22. Gaol - 1891


The old gaol was erected by James Dobbie in 1891 and opened in 1892.  Before it was built, the closest gaol was in Silverton, a makeshift wood and iron building. Here, prisoners were secured at night with leg-irons to prevent their escape. After the opening of a gaol in Broken and the establishment of the courts, Silverton Gaol was used only for short-term prisoners, such as overnight lock-ups. By the 1930s the building was becoming a target for vandalism. In 1966 the Broken Hill Historical Society was instrumental in its transformation into the Old Silverton Gaol Museum-DELETE 

A report from the Barrier Miner: 7th November 1892, not long after the Broken Hill Gaol opened, describes what a ‘visitor’ might find on entering: 

On the right-hand side as one enters the building are the governor's office, a large storeroom, and a bathroom.  

In the storeroom is a large supply of gaol clothing of every description, handcuffs, and gaol requisites, the greater portion of which have been transferred from the gaol at Silverton. Here is also a quantity of destitute clothing, ie garments which are given those persons who, on the completion of their terms, are deficient of proper clothing.  

On tho left hand side is the guard room, where the warders accommodate themselves whilst awaiting the hour for going on duty. This portion is provided with communication, by means of electric bells; with the governor's quarters and the tower.  

Facing the entrance to the gaol are doors leading to the female and male divisions. The male division consists of 17 cells, ranged on either aide of a spacious hall. The cells are well ventilated, and on one of the walls of each compartment is an electric button, upon pressing which a bell in the hall rings, and, the register shows from which cell the call comes. 

At the far end on the left side is a large cell where any prisoners who are suspected of being of unsound mind are placed. 

Portion of the compartment is railed off, and a warder sleeps therein at night.  

At the far end, also facing the entrance, and extending right across the passage-is the innocent looking gallows, where prisoners sentenced to death at local Assizes will pay the extreme penalty of the law. At first sight it looks like an ordinary gallery, but on closer observation the trap doors and the movable parts in the floor of the passage may be seen. The drop is about 12 feet, the warder states; and he also explains the process by which the prisoner is executed. It is a gruesome subject, and both the visitor and his guide are glad to turn their backs upon this part of the building, and step into the exercise yard, where the prisoners are standing under a shelter shed, closely watched by two warders.  

Along the boundary wall a third warder tramps almost without intermission from shortly after 6 a.m. to 5.15 p m.long hours of duty, truly. On the right hand is the kitchen, in about the centre of the yard stands the water tower, and on the left hand is a store room and several cells.

The only execution in the Broken Hill Gaol took place in 1907, when Peter Sadeek was hanged for murder.  

Famously, between 1942 and 1945, Australia’s entire gold reserves was housed in the cellar of the Gaol in a specially constructed vault as a precaution against Japanese invasion. The Barrier Miner’s story on 23rd April 1947 opens with:  

THE Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has announced that gold worth between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000 held by Australia in the Broken Hill Gaol during the war for the Bank of England and the Netherlands Government has now left Australia. 

Audio transcript available.