Adelaide GAOL 18 Gaol Road
Thebarton
South Australia 5031
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A typical cell in 1950s style The Working Gaol 1841 - 1988

 

  History

The Adelaide Gaol replaced a two roomed stone building, known as the ‘Stone Jug’, in the Adelaide park lands which housed prisoners.  This gaol was only secured by a wooden paling fence which did not prevent prisoners from escaping or prisoners and their guards from getting drunk on grog passed through the fence.

Between its opening in 1841 and closure in 1988, the Adelaide Gaol housed approximately 300,000 prisoners. 

 

Sister Mary MacKillopSister Mary MacKillop

Sr. Mary MacKillop, 1842 - 1909, was a regular visitor to prisoners at the Adelaide Gaol for many years and founder of the  Order of the Sisters of St Joseph  in 1867, shortly after her arrival in South Australia. It was through their presence and influence at the Gaol that the Sisters encouraged both men and women to keep away from crime upon their release.

The Josephites opened the first Catholic Female Refuge in Franklin Street, Adelaide, not far from the Gaol, in November 1867 and offered shelter to females who wished to reform their lives upon leaving prison. Soon, the Shelter outgrew its first home as all females were welcomed, irrespective of their circumstances or religion, and moved to larger accommodation.

Mary and her Sisters vigorously dedicated their lives to the poor and those on the margins of society. From the desire to 'never see a need without trying to remedy it', came the vision and mission of the Josephites. 

Mary MacKillop was the first Australian to be formally proposed for canonization by the Catholic Church. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.

Elizabeth Woolcock

8.00am – the warm sun has already dispelled the sleepy night mists.  The promise of another hot, dry day is about to be fulfilled.

A young girl, dressed in a long white gown, carries a bouquet of freshly picked white asters.  She moves slowly across the courtyard, attended by her entourage.  She reaches her objective and stops, hands her bouquet to her attendant and determinedly ascends the 13 wooden steps to her destiny. 

Elizabeth Lillian Woolcock was 25 when, on 30 December 1873, she achieved the dubious honour of becoming the only woman to be hanged in the Adelaide Gaol.

Elizabeth, or Liz as she was known, was charged with the wilful and premeditated murder of her husband, Thomas Woolcock.

After a trial fuelled by malicious gossip and innuendo, she was convicted and sentenced to death, even though the jury recommended mercy on account of her youth.

John and Elizabeth Oliver, migrated to Australia from Cornwall in 1839 and settled at Burra.  Elizabeth Lillian Oliver, was born in Burra on 20 April 1848 and lived with her parents, and sister, in the Kooringa creek dugouts.  A flash flood in 1851, not only washed away the creek bank, but the home and possessions of her family, prompting her parents to move to the Ballarat goldfields in 1852. 

The move did not bring fortune to the family and Mrs. Oliver returned to South Australia when Liz was 4, leaving her in the care of her father.

During the Eureka uprising Liz witnessed the senseless, horrific death of a family friend.  At seven years of age she was attacked, raped, and severely beaten by an itinerant Indian on the Ballarat goldfields.  Doctors attending the child prescribed massive doses of opiates as a means of keeping her alive, which accounted for a later addiction. 

John Oliver died suddenly in February 1857.  At the age of nine, Liz was completely alone.   

Liz went into service with a kindly Victorian family and knew and was happy for some years.

At the age of 15, in 1863, she returned to Ballarat to make her own way in the world.  It was here she received word that her mother was alive in South Australia and wanted to make amends for abandoning her so many years ago.  She moved to Moonta in 1865 and lived happily enough for a year with her mother and step-father, working as a housekeeper through the week, and teaching Sunday school on weekends.

She incurred her step-father’s wrath when she accepted employment as housekeeper to recently widowed Thomas Woolcock who had a young son.  Liz was 19 years old, Thomas Woolcock was 26.  Malicious gossip fuelled her step-father’s objections to her employment, but Liz was strong-willed and, protesting her innocence, refused to resign her position.  To the young girl, Thomas appeared to be a kind, thoughtful and generous man, who needed her help to run his household and look after his young son. 

As a means of putting an end to the gossip and rumours, Thomas proposed marriage to Liz which she accepted, thereby creating an irrevocable rift between herself, her step-father and mother.  Liz was to realise in later years that her step-father had been justified in his objections to the liaison.

It was not a happy marriage.  Thomas Woolcock was a mean, overbearing man, who often drank too much and occasionally beat his wife.  Liz left him, only to be persuaded to return after he promised to reform.  As her predicament became more desperate and she attempted to hang herself.  Unfortunately, or perhaps not, the beam over which she had slung the rope broke.  She was not meant to die at this stage.

Her resolve to leave her husband strengthened but before she could do this Thomas became ill, and after a few weeks, died.

Three different doctors (Drs. Bull, Dickie and Herbert) had treated Thomas during the course of his illness, (one of whom died of a drug overdose three months after Thomas’s demise).  All differed in their diagnosis and prescriptive medicines. 

After Thomas’ death, gossip and rumour forced Dr. Dickie, to request an inquest, ostensibly to dispel the rumours and allow the widow to grieve in peace.  The gesture went horribly wrong when the Coroner’s Jury decided Liz was responsible for her husband’s death, and she was charged with murder and committed for trial.

The Supreme court trial was conducted over three days in December 1873.  Newspapers printed verbatim reports of witness testimony and defence and prosecution counsel’s arguments.  Anomalies within the case were evident even then.

  • Witnesses testified that Thomas had blamed Dr Bull’s medicine for making him ill

  • The doctors were evasive, testimony was not questioned as vigorously as it should have been

  • Neighbours repeated rumours about an illicit liaison between Liz and a previous boarder which was never proved

  • No-one could testify witnessing bad feeling between either husband or wife

  • The Crown Solicitor’s summation was highly inflammatory

  • Liz was not allowed to give testimony on her behalf

After 25 minutes deliberation the jury pronounced Liz guilty, with a recommendation of mercy as she was so young.

