Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Hidden within the suburb of Darlinghurst, behind a thick sandstone wall, is the Old Darlinghurst Gaol which in recent times has been transformed into the National Art School. Reputed to be haunted by the ghosts of the 76 people executed at the gallows which were staged at the gaol’s massive entrance, a tour helps visitors uncover the sites miserable history and also its hidden finds not normally accessible to the public. But what what are our thoughts of the Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids?

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

The History of Old Darlinghurst Gaol

The exterior walls of Old Darlinghurst Gaol were built by convict labour from sandstone quarried from the nearby Barcom Glen between 1822-1824. Back then it housed the convict work gangs and was dubbed the Woolloomooloo Stockade while the colony attempted to raise the funds necessary to complete a gaol on the site.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Colonial architect Mortimer Lewis and royal engineer developed the plans for the gaol based on Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary which was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Work commenced on bringing Old Darlinghurst Gaol it to life in 1836 but it wasn’t until June 1841 that the first prisoners were marched into the site, whilst being jeered at and pelted with rotten food by the community along the way.

For hangings, a scaffold was erected inside the Forbes St Gate. Executions always drew a crowd. The first took place on 29 October 1841. The last took place on the same day 66 years later.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Conditions at Darlinghurst Gaol were far from ideal. It site had been built for around 400 inmates but records reveal that often the population was more than double. Poor drainage, corruption of the guards which saw food for the inmates diverted to a makeshift store for locals, and vermin, resulted in squalid living quarters and a rise in illness and disease. Food was so scarce that Henry Lawson dubbed it “Starvinghurst Gaol” during his incarceration.

In 1912 the government established Long Bay Correctional Centre. By 1914 the entire prisoner population had been transferred to the new centre. However it wasn’t until 1921 that ownership was transferred to the New South Wales Department of Education who adapted the site into East Sydney Technical College, and then the National Art School in 1995.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

CLICK TO READ ABOUT THE MOST HAUNTED PLACES IN SYDNEY INCLUDING OLD DARLINGHURST GAOL

Famous Inmates

Over the period of its use, Old Darlinghurst Gaol has played host to a number of prominent and infamous characters from the pages of Australian history.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Henry Lawson is one of Old Darlinghurst Gaol’s most famous inmates who served time for failing to pay his wide alimony and child support. It was during his incarceration that he wrote the poem “One Hundred and Three” which was published in 1908 and titled after his prison number.

They shut a man in the four-by-eight, with a six-inch slit for air,
Twenty-three hours of the twenty-four, to brood on his virtues there.
And the dead stone walls and the iron door close in as an iron band
On eyes that followed the distant haze far out on the level land.

Bread and water and hominy, and a scrag of meat and a spud,
A Bible and thin flat book of rules, to cool a strong man’s blood;
They take the spoon from the cell at night-and a stranger might think it odd;
But a man might sharpen it on the floor, and go to his own Great God.

(partial extract One Hundred and Three by Henry Lawson)

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Bushranger Captain Moonlite was also held at Old Darlinghurst Gaol and was executed there on 20 January 1880 together with his gang member, Thomas Rogan. It is said that he arrived for the hanging with a ring woven from the hair of his lover James Nesbit who had been shot and killed trying to lead police away from Captain Moonlite. Moonlite last request was “to be buried beside my beloved James Nesbitt, the man with whom I was united by every tie which could bind human friendship, we were one in hopes, in heart and soul and this unity lasted until he died in my arms“. His death mask can be viewed at the Gaol today.

Many other bushrangers found themselves at Old Darlinghurst Gaol, however a few other historic people also featured including Jimmy Governor whom Thomas Keneally based his novel, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Albert Thomas Dryer who founded the Irish National Association of Australasia, and Louisa Collins who was the last woman hanged in New South Wales.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

CLICK FOR INFORMATION ABOUT OTHER GAOLS YOU CAN VISIT IN AUSTRALIA

The Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tour with Kids

Over the last few years we have visited quite a number of old Australian gaols with the kids. We frame them within a historical lens so they aren’t too scary (even Maitland Gaol which was one very scary location).

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

When I discovered that the National Art School ran one weekend tour of the grounds each month, I had to book us all in to the next available date. This saw us wake up early and head to Darlinghurst to step back in time.

When you head to Old Darlinghurst Gaol, be mindful that there are parking restrictions from one hour to 3 hours around the perimeter. Take some coins or have you credit card ready so you can secure your parking for the time you need.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Our tour took around an 90 minutes. Our incredible guide met us at the main gates and then whisked us back in time to the initial conceptualisation of the Old Darlinghurst Gaol. We heard how the first inmates walked to the site from Hyde Park whilst being pelted with food. This led to moving into the underground tunnels which would have once taken newly arrived prisoners into the bathhouse.

Lights out and darkness surrounded us. Our guide wanted us to experience a little of the ambience first time visitors would have enjoyed, we just didn’t have the luxury of unwashed bodies, vermin and the rotten food stuck to our bodies.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

The tour led us through the old Governor’s residence, the flogging wall (where recent studies actually found blood remnants), the historic cell block theatre, the morgue, the site of the former gallows, and of course the oldest bath in Australia. Former tunnels were pointed out, since filled in to stop students from the school finding their way underground to the courthouse and other non-specified locations.

Our guide has so much knowledge and also pointed out old convict bricks, revealed stories about past governors (including their shonky ways) and brought to life the former gaol in all its glory. The kids absolutely loved it. I had goosebumps at different points.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

To book a tour of the Old Darlinghurst Gaol you can ring, email or click through to Eventbrite. 

Phone: +61 2 9339 8744
Email: enquiries@nas.edu.au
Website: Eventbrite link

We self funded our visit to Old Darlinghurst Gaol. All opinions are our own. 

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

Old Darlinghurst Gaol Tours with Kids

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *