arrived home. They soon joined the increasing mob of hostages, between 35 and 40 people, which had also been added to during the day when other visitors came to the station. Throughout this stressful situation Scott's behaviour became increasingly more volatile, although most of the time he acted with upmost courtesy to all his hostages (with the exception of Baynes) (Terry, 2013:147-151).

In the meantime, Scott's raid on the Australian Arms Hotel had alerted the authorities. Travellers arriving in the wake of the raid had been told of the hold-up at Wantabadgerry Station and carried the news to the police at Wagga Wagga by 7:00 on Sunday evening. Four constables headed out two hours later. They arrived at Wantabadgerry at 4:00 in the morning when Scott was on watch. It is unknown who fired first, but a gunfight between the constables and Moonlite's gang ensued with the police quickly retreating from (or being driven off by) the advancing Scott and Nesbitt. Meanwhile their young mates secured the constable's horses that had been left tied up near the station (Terry, 2013:152-156).

This victory invigorated Scott encouraging him to openly declare himself as Captain Moonlite and that he would shoot any police that got in his way. He then released the hostages and announced that the gang were off to rob the bank at Gundagai. They then departed the station on the constable's horses (Terry, 2013:156).

Despite his speech Moonlite had little intention of proceeding to Gundagai. Instead, he planned to head to McGlede's cottage some 5km from Wantabadgery before stopping to procure provisions. Since the alarm had been raised the day before the countryside had armed itself and was on the lookout for the 'bushrangers'. Scott and his gang encountered three of these hunters on the way to McGlede's and took them hostage before encountering another group of five or six unarmed shearers who were also captured. What followed was another set of bizarre behaviour by Scott. He held a mock trial for the hunters threatening to execute them if they could not prove their innocence. Luckily, one of Moonlite's men, Tom Rogan, managed to defuse the situation. Scott later claimed he was trying to scare the hunters and police off from following them any further. To drive the point home at the time he shot one of the hunter's horses. He then set fire to the hunter's weapons and proceeded to McGlede's with his new batch of hostages (Terry, 156-160).

Throughout the morning as the alarm spread the police from Gundagai had joined the hunt for Moonlite. They joined with the police from Wagga before heading to Wantabadgery where they found that Moonlite had left two hours earlier. Meanwhile Scott and his gang had arrived at McGlede's where he greeted the settlers with courtesy, gained provisions, and arranged to lock the hostages in the underground dairy while they headed off. However, before reaching the road Senior Sergeant Carrol with seven well-armed officers caught up with Moonlite and called for the gang to surrender. Scott refused and the ensuing firefight engulfed McGlede's cottage. The police pushed the gang back into the cottage. Only Moonlite was experienced with firearms and fending off the police largely fell to him. As the fight continued Tom Rogan gave up and hid beneath the McGlede's bed while another of the young gang members, Gus Warnecke, was caught outside and wounded. As the remaining gang retreated to the (external) kitchen another member, Graham Bennett, was wounded. Nesbit implored Scott to surrender, but he was lost in a sea of rage and defiance, and bluntly refused. However, Nesbit did manage to extract a promise from Scott to shed no blood. Moonlite then made his last stand venturing outside several time to exchange fire with police. During one of these enfilades Constable Webb-Bowen from Gundagai was fatally wounded by one of the participants in the gunfight. By this time the police had secured the cottage and were using it as cover. From this vantage point one of the constables fired a shot that hit Nesbit in the head (perhaps as he was surrendering). The devastated Scott ran to Nesbit and held him as he died. In this lull the police secured the other members of the gang, physically beating Warnecke and Frank Johns. Warnecke died from his wounds soon afterwards (Terry, 2013:160-169).

The police held the three prisoners, Scott, Johns, and Bennet, at the cottage over night and in the morning of Tuesday 18 November Tom Rogan was discovered and captured. They were then taken to Gundagai Gaol the same day to be held while arrangements for their trial where made. After their arrival they were put on display for the local residents and press to celebrate the police's success in apprehending these dangerous 'bushrangers'. Today, local tradition holds that Moonlite was held in the large south cell in the Cell Block (Butcher, 2002:124; Terry, 2013:169-174).

On Wednesday an inquest was held into the deaths of the bushrangers James Nesbitt and Augustus Warnecke before the Coroner W. C. Weekes. Following a recounting of the events of the siege by the police and witnesses the Jury returned a verdict of justifiable homicide (Terry, 2013:174-175).

