Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gaol 'Facebook' Future - New Communications

It is reasonable to assume that as Colonial Architect, Mortimer Lewis sat at his drafting board, working on the design for Maitland Gaol in the early 19th Century he could never have imagined the advancements in technology which would take place over the following 180 yrs. The first prisoners were transported by barge up the Hunter River to the port at Morpeth and then marched to the newly appointed prison on New Years Eve 1848. At various times prisoners were moved to and from the gaol by train and van and finally by armoured transport vehicles. Similarly, modes of communication with the gaol have evolved from hand written letters and telegrams to telephone, fax and in most recent times the internet and email. It is hard to believe the evolution in communication which has developed since the turn of the 21st century such as Facebook, Twitter, blogging and even many of the mobile technologies of today were only just being thought about when the Gaol closed only 11 years ago.

Maitland Gaol has had a web address for a number of years, and recently developed this blog to present the history of the Gaol to the wider community, however, in a move designed to allow more direct interaction between the heritage listed site and the greater global community, gaol staff have developed a Facebook page containing news and information about the gaol, including upcoming tours and events. Members of the public can share photographs and stories and take advantage of exclusive deals.

To celebrate the creation of the Maitland Gaol Facebook page, staff are offering “fans” the opportunity to win a double pass to a gaol tour of their choice by submitting photographs they have taken while visiting the site. Becoming a “fan” is easy. Simply create a Facebook profile, search “Maitland Gaol” and register. Then upload a maximum of 2 photos featuring the gaol. Professional and amateur snappers are welcome to enter the competition and the winner will be notified via the web page by April 30th. Photographs will be available for viewing on the Facebook page.

Attached Photo: Ex-officers, ex-inmates, family & friends take part in a research forum. (Photographer: Maitland Gaol staff member)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Crafty Artists?

Maitland Mercury, 22 February, 2010

As mentioned in a previous “Unlocked” article, from its earliest days, Maitland Gaol operated as an “industrial prison” offering a multitude of opportunities to “keep idle hands and minds busy in employment”. From unskilled labour to trades-work such as carpentry, painting, blacksmithing, stonecutting, book binding and tailoring, inmates were employed in almost every aspect of the day to day running of the prison.

As well as these aforementioned “jobs” around the gaol, in the later years of operation, inmates could engage themselves in pursuit of hobbies, including music, painting, wood carving, model construction and other hand crafts.

A further initiative was implemented when inmates were permitted to proffer their creations for sale to the general public. While a small percentage of the proceeds were used by the institution to cover administrative costs, most revenue earned from the sale of items was deposited into the inmates’ commissary accounts where it could be used for “buy-ups”, the process by which inmates could purchase everyday consumables like tobacco, soap, coffee etc. or more luxurious items like televisions and “ghetto-blasters”.

The items pictured have been generously donated to the Maitland Gaol Collection by local residents. The hobby horse was purchased by John and Eileen Wilson for their youngest granddaughter in 1985.

The arrow-printed shirt is part of a full prisoners’ costume purchased by Mrs Olive Adams for her daughter to wear at a school function in 1984. Both these items were acquired from the Lindsay Street Barracks which at the time was operating as the Gaol Museum and Gift Shop. The Darcy Dugan signed landscape, on loan from Mrs Joan Newton, was obtained by Mr Des Newton at a Rotary Art Auction held in the old Scout Hall on the corner of Grant Street and the New England Highway.

Readers with prison-made arts and crafts interested in loaning them to the gaol for a proposed future exhibition are encouraged to contact Maitland Gaol staff on (02) 4936 6482 or email

Monday, February 8, 2010

Model Prisoner

Maitland Mercury, Monday 8 February, 2010

While researching “Unlocked” articles, Maitland Gaol staff has evidenced numerous inmate created artworks including beautiful painted landscapes and other items of craft-ware worthy of exhibition. Former inmate, Troy Johnson, believes it is a testament to the human spirit that within the walls, side by side with the violence, sadness and desperation, there was beauty.

