Tuesday, December 29, 2009

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 info@maitlandgaol.com.au.

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