When I was in Melbourne I was conveniently staying across the street from the Old Melbourne Gaol and since I’ve visited many a jail in my day, I thought this would be interesting. Although I found the experience a bit pricey, it was a good museum.
The museum includes Melbourne’s oldest prison, the historic Magistrate’s Court and former Police City Watch House. While you can visit the prison section at your leisure, the rest of the museum is by guided tour. Tours start every hour or two and are included in the price of admission. If a tour is not starting when you arrive you can simply tour the prison until the tour starts and finish where you left off when the tour is over.
The prison section has 3 floors of prison history. Everything from the history of woman in prison to more contemporary and famous prisoners of the Australian system. They had some very interesting stories of prisoners, those who were falsely imprisoned, to their most famous prisoner, Ned Kelly. There is also an extensive history of hangings in Australia.
I did not visit the Magistrates Court, I didn’t even realize it was an option while I was there, but it also has limited hours so it may not be available to all guests. But, I did enjoy my tour of the Watch House.
The tour of the Watch House is done by the “Sergeant” on duty. He starts out by giving us all cards explaining who we are and what we did to get put in gaol. It opened up a good conversation about the common crimes that people were brought in for. Public drunkenness was common for men and there were many ladies of the night visiting…
While there we got to experience what a proper search would have been like (minus the touching), but it was enough to remind you of how much it would have sucked to be arrested. Next we got to see the overnight cells were prisoners were kept in darkness for 8-10 hours a night. We got to experience a couple minutes of it, and it was also unpleasant. But prisoners were allowed into the yard during the day, an outside yard, that they couldn’t leave, no matter the weather. Oh, and it looked like it could hold 20-30 people comfortably, but it would hold over 100 during the weekend.
We did get to see the “rubber room” and the cell for the special prisoners, they had their own yard, conveniently next to, and only separated by a fence from the regular yard. Not that much better of an experience. At the end of the tour they had a fun little feature where you could make your own mug shot, or get a picture of yourself at the goal. It was a nice (though expensive) touch at the end of the tour.
The Old Melbourne Gaol was an interesting and informative experience. I think the experience is best for kids around 10 or older and adults who enjoy a bit of history or have an interest in jails or law enforcement.