Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
HM Prison Pentridge
HM Prison Pentridge was an Australian prison built in 1850 and located in Coburg, Victoria. The prison officially closed on May 1 1997. Pentridge was often known by the nickname The Bluestone College. The prison has since been partly demolished to make way for a housing development. The front gate area remains.
As a result of a greatly increased crime rate during the Victorian gold rush, the government decided to establish a number of penal stockades. HM Prison Pentridge (a former name of Coburg) was built to receive, in December 1850, sixteen prisoners from the overcrowded Melbourne Gaol. Pentridge was thought to be a good place for a prison, being near Melbourne, yet isolated from it.
The site chosen was the only available Crown Land left unsold at the time. The purpose of the stockade was to provide labour for the construction of the newly proclaimed Sydney Road. There was a lot of bluestone in the area so the prisoners could do 'hard labour' breaking up the stone and working on the unmade road.
Residents were frightened and angry because the stockade consisted only of log huts on wheels behind a low 1.2 metre wooden fence with prisoners guarded by an inadequate number of overseers. Because it was so insecure, mounted aboriginal troopers (police) were employed to patrol its perimeter. The first superintendent of the stockade was Mr Samuel Barrow.
Prisoners worked, slept and were fed in chains. People passing sometimes talked to chain gangs working on the road and gave them tobacco. Prisoners slept on wooden benches and ate standing outside in all weather. Those who broke rules or refused to work were punished by wearing heavier irons or given solitary confinement on bread and water. Some were flogged. Prisoners could only have one letter or visit every three months. The worst punishment was to be sent to the hulks, the floating prison boats moored at Williamstown.
In the period 1857 to 1864 the stockade was transformed into a typical Pentonville-type prison. Single cells replaced the dormitory accommodation of the earlier stockade, and high external bluestone walls with towers for sentries were built providing a much higher level of security.
1870 - 1900
'A' division was designed as a women's prison and remained as such until 1871 when female prisoners were transferred to the Melbourne Gaol. By 1870 there were 650 male and female prisoners and 100 staff. A new three-storey building was erected in 1894 to accommodate the then 195 female prisoners. It was supervised by a female governor and staff and continued until 1956 when Fairlea Female Prison was opened. The three-storey building then became a remand prison known as 'D' Division
Prisoners worked in various industries such as the woollen mill, bakery, printery, tailor's shop, garden, library or in the labour yard rock-breaking. A car number-plate manufactory was established in 1962. By 1945, prisoners were allowed one visit per month and to receive and send one letter a fortnight.
1950 – 1970
In the 1950s and 1960s the prison became a bit more humane. Prisoners could study, join a debating team and some acted and put on plays. By 1970 there were over 1000 prisoners.
With the closure of the Melbourne Gaol in 1926 all executions in Victoria had been carried out in Pentridge. The last man hanged there was Ronald Ryan in 1967. He had been found guilty of killing a prison officer, George Hodson , during a prison escape attempt.
For a long time, Coburg Council tried to have the prison moved or closed. From 1984, drugs and general unrest in the prisons gave rise to rioting and strikes. In 1994, the State Government announced its program to privatise prisons. In May 1997 the northern half of the prison was officially closed and the prisoners sent elsewhere. June 1997 saw the beginning of public tours of the prison. The southern part of the prison closed on 28 November that year and in 1999 the site was sold and is now being developed as housing estates, parklands and business precinct.
The prison was split into many divisions, named using letters of the alphabet.
- A - short and long-term prisoners of good behavior
- B - long-term prisoners with behavior problems
- D - remand prisoners
- E - similar to “A”
- F - remand and short-term
- G - psychiatric problems
- H - high security, discipline and protection
- J - long-term with record of good behavior
- Jika Jika - maximum security risk and for protection
Jika Jika was the name of a 'gaol within a gaol' maximum security section, designed to house Victoria's most hardest and long serving prisoners.
The design of Jika Jika was based on the idea of six separate units at the end of radiating spines. The unit comprised electronic doors, closed-circuit TV and remote locking, designed to keep staff costs to a minimum and security to a maximum. The furnishings were sparse and prisoners exercised in aviary-like yards.
In 1983 four prisoners escaped from ‘escape proof’ Jika Jika. When two prison officers were disciplined in relation to the Jika Jika escape a weeklong strike occurred.
In a protest initiated by conditions in Jika Jika, inmates Robert Wright, Jimmy Loughnan , Arthur Gallagher, David McGauley, Ricky Morris and Craig 'Slim' Minogue sealed off their section doors with a tennis net. Mattresses and other bedding were then stacked against the doors. The windows in the day room were then covered with paper so the prison officers couldn't identify which prisoners caused the ensuing damage.
Plumbing was then torn from the walls in the cells to enable the prisoners to breathe for when the fire was started, as Jika Jika was completely free of any fresh air whatsoever. It was a climate controlled division.
In spite of the Men's attempts to avoid the toxic black smoke by breathing through the plumbing, convicted Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue was the sole survivor of the fire.
Attorney General and Minister for Corrections Jim Kennan ordered the closure of the Jika Jika maximum security section of Pentridge Prison immediately after a 1987 riot and fatal fire.
Ned Kelly Grave Site
The grave site of bushranger Ned Kelly is within the walls of the Pentridge. Ned Kelly was executed by hanging at the Old Melbourne Jail in 1880, his remains were moved to Pentridge Prison in 1929, after his skeleton was disturbed on April 12, 1929, by workmen constructing the present R.M.I.T building.
- Christopher Dale Flannery , aka Mr Rent-a-Kill
- Ned Kelly, Bushranger
- Julian Knight, Hoddle Street Massacre
- Derryn Hinch, Author and Broadcaster
- Craig 'Slim' Minogue , Russell Street Bomber
- Harry Power , Bushranger
- Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read, Author
- Greg Roberts , Author of Shantaram, escapee who fled to India
- Ronald Ryan - last person to be executed in Victoria in 1967
- (Joseph) Leslie Theodore ‘Squizzy’ Taylor
- Stan Taylor, Russell Street Bomber
- 1850's Pentridge 'F' Division opened
- 1870's 'G' Division opened as an Industrial Reformatory School
- 1894 Female prison at Pentridge ('D' Division)
- 1967 last execution in Victoria - Ronald Ryan
- Between 1842 and 1967 186 prisoners were executed
- October 1987 - Five prisoners die in a fire in Jika Jika during riots over prison conditions.
- May 1, 1997 - Pentridge Prison is closed.
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