Troy Johnson first entered Maitland Gaol in 1986 and did 3 lags over the following years before being released for the final time in March 1990. His first tentative steps into “the grey stone university” have left an indelible impression. “I walked into B Wing and across the back wall was a big sign saying ‘The Ghetto’, and someone’s tape player was blaring out “Bad To The Bone”. I was a kid, 18 years old. It was very intimidating at first.”

Troy remains thankful that a senior, “heavy” inmate recognised him as a local, Maitland boy and briefed him on the intricacies of gaol culture in those first few days. Others were not treated so benevolently and for some, life in Maitland Gaol could be an increasingly violent nightmare.

During his first lag in Maitland, Troy was befriended by Ken Graham, a Vietnam veteran in his late 40s, serving a life sentence. Reconciled to his lengthy incarceration, Ken had begun work on a replica of the frigate “Baltik”. Completed over a 5 year period using requisitioned materials including recycled cedar panels and other timber from the gaol, the model ship displays exquisite craftsmanship, and as Troy explains, is evidence of “the strength of character of the artist”. Troy purchased the model from Ken in 1992 and it has remained a treasured item in his home and a constant reminder of the ability of the human spirit to flourish in even the direst circumstances.

Readers wishing to share their Maitland Gaol related stories or artefacts are encouraged to contact gaol staff at or by phoning (02) 4936 6482.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Quiet Achiever: Alphonsus Bede Mayers

Maitland Mercury, Monday 25th January, 2010

During the course of research for this column it has become evident that many of the officers at Maitland Gaol adhered strictly to the “what happens at work stays at work” policy.

Chief Officer, Alphonsus Bede Mayers was no exception. Phonsus’ daughter, Kerry, explains that “dad didn’t talk to us about work. Mum would sometimes find out things weeks later from other officers’ wives. Things like suicides and escape attempts, even the riot”. She understands her father was simply trying to protect his family from the often disturbing events that took place at the site. He took this role very seriously, even refusing to have a telephone at home so as to negate the potential for inmates or their associates to contact the household.

Therefore, it was with much surprise that in April 1974 Kerry opened the door to a journalist wishing to speak to her father about the impending presentation of a bravery award for his intervention in a violent escape attempt by four dangerous inmates. Phonsus explained at the time, “a lifer got me around the neck with one arm” before attacking him with a Braille machine. He then grappled with the inmate until other officers arrived to assist. Phonsus continued, “Smithy ran for the door and tried to lock it. One of the men got a wooden chair leg and kept hitting him with it. Smithy copped the lot”.

Kerry recalls the great sense of pride she felt as her father and fellow officer, Boston Smith, were awarded the Queen’s Commendation For Brave Conduct by then NSW Governor, Sir Roden Cutler, during a ceremony at Government House. Since its inception in 1939, only 405 Australians have received the prestigious award.

Any family members former officers or inmates of Maitland Gaol are encouraged to contact gaol staff with their recollections on (02) 4936 6482 or

Hive of Industry

Maitland Mercury, Monday 11 January, 2010

Welcome back to Maitland Gaol “Unlocked” as we take our first peak for 2010 behind the scenes of Maitland Gaol’s growing collection of artefacts.

From its earliest days Maitland Gaol operated as an “industrial prison”. Though the population of the gaol, which rarely exceeded 350 inmates, was considered small, there was on offer a multitude of opportunities to “keep idle hands and minds busy in employment”.

Records dating from the late 1830s indicate that convict labour was utilised in the original clearing of the site and construction of the gaol. Once the gaol was officially opened in 1848 inmates were required to work if healthy enough to do so. From unskilled labour to trades-work such as carpentry, painting, blacksmithing, stonecutting, book binding and tailoring, inmates were employed in almost every aspect of the day to day running of the prison. The small number of women incarcerated were usually employed in needlework, washing, sweeping and general cleaning.

The accompanying image includes scissors from the old Tailor Shop, a sign from the Upholstery Shop, and templates used in the fabrication of hospital theatre boots and assorted items for the armed forces. These artefacts relating to the honest toil carried out by inmates in the modern era under the supervision of Corrective Service Industries are testament to the work carried on throughout the entire 150 years that the Maitland Gaol operated.

As always, Mercury readers are encouraged to contact Maitland Gaol staff on (02) 4936 6482 or with information regarding the gaol’s operation.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Darcy Dugan the Artist - and the Riot

Maitland Mercury, Monday 14 December, 2009

While taking part in Oral Histories research conducted by Maitland Gaol staff, a former Senior Overseer in charge of the gaol’s saddlery for more than 20 years, has refuted claims that infamous con-man and escapee Darcy Dugan was a central figure in the 1975 riot that saw inmates cause extensive damage before being tear-gassed and the ring-leaders shanghaied.

Dugan was, at the time working in the saddlery, manufacturing an assortment of horse blankets, medicine balls, soft ball bases and hospital / ambulance stretchers. On the morning of the riot, Darcy presented the OIC with a “sick pass” and was allowed to return to his cell in B Wing for the remainder of the day. The riot began, in Darcy’s absence, around midday. The Overseer believes that “Darcy knew something was going on, but wanted no part of it”. He also recalls that Dugan, who later in life gained some renown as a landscape painter “wasn’t much good really, till Ricky Robinson gave him a few tips”.

Ricky was an Aboriginal inmate transferred to Maitland from Grafton. Noting Ricky’s artistic talent, the Overseer commissioned him to adorn the saddlery walls in exchange for tobacco rations. Other inmate artists, including a professional art forger were also assigned to the task. Of the 5 artworks completed, 3 bare the signature of Ricky Robinson. The largest, a mural covering the southern wall of the building, features a horseman chasing brumbies over an expansive outback landscape. The water-damaged and restored mural, was, according to the Overseer, painted over another mural depicting an early settlers’ homestead scene, which for some unknown reason didn’t meet with Ricky’s expectations.

It is planned that in the not-too-distant future, visitors to Maitland Gaol will be able to view the growing collection of inmate artworks, including those by Robinson and Dugan, held on site. Anyone with prison-made artworks who would be interested in loaning them to the gaol for a proposed future exhibition are encouraged to contact Maitland Gaol on (02) 4936 6482 or email

Anyone for Billiards?

Maitland Mercury, Monday 30 November, 2009

WILLIAM JOHN FULLER (better known as JACK or BIG JOHN) first began service with the NSW Department of Prisons in 1947. In an interview recorded for the Maitland Gaol Oral History Project in January 2000, Jack recalls some of the highlights of his 30 plus years in the service including dodging missiles thrown by inmates during the 1975 riot, Ray Denning’s daring escape attempt, an inspirational visit to the gaol by Evangelist Billy Graham and being “flashed” by female prisoners. He doesn’t however mention his alter-ego “Maitman”.

As “Maitman” Jack wrote articles for The New South Wales Prison Officers Journal reporting, generally, on the lighter side of gaol life. In the Christmas 1969 edition he wrote: “On the sporting scene…all the fit members are still playing table tennis during their lunch break but the old crocks are still awaiting the much needed billiard table which was promised some time back to this establishment.”

While researching this article gaol staff came across a photograph featuring the aforementioned billiard table. The young man standing holding the cue has been identified as Graeme “Percy” Greenaway. Graeme was employed as a cleaner at the gaol from March 1980 (when he took over from his mother Shirley) until March 1996. Graeme and Shirley recall the many changes that took place even during the years they worked at the gaol with visits to inmates first taking place in boxes near the gate house, then being moved to the Lt. Governors office before a purpose built Visits Centre being installed in 1993. Another lasting memory is of the media throng at the front gates the day Darcy Dugan was scheduled for release. If on viewing the photo you can shed some light on who the “old crock” potting a small ball in the corner pocket is, please contact gaol staff on (02) 4936 6482 or by email at:

Digging Beneath the Gaol

Maitland Mercury, Monday 16 November, 2009

During 2010, an archaeological project will be undertaken at Maitland Gaol on the sites of the Cook House and Female or “D” Wing, to try to uncover more about the people who were incarcerated behind the thick stone walls. To prepare for the project, staff at the Gaol are accumulating as much evidence as possible to try and understand what has happened to these buildings. This will minimise the work on digging up the Gaol yard and ensure that the restoration of the spaces and the interpretation of the buildings installed following the investigation are as accurate as possible.