On Thursday Scott, Bennett, Rogan, and Johns faced a committal hearing for robbery under arms and the wounding of Constable Bowen. Facing a courtroom packed with locals and the colonial media Scott undertook the defence of himself and his young followers. Scott sought to lay all the blame for the events at Wantabadgery and McGlede's on himself and Nesbitt and shield the others from the consequences. To his end he conducted a vigorous cross-examination of the police witnesses. The hearing spilled over into Friday. Scott concluded his defence by passionately and eloquently acknowledging his leadership and death wish that resulted in all the events at Watabadgery and McGlede's. This was to no avail as the magistrate ordered all four to stand trial for robbery and the wounding of Constable Bowen. Following the death of Bowen over the weekend the gang were brought before the court again on Monday to face the upgraded charge of murder. Again all four were ordered to stand trial (Terry, 2013:175-185).

After nine days in Gundagai Scott and his men were transferred to Cootamundra on their journey to Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney where they would stand trial. The trial that was held on 3 December was of enormous public interest and 1300 tickets were issued for admission. Scott again defended himself while a barrister represented Rogan, Johns, and Bennet. Through a desperate trial that lasted four days the weary, grieving, and beleaguered Scott did his upmost best to pin the blame of the crimes on himself and Nesbit. Ultimately, the jury found all four prisoners guilty of murder, but mercy was recommended for Rogan, Johns, and Bennett. Despite a passioned plea for mercy by Scott for his men the judge sentenced all four to death (Terry, 2013:185-208).

The sensational trial and Scott's defence had done enough to invoke public pity for the younger men, Rogan, Johns, and Bennet. The swell of public sympathy over the following days convinced the Executive Council of the Government to grant mercy to the teenagers Johns and Bennet and convert their sentences to hard labour for life. Due to his criminal record, the unfortunate Rogan was granted no mercy, despite having taken no part in the final firefight. Despite a continued community push to have mercy granted to Scott and Rogan the Premier Henry Parkes was unmoved. They were hanged on Tuesday 20 January 1880 within Darlinghurst Gaol while an estimated crowd of 4000 surrounded the gaol (Terry, 2013:209-229).

Scott was an intriguing and contradictory figure. Well educated and a gentleman he nevertheless fell into a life of crime. He always denied committing the Mt Edgerton robbery so it unclear if he purposefully fell into this life or was driven into it. From this time he was at war with a society that increasingly hounded him. It is unclear how much his sexuality played a part in this situation. He appears to have always attempted to be honourable and civilised, but nevertheless his fits of anger and violence increasingly brought him trouble. Despite his crimes, he appears to never have deliberately harmed a human being, despite his threats during the Wantabadgery hold-up. His experiences led him to despise the prison system and its evils and he actively attempted to reform it. If the police and media had not hounded him and made him desperate it is unlikely the Wantabadgery hold-up would ever had occurred. It was the act of a desperate, lost, and hopeless man (Terry, 2013).


Following these events, a series of extensions were carried out at Gundagai Gaol from 1880 to 1886. They appear to have been carried out as two different projects with their own tenders. These extensions were carried out as part of a larger program of gaol construction across the state during this period.

Based on available plans (NTA, 2012: Appendix 2) it appears these works comprised: the construction of the Hospital Ward, the addition of two cells to the north side of the Cell Block, the addition of a dining room to the west side of the original Kitchen Block, the construction of a new external kitchen with store room and bathroom, construction of the Men's exercise yard with water closet and shed (an open undercover area), new iron gates to Byron Street and the Courthouse, and potentially the well with underground tank. These additions were designed by the office of the Colonial Architect James Barnet.

The original call for tenders for these additions to the Gundagai Gaol were made on 2 February 1880 with the closing date of 1 June (NSW Government Gazette 18/5/1880(No. 180):2330; Butcher, 2002:124). No acceptable tenders appear to have been submitted at this stage as fresh tenders were called in mid-1881 with the closing date of 16 August (NSWGG 2/8/1881(No. 298):3940). At the close of this process the tender of Thomas M'Beath was accepted (NSWGG 6/9/1881(No.355):4; Gundagai Times 6 September 1881:2).

Work on these additions appears to have begun in December 1881. They were described in the local paper as including making the boundary wall more secure, construction of a watch tower on the east side, and the provision of a water tank (Gundagai Times 5/12/1882:2). It is unclear when these works were completed and what they exactly consisted of, but it is possible they comprised the construction of the new Hospital Block and the extension of the Cell Block.

