History

Main Entrance Gates
Historic image of Main Entrance Gates

Maitland Gaol's foundation stone was laid in 1844 with the official opening and reception of the first prisoners occuring in 1848. Built of sandstone from Morpeth and Farley, it is considered to be the most intact country gaol in New South Wales and is the longest continuously operating correctional institution in Australia.

After holding some of Australia's most hardened criminals, Maitland Gaol closed on the 30th January 1998. Inmates were transferred to other prisons with the final transfer at noon that day. The last buildings were completed on the site in 1993.

The closure of the complex was announced in 1996 as part of an upgrade to the state's prison system. It closed because security did not meet community expectations, conditions were considered unsuitable and the cost of operating the antiquated facility was excessive.

Points of Interest:

Hangings
16 men were executed at Maitland Gaol between 1843 and 1897 - all for rape or murder. Executions were open to the public until 1861. The last man executed was Charles Hines in May 1897 for raping his stepdaughter. Hangings are believed to have taken place at the main gates and the back corner of the Gaol.

Escapes
There were many escape attempts but most failed. Everyone who did get over the walls was caught within days. In 1977 "Maddog" Raymond Denning and 6 others escaped through an exhaust vent in the shower block. They were all back inside within 2 hours after a massive police swoop on the area. In 1980, a 5.5m long tunnel was discovered in Cell 7 in C Wing. It was hidden with a sheet of plastic painted the same colour as the floor. The tunnel was filled in with 2 truckloads of concrete.

A Protest & A Riot!
In 1978, a 23-year-old inmate protested for 16 hours by sitting on top of the Gaol's Administration building. At one stage he disappeared over the roof returning with food. Armed with a softwood stake he waved to the Maitland Mercury and television journalists. In 1975 inmates rioted, setting fire to the maintenance block. They used a swag of home made weapons to attack the warders, protesting about the prison system and the Gaol's conditions. The infamous Darcy Dugan was blamed for inciting the riot, while 78 of the rioting inmates were transferred to other prisons.

Drugs & Alcohol
One popular way to get drugs into the Gaol was to fill a cut tennis ball, reseal it and then throw it over the stone walls. Dead birds stuffed with drugs were often used as well. Inmates brewed their own alcohol using food scraps and sugar and then hid it in the toilet, fire extinguishers, air vents or even buried it in the garden!

An Example of a Daily Routine :

  • 7:00am Inmates released from cell, morning muster, collect breakfast before being locked back into cells.
  • 8:00am Inmates released from cells to the exercise yards.
  • 8:30am Selected inmates released from yards to workshops, e.g. Saddlery, Tailor's Shop and Laundry.
  • 9:00am Inmates permitted access to Chapel and Administration area for library, education and training courses, counselling and phone calls.
  • 11:30am Lunchtime Muster, inmates locked in their cells to eat lunch.
  • 12:30pm Inmates released to exercise yards and workshops.
  • 2:00pm - 3:00pm Shower Block open.
  • 3:00pm Workshops close and those inmates to shower blocks.
  • 4:00pm Inmates to yards with cells open for cleaning.
  • 4:30pm Evening Muster.
  • 5:10pm Inmates take dinner to their cells and are secured for the night.
  • 11:00pm Lights out.