While undertaking some research recently for another enquiry, staff uncovered the photos reproduced here which were taken, it is believed, sometime during the 1970s and show the Cook House still standing and the site of the Female Wing cleared (to the right of both photographs). This was a special find as it narrowed down the time frame for the demolition of “D” Wing. The Gaol is seeking any information that members of the public may have regarding these two, now demolished buildings, especially relating to details of exactly when they were demolished and if there are any other photos available of both the interior and exteriors of the buildings. This information and images will be invaluable when the interpretation of these buildings is installed within the Gaol in the early part of 2010.

Members of the public are encouraged to contact Maitland Gaol on (02) 4936 6482 or

Bitter Escapes

Maitland Mercury, Monday 2 November, 2009

Some of the most daring – and unusual – escapes from Maitland Gaol will be retold as a quirky addition to the Bitter and Twisted International Boutique Beer Festival this weekend. But while some of the tales lend themselves to the script of a Hollywood blockbuster, Maitland Tourism Manager Rachel MacLucas says what is most amazing is that they are all true.

Organisers have honed in on escapes as a marketing tool for this weekend’s two day celebration of beer at Maitland Gaol, and event goers can marvel over the daring of some the site’s past residents over a brew. “There’ll be big interpretative panels put up around the facility so people can read about some of the escapes from jail,” Ms MacLucas said. “It adds to the experience of the event. It’s about the festival experience, but it’s also about opening people up to the history and experience of the site.”

Maitland Gaol administrator Gordon Sauber, who along with researcher Steve “Mac” McLennan gathered the information, said the idea also provided a topic for another booklet in a series of publications about the site. Mr Sauber said they were looking at escapes as the basis for the jail’s second publication, following on from “Hurled Into Eternity” which recounted the 16 executions at the site. “This is the sort of stuff people are interested in, and it is similar to the material we pulled out for the executions booklet which has been very successful,” he said. “Perhaps this is the logical number two in the series as an appropriate theme and the two are linked through Patrick McNamara, who escaped before he was executed.”

Anyone who has information about escapes or any other information about the jail can contact Mr Sauber on (02) 4936 6482.

Alan Perrett's Suitcase

Maitland Mercury, Monday 19 October, 2009

Some time after his death, a suit case bearing the inscription, A.G.F. Perrett scratched above the handle, and the letters A and P on each lock was delivered to the gaol by a member of Mr Perrett’s family in the hope that the contents would “be of some use” to gaol archivists.

As well as the pictured NSW Prisons Department summer issue pith helmet and plaited leather whistle strap which date back to 1948, and the warders cap (circa 1970s), the suit case contained a plethora of artefacts documenting Mr Perrett’s service over three decades.

Maitland Gaol officers who worked alongside him have described Allan Perrett as authoritarian, abrasive, meticulous and somber, a no-nonsense man’s man who kept to himself. One former colleague explained, “Old Perrett, I’ve never seen him crack a smile, he was never up for a joke or anything, he just did his job and that was that”.

These attributes could certainly be accredited to, and possibly were a prerequisite for, his early service at H.M. Gaol, Grafton, widely acknowledged as one the most brutal and bleak correctional institutions Australia has ever known. In contrast to the portrayal of a brusque, hardened officer, is Mr Perrett’s involvement with the Maitland Gaol Prisoners’ Discussion Group. Documents indicate that he was a key figure in the establishment and ongoing running of the group which met monthly throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. Topics for discussion were agreed upon by consensus and guest speakers from the public sector were invited to participate. Minutes for the group meetings attest that the lively and informative discussions, covering a gamut of subjects, were enjoyed by all who participated, and each month’s gathering was eagerly awaited.

Items from the suitcase offer a tiny glimpse into the working life of 3rd Class Warder A.G.F. Perrett. The H.M. Gaol E. Maitland Storekeeper receipt No.558 shows he returned his uniform, ID card, manual, badge, buttons, shoes, tie and tie pin on 23rd November 1976. Anyone with information about the discussion group or Maitland Gaol can contact gaol staff on (02) 4936 6482 or email with items or information they’d like to share.