A third tender for alterations to the Gundagai Gaol was called on 17 December 1883 with the closing date of 28 December (Gundagai Times 25 December 1883; NSWGG 24/12/1883(No. 550):7058). The tender of Thomas M'Beath was again accepted for this work on 11 February 1884 (NSW GG 12/2/1884(71):1116). It is unclear when this work was commenced, but it is likely it comprised all the remaining work of this extension program.

The extensions to the Gundagai Gaol were finished in January 1886 by the contractor Thomas M'Beath. It was reported that the second stage had cost 2000 pounds and the entire project 5000 pounds over three years (ATCJ 30 January 1886:16).

During the Gundagai Gaol expansion program in 1884 there were a total of 17 established gaols and 34 police gaols within the NSW prison network (GML, 2017:20). Assumedly, the difference between these classifications was that the established gaols were run by the Department of Prisons and the police gaols staffed by police. It is assumed that at this time Gundagai Gaol was police gaol.

In the NSW Legislative Assembly in March 1893 Mr Suttor provided details about the cost of the recent works on the Gundagai Gaol in response to a question from Mr Fegan. The additions cost 4775 pounds and the goal was now staffed by a Lock-up keeper, acting-gaoler, and matron. It could now accommodate 30 prisoners and the annual cost of maintenance was 62 pounds (Daily Telegraph 23 March 1893:4). Based on the costs discussed above this question appears to relate to the 1881-1886 extension program. As it is estimated that the gaol could accommodate 30 prisoners it would appear that each of the six cells were designed to fit up to 5 prisoners.

In 1894 the First Offenders Probation Act was passed into law. As this Act served to divert many potential prisoners from gaol it served to half the number of people being sent to prison over the next decade (GML, 2017:21). With the introduction of a new classification system of the NSW prison network by 1897 the existing gaols were classified as: eight principle gaols, 11 minor gaols of the first class, four of the second class, and 36 police gaols (GML, 2017:21). It is unclear where Gundagai was placed in this classification system. Though it is likely that Gundagai was considered to be a police gaol.

Another series of additions and alterations were carried out at Gundagai Gaol over 1899 and 1900. These works are outlined in a plan in Appendix 2 of NTA (2012). They consisted of the addition of the new ward to the Hospital Block, the alteration of the store room in the Kitchen Block to two separate bathrooms (one for the gaoler and one for the prisoners), the alteration of the former gaoler's bedroom in the Cell Block into a store, and most importantly the extension of the second external kitchen into a two storey Gaoler's Residence. These additions were designed by the office of the Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon (1846-1914). Tenders were called for these works by the Government Architect in mid-1899 with a closing date of 7 August (NSW Government Gazette 18 July 1899:(No. 592):5352). The tender of 580 pounds of W. Warbrick was accepted for these works in late August (Gundagai Times 22/8/1899).

By mid-April Warbrick had completement the major additions of the contract (the Gaoler's Residence) in what was described as first-class style. The small additions to the other older buildings were still to be completed (Gundagai Independent 18/4/1900). These works that provided separate accommodation for the gaoler on site were the last major works carried out at the gaol.

Over the following years some small events revealed additional details about the gaol and further repairs were required. The escape of a prisoner from the men's exercise yard in October 1901 reveals that the surrounding boundary wall at this time was 14 feet high (Gundagai Times 22/10/1901). In June 1903 the local police put out a tender for alterations to the drains of Gundagai Gaol (Gundagai Independent 6/6/1903). In May 1906 another call was made for tenders to rebuild the wall at the Gundagai Gaol (Gundagai Independent 5/5/1906).

In the late 1890s a decision had been made by the Department of Prisons to rationalise the state prison network. The erection of several large institutions/prisons including the State Penitentiary and State Reformatory for Women was planned so that a scheme of restricted association and labour training for inmates could be initiated. This new scheme would require the closure of many smaller gaols. By this time the extension of the railway network had solved the difficulties of distance and transporting short and medium sentence prisoners. Therefore, there was no longer any compelling reason to keep the system of small country gaols in operation (GML, 2017:22). This new scheme took effect in 1909 when 22 police goals were declassified including Gundagai (GML, 2017:22-23). This closure of gaols continued until 1920 when only six major gaols (State Penitentiary, Maitland, Bathurst, Goulburn, Emu Plains, and Tuncurry) remained along with three minor gaols at Albury, Grafton, and Tamworth for short sentence inmates (GML, 2017:23-24).