Liz’s faith never wavered throughout the trial and she accepted her fate of death, as God’s will.  Guilty or innocent, the debate has waged for 131 years.  The one thing people do agree on is that Elizabeth Lillian Woolcock did not deserve to hang.

Squizzy Taylor

Was Squizzy Taylor ever in Adelaide Gaol? 

In 1991 the Gaol acquired a necklace ornament allegedly made by Melbourne criminal Squizzy Taylor while he was being held in Adelaide Gaol.  The ornament is made from black horse hair and pieces of a comb inlaid with pieces of mother of pearl.

While there is no official record of Taylor ever being in Adelaide Gaol it is possible that he was held while using an assumed name.  Taylor was a notorious member of the Melbourne underworld and killed in a shoot-out with another underworld figure John Cudmore in Melbourne 1927.  He was known to have been in Adelaide several times but only convicted once when fined £5 for theft.

Squizzy Taylor was one of John Wren’s gang.  Author Frank Hardy’s 1950 novel ‘Power Without Glory’ is based on John Wren and his empire. Squizzy Taylor is portrayed in the novel as Snoopy Tanner.

 

Rupert Maxwell Stuart

Rupert Maxwell Stuart was found guilty of the rape and murder of a nine year old girl in the South Australian country town Ceduna in 1959.  At the time Stuart was an illiterate itinerant travelling with a boxing troupe.  He was tried for the crime and sentenced to death after making a confession which he claimed was extracted under duress .

While awaiting execution Stuart was reprieved seven times,  in one case just 24 hours from the gallows.  The sentence was eventually commuted to life imprisonment and Stuart was released on parole in 1973.

His story is told in the film Black and White.

Raymond John Bailey

Raymond John Bailey was hanged in June 1958 for the murder of Thyra Bowman, her 14 year old daughter Wendy and family friend Thomas Whelan at Sundown Station in the far north of South Australia.

Mrs Bowman and her passengers had set out from Alice Springs in December 1957 to drive the three day trip to Adelaide.  When they failed to arrive, police organised a search for the party.

It was thought that the group might have taken a wrong turn and become lost in the desert or broken down or run out of petrol.  The search, the most widespread in Australia’s history, had covered all tracks leading east and west of the Alice Springs - Adelaide road without trace of the missing vehicle or its occupants.

Eight days later an RAAF Lincoln bomber spotted their vehicle under a group of trees.  Within hours of the discovery, searchers, including Aboriginal trackers, reached the scene and found the three bodies.  The Bowman’s car had been washed to remove fingerprints but a series of human and car tracks were clearly visible.

Police investigations soon led them to Dubbo, New South Wales, where they gathered sufficient evidence to arrest 24 year old carpenter Raymond John Bailey in Mt.Isa, Queensland.  Admissions made by Bailey and evidence from the crime scene soon led to his conviction and execution, closing one of the most sensational murder cases in South Australian history.

The Visit Process

Visits to prisoners in the Gaol were strictly regulated.  Until the 1950s visits took place in the Sally Port, or main entrance.  A former prisoner described the visit process: prisoners would be brought to the inside gate and visitors would stand at a brass rail about 2 metres away.  On a busy day, prisoners and visitors would try to be heard above each other and after a few minutes it used to sound like the auction sale at the cattleyards on a Saturday morning.

Daily Routine

The Gaol bellThe daily schedule ran to strict times which were signified by the ringing of the Gaol bell.  The bell was a gift to the colony in 1837.  It was also rung slowly and continuously during executions.  Visitors to the Gaol are welcome to ring the bell.

Breakfast was delivered to the cells at 7am.  Prisoners ate their meals in the cells by themselves before inspections to make sure that cells were clean and tidy.  Ablutions buckets were then taken into the yards for emptying.  Prisoners were returned to their cells at 11am.  After lunch in the cells prisoners were later released back into the yards and recreation rooms until tea was served at 4pm.  

On average prisoners spent 18 hours a day in their cell.

At the beginning and end of every ‘session’ prisoners were counted and a roll call taken.

 

Executions

Capital punishment was abolished in South Australia December 1976, however the last person to be hanged at the Adelaide Gaol was Glen Sabre Valance on 24 November 1964 for the murder of his employer and the rape of his employer’s wife.

Prior to November 1840,  executions in Adelaide were held in public in the park lands or at the North Terrace Barracks.  

After Adelaide Gaol was built, all further hangings in Adelaide took place at the Gaol.  The first seven took place on portable gallows erected outside the front door so that the spectacle could be performed in public.

After 1861, executions were held in private on portable gallows in the north-west lane area between the inner and outer walls.

A permanent gallows was built in A-Wing of the New Building and used to hang 21 men convicted of murder between 1894 – 1950.  Executions were transferred to the Hanging Tower in 1953.

The holding cell, beam and trapdoor in the Hanging Tower gallowsOn the day of the execution the prisoner was woken at 6am and taken to the holding cell where they were given their final meal.  Just before 8am the prisoner was escorted to the trap by the hangman and their ankles and hands were tied by the hangman’s assistant.  

A hood was placed over their head and face and the hanging rope secured.  After the signal was given to the hangman the trap would fall and the body was left to hang for one hour.  Following a brief inquest, the body would be placed in a plain pine coffin, filled with quicklime to speed decomposition, and buried in the ground between the walls within the Gaol.  

The initials and date of execution were then stencilled on the walls adjacent to the grave.

Between 1840 and 1964 there were 45 executions at Adelaide Gaol including one woman, Elizabeth Woolcock.
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