Old Gaol Records Bring History to Life

Maitland Mercury, Monday 5 October, 2009

As part of the development of Maitland Gaol’s new Research and Reading Room, copies of many digitised and microfilmed records have been obtained. With the assistance of a band of research volunteers, these documents will be used in the ongoing research work to be undertaken at the Gaol.

The documents have already been invaluable in preparing the information for the recently published booklet “Hurled Into Eternity” - the stories behind the 16 executions at Maitland Gaol.

The microfilms consist of copies of the official handwritten Entrance and Description Books covering the period 1848 to the early 1900s. They allow us to visualise what the prisoners may have looked like and certainly their background. We know that the aboriginal, Melville, the first person to be executed at Maitland Gaol, was 5 foot, 9¾ inches tall, of stout build with a pock-pitted face and was blind in the left eye. Later records are even more revealing. William Ross, executed for murder on 22nd November 1859, was 26 years old. A native of Boston in America, he arrived in Australia on the whaling ship “Kangaroo” in 1855. Of strong stature with a fresh complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes, he stood 5 foot, 6½ inches tall, was a carpenter who could read and write and was a Presbyterian. These records will, over time, be indexed giving a complete history of the Gaol’s prisoner population.

The NSW Government Architects Office has also made available digitised copies of almost 500 plans of the Gaol which reveal fascinating aspects of the site. They are on restricted access but will assist in the ongoing maintenance, conservation and understanding of the development of Maitland Gaol.

If you are interested in being involved in the ongoing research associated with Maitland Gaol and would like to volunteer to work on the archives and artefacts, please contact the Gaol on (02) 4936 6482 or email your contact details to

Neville William Griffiths

Maitland Mercury, Monday, 21 September, 2009

“Don’t slouch about, don’t bully or bluster, don’t swagger. Prisoners with these characteristics are quick to recognise a fellow spirit”, so advises Comptroller General S. McCauley in the New South Wales Prisons’ Dept. Handbook Guide to Warders dated Ist March 1915. This booklet and a plethora of invaluable gaol related material was recently donated to Maitland Gaol by Antoinette Griffiths, widow of former Deputy Superintendent Neville William Griffiths. Neville was first enlisted as a Prisons’ Warder in February 1951, retiring voluntarily in November 1985. He appears to have been an amateur archivist and keen gaol historian as he continued to gather news items from local media long after his retirement.

The extensive collection, including an almost complete anthology of The Crimes Act of 1900 with amendments through to 1979, personal papers, officers’ manuals and guide books, offers a unique insight into the working of the prison, documenting the many changes which took place during the 20th Century. A transcript of a 1978 interview conducted by The Ombudsman’s Office, sheds an interesting light on alleged assaults by officers against inmates during the final moments of the October 1975 riot. Neville’s detailed account of events of the day, explains why, after throwing tear gas canisters into the riot affected area, officers lined each side of the only exit in a manner “referred to by the Department as a security line and by the prisoners, of course, as a gauntlet”. No charges were ever laid.

Mr Griffiths shared his knowledge generously with gaol researchers. His stories regarding the continued escape attempts of the gaol’s milking cow were hilarious. If you have information or stories to share please contact Maitland Gaol on or (02) 4936 6482.

Last Death in Custody

Maitland Mercury, Monday 14 September, 2009

This week’s column gives readers a chilling and unique opportunity to look into the workings of a coronial investigation. The items featured were used as evidence in the inquest into the death in custody in Maitland Gaol of George Savvas. The former Marrickville councillor was serving a 30 yr sentence for his involvement in a narcotics trafficking operation and a daring escape from Goulburn Correctional Centre in 1996.

Prison authorities had become aware of an alleged escape being planned by Savvas and three others, including “Back-packer Murderer” Ivan Milat. On 17 May 1997, a covert operation was conducted and the 4 intending escapees were removed from their cells in A Wing and segregated. Savvas was relocated to Cell 04 in the recently constructed 5 Wing. The following morning, Savvas’ body was found hanging in the doorway of his cell. He was pronounced “life extinct” by the Gaol Medical Officer at approximately 9:05am.

