A visit to Melbourne is not complete without a tour of the Old Gaol on Russell Street, especially if you love history and possible ghost sightings. It is rumoured to be one of Melbourne’s most haunted buildings, Not surprising considering its long list of previous tenants.
Prison is not a pleasant place to be, even more so was Old Melbourne Gaol. Modelled on England’s Pentonville Prison, it was considered a modern prison in its time. However, when you step inside, it is hard to imagine what life used to be like for the inhabitants who were sent here to serve their sentences. The Gaol was built between 1852 and 1854 in an attempt to solve the problem of overcrowding although without success. One feels the coldness walking along the main corridor lined with empty , ghostly quiet cells.
It is impossible to imagine the harsh conditions inside as the prison became more rundown each year. In 1924 some sections were so bad that were demolished.
During World War II the Gaol was a military prison before it was used by the Victorian Police Department as a storage facility. Today, it has been restored to reflect its historic beginnings – turned into a museum by the National History Trust of Victoria and hosts visits by millions of tourists each year.
The prison hat sat quietly for years behind those blue stone walls as traffic and pedestrians passed by daily without any thought to the horror stories that unfolded inside. Such tales saw 136 executions during that time, including that of infamous bushranger Ned Kelly. However, do not expect to find his ghost here..
Of course, like all old historical buildings, there are the stories of ghost sightings and the most common reports of these haunting appear to come from the upstairs women’s wards. More specifically Cell 16.
A gust of ice-cold air brushes your skin as you enter cell 16. This is not an odd feeling as many visitors have reported the feeling. An ice-cold presence is so strong in the doorway and some people are unable to enter. This is perhaps due to the reports of a woman’s voice screaming and shouting the words “get out”. It is suggested that the voice and scream is that of Elizabeth Scott – the first woman to be hung at the prison..
Walking further up to the third floor landing is the most powerful chapter of a tour of Old Melbourne Gaol. As you stand there looking across the prison, one can hardly imagine what life here was like. Each cell only contained the bare essentials such as bedding and plumbing. There were no luxuries afforded and it was very much a punishment to sit in a cold, damp cell with only a dim light shining through the tiny windows.
Also the third floor is the True Condemned cell and it that it looks out over the gallows where the prisoners were executed. It truly feels like a true condemned cell with its cold white walls and tiny window high above. The night before an execution the scheduled prisoners were brought into this cell. It was considered an efficiency mover at the time by the Crown.
One just has to stand in the doorway to be overcome with fear and terror. Even the most unbeliever of ghosts can feel the emotions of what went on inside. However, the strongest feeling felt is the sadness of the inhabitants who were brought here knowing that they would never see the outside world again. This section of the Gaol can truly take your breath away, especially when faced with the gallows.
Once you finish touring the main prison, do not forget to visit the Watch House where the processing of prisoners was undertaken. To make it an authentic experience a Sergeant will take you through a mock arrest and prisoner line-up and is more interactive.
All visitors will experience being locked in a group cell with all their tour buddies (yes, they even turn out the lights) so it feels more authentic. However, you do get released on “good behaviour” where there is time to walk through the exercise yard, the wet cell and even the padded cell.