Skip to content

General History

The Gaol officially opened and took its first prisoners in December 1848.

unlock the history

Built of sandstone from Morpeth and Farley, it is considered to be one of the most intact country gaols in New South Wales with many of the original structures including cell blocks, toilets, awnings and artworks still in the original condition.  

Maitland Gaol is the longest continuously operating correctional institution in Australia.  After holding some of Australia’s most hardened criminals, it closed on 29 January 1998 and any remaining inmates were transferred to other prisons. 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. 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, harsh forms of punishment including flogging with the cat-o-nine tails, isolation and gagging were utilised.  Throughout the sites history troublesome inmates could be shanghaied and sent to Grafton which was renowned for its brutal regime.

In the modern era, removal of privileges such as visits, buy ups, television, radio’s and art supplies were deemed effective ways of controlling the prison population.

Women were housed in Maitland Gaol on a permanent basis from it’s opening year (1848) up until 1951. Sadly during this time many women had to bring their children with them or had children whilst being housed in gaol.

Conditions in the early years of the Gaol’s operation where appalling, for both men and women, but especially for women and children. They were kept on the top landing of A Wing for many years to keep them separate from the male population. Overcrowding, unsanitary and unsafe conditions meant that sadly some children died inside the Gaol walls. Following its construction, women were moved to C Wing and they also had their own day rooms and female only hospital.

Just like the movies, prisoners would attempt to smuggle drugs and alcohol into the Gaol.

Oral history shows that a common way that drugs and other types of contraband came into Maitland Gaol was over the wall. Unlike modern Correction Centre’s, the walls of Maitland Gaol are accessible to the public – this meant that items such as tennis balls, dead birds and other small items could be filled with an item or drug and thrown into the exercise yard.

Inmates illegally brewed their own alcohol using food vegetable scraps and sugar and attempted to hide the goods anywhere and everywhere, including the toilet, in fire extinguishers, ventilation shafts or even bury it in the garden for a rainy day.

One major riot took place at the Gaol in its 150 year history, however protests were numerous over the years. In most instances the riots or protests were in regards to rights and conditions, prisoners using the media coverage in conjuction with prisoners rights advocates to shine a light on the archaic conditions in New South Wales prisons.

Over 70 inmates rioted protesting about the prison system and the conditions inside the Gaol. Fire was set to the maintenance block and they used a collection of homemade weapons to attack the warders. The riot in 1975 was the worst that the Gaol would ever see and it was extremely lucky that during it no prison officers were killed. Eventually the infamous Darcy Dugan was blamed for initiating this riot even though there is no evidence to suggest that he took part.

A 23 year old inmate protested for 16 hours by sitting on top of the Administration building (above the chapel). 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.

Over its 150 years of operation, the Gaol saw some of the state’s worst offenders walk through the front gates. 

This included prisoners such as Chow Hayes, Arthur ‘Neddy’ Smith, John Travis and the Murphy Brothers, Kevin Krump, Darcy Dugan and Ivan Milat. Their notoriety often precedes them with both staff and other prisoners knowing what they are here for. The crimes for these notorious prisoners ranged from murder to being a bank robber and later an escapologist. 


what our customers are saying