From this date the Gundagai 'Gaol' was officially classified as a lockup. This resulted in the reduction of the salary of the acting-gaoler and the time prisoners could be held to 14 days. Prior to this date prisoners were able to be held for three months. Prisoners serving longer sentences were transferred to Goulburn Gaol from this time (Gundagai Times 17/8/1909).

In 1928 electricity was first supplied to Gundagai from the power station at Burrinjuck (Comber, 2007:113). Sometime after this date fittings were installed at the gaol to supply it with electric lighting and power points. A plan showing this electricity outlay (NTA, 2012: Appendix 2) illustrates a number of alterations that had been made to the former gaol since 1900. They included the construction of the Women's yard with shed, watchtower, and water closet. The old watercloset in the Men's Yard had been demolished and a new one installed, a retaining wall installed around the northeast corner of the Hospital Block, a pantry added to the southeast corner of the Kitchen Block, the addition of interior toilets to the four north cells of the Cell Block, the installation of raised water tanks next to the Kitchen and Cell Blocks, and the construction of pathways and gardens beds around the compound.

Another plan, potentially from 1976, shows two final additions that occurred by this time (NTA, 2012: Appendix 2). These were the construction of the weatherboard infill between the Kitchen Block and Residence and the exercise yard attached to the Cell Block.

Gundagai Gaol was finally closed in the 1970s when a holding cell was constructed at the Gundagai Police Station in Byron Street. Since this time prisoners have been transported to larger centres such as Wagga Wagga if they are to be held overnight (NTA, 2012:11).

It is assumed that the Gundagai Police continued to occupy the site until 2001 when the gaol was handed over to the former Gundagai Council (NTA, 2012:6).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
7. Governing-Governing Law and order-Activities associated with maintaining, promoting and implementing criminal and civil law and legal processes Gaol/Lock-up/Watchhouse-
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 Engaging in bushranging and banditry-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural works-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Old Gundagai Gaol is of state historical significance as an illustration of the small rural gaols that were used in the NSW prison system from the mid-nineteenth century until the early twentieth century.

During the mid-nineteenth century when the NSW Government was attempting to develop a workable prison system it was necessary to establish a network of small rural gaols to support the Justice system and provide institutions where inmates could serve short sentences. At this time the vast distances across NSW and the difficulties of travel meant that it was efficient to have a vast network of small rural goals rather than a small number of major prisons for all inmates. Between 1859 and 1909 Old Gundagai Gaol was one of the smallest gaols within this network.

The Old Gundagai Gaol is an unusual surviving small gaol complex in rural NSW. It is of its own architecturally type as it does not fit within either of the major country gaols 'types' of this period: the Braidwood (1861-1864) or the Hay (1876-1881) that are associated with the Colonial Architect James Barnet. However, it does feature buildings constructed during these periods, as well as from the short-lived country goal building program conducted by Sheriff John O'Neill Brennan, the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson, and his Clerk of Works William Coles in the late 1850s. It also contains the Gaoler's Residence and a series of additions designed by the Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon. As such, the Old Gundagai Gaol is a complex of buildings with links to the series of buildings programs conducted by the Colonial Government throughout the later nineteenth century to build, maintain, and develop a network of country gaols. Thus, through its range of buildings it is able to aptly tell the story of the development of country gaols through this period.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Old Gundagai Gaol has a strong historical association of state significance with the notorious criminal Captain Moonlite (Andrew George Scott 1842-1880). Throughout his 11-year criminal career Captain Moonlite appalled and captivated the colonies of Victoria and NSW with his escapades while also amazing them with his wit, charm, intelligence, and criminal genius. Through the mystery of the Mt Edgerton bank robbery (1869) and his daring break out of the inescapable Ballarat Gaol (1872) Scott built the reputation of Captain Moonlite as an eccentric, but honourable, criminal at war with society. This legend was to implode with the ill-fated and desperate hold up of Wantabadgery Station by Moonlite, his partner James Nesbitt, and their gang of young accomplices on 18 November 1879. Following the seizure of the station family and most of the settlement for hostages, a firefight with police, and an escape to a nearby cottage the police finally caught up with the gang forcing a shoot-out. During the enfilade Nesbitt and another of Moonlite's gang were killed and Constable Bowan from Gundagai fatally wounded. Moonlite and his surviving accomplices were arrested and taken to Gundagai Gaol where they were put on display for the local residents and assembled press to celebrate the police's capture of these dangerous 'bushrangers'. Moonlite was incarcerated here while the inquest was held into the police shooting and his preliminary hearing was held at Gundagai Courthouse. Following the hearing Moonlite and his surviving gang were transported to Darlinghurst Prison for their full trial. Moonlite was ultimately convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He was hung with another of his gang on 20 January 1880. As one of the last bushrangers Captain Moonlite holds a special place in the history of this period of frontier lawlessness in Colonial Australia. He was a captivating and enigmatic figure, an honourably but erratic gentleman, prone to criminal acts, but largely deliberately avoiding violence for most of his career. The Old Gundagai Gaol plays an important part in the story of Scott's capture and the final chapter of the saga of Captain Moonlite.

