Once a Gaol

Sydney Nimble recently had the pleasure of going on someone else’s tour. Our guide Tom took us around the National Art School, which was formerly the Darlinghurst Gaol.

The buildings in the National Art School represent one of the most formidable collections of sandstone colonial architecture in Australia.

For those of us who like colonial architecture they are right up there - well preserved and swirling with stories.

The Darlinghurst Gaol specialised in accommodating bushrangers, rapists and murderers. It operated from 1841 until 1914.

76 people were hanged in the Darlinghurst gaol, and Sydney’s most notorious 19th and early 20th century criminals were provided with either short or long term accommodation: Captain Moonlight; Jimmy Governor (aka Jimmy Blacksmith) and the Rennie boys.

Famous Australian poet, Henry Lawson, did some time for failing to pay alimony and child desertion. Henry used the time well writing a number of poems.

The tour focused on the history of the buildings when they were used as a gaol.

D Block housed women prisoners and in one corner of this building plug marks can be seen on the wall where a padded cell was kept for more difficult customers.

D Block was connected to the prison chapel by a walkway as those in charge were uncomfortable with the idea of female prisoners venturing onto the general grounds of the gaol.

Probably a good idea in view of a number of rapists residing in the vicinity.

D Block was used as a theatre and for other events from late 1950s through to the 1970s. Catherine Hepburn and Robert Helpmann visited D Block in 1955 to assist in promoting the theatre whilst it was being restored.

The prison’s chapel has a cupola, which is a small structure placed on the dome or roof of a building. Cupola’s are used to provide light and or ventilation. Two photographs below show the chapel’s cupola from inside as you look up from the floor and from the exterior.

The sandstone for the prison walls was cut and hewn by convicts working in a chain gang at nearby quarries. Each sandstone block was marked so that a tally could be kept and the first photo below shows these markings.

The sixth photo shows D Block, which was comprised of three levels when the gaol operated. If you look behind the projector the markings can be seen where the stairs used to be located.

We highly recommend Tom’s tour, which can be booked through the National Art School’s website.

The Darlinghurst Gaol was a cruel place and tormented those persons that were incarcerated here.

Nevertheless stories about the prisoners, jail conditions, executions, and the public’s reactions to the gaol are fascinating.

markings identified the prisoner who worked on the sandstone block

markings identified the prisoner who worked on the sandstone block

chapel and cupola topped with a weather vane

chapel and cupola topped with a weather vane

the dark side of the cupola

the dark side of the cupola

not a metaphor -  real ball and chain

not a metaphor - real ball and chain

Tom with a display of local historic tools.

Tom with a display of local historic tools.

dreaded D Block

dreaded D Block