The disturbing artefacts were saved from destruction in May 1998 by investigating officer, Detective Sergeant N.J.Raymond, in the belief that they would be of great historical value. They were donated to the gaol in July 2004.

The featured items, as well as other articles relevant to the enquiry, including photographs, sketches, personal affects and a full scale model of the door-frame in which Mr. Savvas was found hanging, are featured in Maitland Gaol’s current “Exposed: Our Criminal Past” Exhibition which opened last weekend and will run till the end of the year.

Inmate Booklets

Maitland Mercury, Monday 24 August, 2009

Reaction to this column since June has elicited considerable prison officer’s memorabilia and artefacts. Focus on inmate life in the gaol is equally important but the collection of these pieces is far less extensive. However, there is a fascinating start to a collection on the instruction and regulation of prisoners.

“Instruction and Information for Prisoners”, issued by NSW Prisons Department in 1956 bears the stern warning; “To All Prisoners…You may retain this book so long as you are in the prison in which it was issued to you, but you must return it undamaged before release or transfer.” Issues addressed include “Discipline”, “Classification”, “Venereal disease, treatment of”, and of great importance, “Food” and “Indulgences”. All inmates were supplied 18 ozs. of bread, 1 gill of milk and 1 oz of sugar, however, prisoners undergoing cellular confinement for breaches of discipline were restricted to 16 ozs. of bread for alternate periods of seven days.

“Make Time Serve You”, a booklet issued in the 1960s entreats inmates to “make a resolve that, when the time comes for you to leave, you will have benefited from your stay by being better educated, better trained and better equipped than when you came.”

Changing attitudes towards imprisonment are reflected in the “Inmates’ Physical Fitness and Recreation Curriculum” published by the NSW Department of Corrective Services in 1995. The curriculum, “intended to be integrated with other…programmes such as literacy, numeracy, and non-English speaking background courses”, was compiled “for use by inmates in an endeavour to improve their attitudes to good health and good living”.

These books are invaluable to the ongoing research and understanding being accumulated at Maitland Gaol about the treatment of prisoners during its operation. If you can assist with further information, please contact the staff at Maitland Gaol on (02) 4936 6482 or

Maitland Gaol Model

Maitland Mercury, Monday 10 August, 2009

On 29 October 1975, disgruntled inmates caused extensive damage to Maitland Gaol in a few short hours.

A Commission of Enquiry into the riots was undertaken and to aid the investigation, a scale model of the Gaol was built by then Detective Sergeant 3rd Class E. J. (Ernie) Kelly of the Orange Scientific Investigation Section. After taking initial photographs of the site, Mr Kelly began work on the model in early November 1975, finally completing the task on 20 March 1976.

Mr. R. Blackmore, Stipendiary Magistrate, commented during the hearings, “I personally found it to be of the greatest assistance in understanding the evidence…one can only envy the skill and admire the patience of the builder…and he is to be commended.” His Honour Judge Torrington added, “…the model has served the interests of justice tremendously as it made clear the views I have now come to concerning this case.”

Ernest John Kelly joined the police force in 1955, working his way through the ranks, eventually retiring in 1985 as Detective Sergeant 1st Class (OIC) of the Scientific Investigation Services. He received the Peter Mitchell Award in 1978 for “Most Outstanding Performance of Any Phase of Police Duty”.

Sometime after the enquiry, the model was acquired by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW and in 2001, was donated by them to Maitland Gaol for future display in the then fledgling tourist attraction. Being made of Balsa wood, the model has sustained substantial damage over the past 33 years and is in desperate need of restoration before it can take its rightful place as the centre piece of the Maitland Gaol museum exhibits.

Staff at the Gaol have successfully tracked down Ernie Kelly but health issues have hindered his desire to refurbish the model himself. Maitland Gaol is keen to seek corporate sponsorship of the model restoration project and organisations interested in discussing a sponsorship package are urged to contact Gaol staff on (02) 4936 6482.