The original section of the Cell Block (the original Watch House) has a strong association with the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson. Although this structure was later sympathetically extended to a design by the Colonial Architect James Barnet its original design and extent is still evident. It is part of a small body of work by Dawson during his tenure. Many of his other surviving works were significantly altered by later Colonial/Government Architects.

The Gaolers Residence's has a strong association with the Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon. It is a rare surviving country gaol building from his period of office that aptly demonstrates the change in focus that occurred in the Government Architect's Branch under his leadership. It is a well-lit, well-ventilated, and unornamented public building which is in character with his aim to favour traditional buildings arts. This is in contrast to the formal neoclassical architecture favoured by previous Colonial Architects (Boyd, 2010).
SHR Criteria f)
The Old Gundagai Gaol is rare in a State context as a unique example of a small rural gaol that functioned as part of the NSW prison system between 1859 and 1909. It is rare as an unusual architectural type of gaol from this period that does not conform to the 'Braidwood' (1861-1864) or 'Hay' (1876-1881) types although it does have buildings from both these periods of gaol construction. It is a rare surviving gaol from the late 1850s program of country gaol construction carried out by Sheriff John O'Neill Brennan, the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson, and his Clerk of Works William Coles. It is also rare as a gaol complex with buildings designed by the Colonial Architect Alexander Dawson and Government Architect Walter Liberty Vernon. Many country gaols were demolished during the early twentieth century after the rural prison network was decommissioned following the construction of the State Penitentiaries. Old Gundagai Goal is special in this context as it was one of the few to avoid demolition or conversion and has, therefore, retained much of its nineteenth century character.
Integrity/Intactness: The Old Gundagai Gaol survives with very little later modifications to any of it component items. The few intrusive elements, such as the weatherboard infill between the Kitchen Block and Gaoler's Residence can easily be removed. The overall design, layout and fabric of the gaol is intact and each period of modification and extension is easily identifiable.
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.

Recommended management:

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council have prepared a CMP (2012) and Masterplan (2018) for the Old Gundagai Gaol. These documents ouline Council's vision to develop this site as a first-rate tourism destination for the town. A series of works have been indenitified that need to be undertaken to bring this vision to fruition. These mainly involve repairs to some buildings and features, as well as the installation of a surface water drainage system and removal of some intrusive features. It is recommended that these works be carried out so that the site can be opened full-time to the public. Constant use and visitation will be the best method to ensure that the site is well-maintained into the future. Once this has occurred it is recommened that the CMP be updated and prepared for submission to the Heritage Council for endorsement.


Management CategoryDescriptionDate Updated
Recommended ManagementReview a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) 
Recommended ManagementPrepare a maintenance schedule or guidelines 
Recommended ManagementCarry out interpretation, promotion and/or education 


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - Under consideration for SHR/IHO listingSHR Nomination 03 Dec 18   
Heritage studyGundagai Gaol168004423 Jun 06   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Gundagai Heritage Study20061680044Comber Consultants Pty LtdCathy Fisher Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Records of Charles Hardy and Co and Hardy's Ltd
WrittenCliff Butcher2002Gundagai: A track winding back
WrittenDepartment of Land and Water Conservation, Wagga Wagga Regional Office2000Draft Assessment of Crown Land at Gundagai "Old Gundagai Gaol"
WrittenGML Heritage2017S170 Heritage and Conservation Register: NSW Department of Justice and Corrective Services: Volume 4: Thematic History
WrittenNoel Thomson Architecture Pty Ltd2018Old Gundagai Gaol Masterplan Report
WrittenNoel Thomson Architecture Pty Ltd2012Gundagai Gaol and Courthouse Conservation Management Plan
WrittenPaul Terry2013In Search of Captain Moonlite: The Strange Life and Death of the Notorious Bushranger.

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: 5061288
File number: EF11/07530

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