Wandering into Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney…

Continuing further along my meanderings through inner Sydney, I stumbled across Darlinghurst Gaol, which is now posing as the National Art School. Is it a coincidence that these art students are creating within the walls of a former prison? I’m not sure but society has often locked up it’s most innovative thinkers. Indeed, Australian poet Henry Lawson himself was locked up within these walls back in the day.

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Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that I wandered into Darlinghurst Gaol and wandered straight out again.

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This photo was taken in the tunnel leader into the chapel.

Perhaps, you might think they’ve made a huge mistake. That they should’ve locked me up and thrown away the key. Some days, I truly wouldn’t mind. After all, if that’s what it takes to get a bit of peace and quiet, I’ll lock myself up any day. I’m sure you know what I mean. We’ve all been there!

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Old and New Stand Side by Side.

As I said, I was  wandering through Eastern Sydney starting out at Kings Cross Station and walking along Darlinghurst Road to the Sydney Jewish Museum. Then, I turned the corner and saw a high and continuous sandstone wall. Although I don’t get down to this part of Sydney very often, I knew it must’ve been Darlinghurst Gaol. While it closed as a gaol back in and is now the National Art  School, it had some high profile inmates back in the day. Poet Henry Lawson spent a bit of time there, calling it Starvinghurst Gaol. A few notable bushrangers were  inmates of Darlinghurst Gaol:

  • Thomas and John Clarke – bushrangers from the upper Shoalhaven in south-east New South Wales, hanged on 25 June 1867.
  • John Dunn – Australian bushranger, member of Ben Hall‘s gang, hanged in the gaol on 19 March 1866.
  • John Vane[3] – bushranger from Carcoar in Central Western New South Wales. Johnny Vane was member of Ben Hall‘s gang.
  • Frank Gardiner – Australian bushranger and mastermind of the Forbes gold escort robbery at Eugowra on 15 June 1862 (sentenced to 32 years, but pardoned early).
  • Andrew George Scott – known as Captain Moonlite, Irish-Australian bushranger.
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Watercolour of the Gaol by inmate Henry Louis Bertrand, 1891

Construction on Darlinghurst Gaol wall began in 1822 and finished in 1824 using convict labour. However, due to a lack of funds, the site sat empty for 12 years. Construction of the rest of the complex did not begin until 1836, with completion of some of the cell blocks in 1840. The gaol was ready for occupation a year later, with the first prisoners occupying the gaol on 7 June 1841.

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The gaol was finally completed in 1885. The main material used for construction of the gaol is Sydney sandstone, cut into large blocks by convicts. Convict markings on the blocks are visible along the upper half of the wall on Darlinghurst Road. A tall circular chapel stands in the middle of the site, around which are sited the six rectangular cell blocks in a radial fashion.

The Mortuary.

The site was transferred in 1921 to the New South Wales Department of Education, who adapted the building for use as the East Sydney Technical College. The National Art School was established in 1995 and is now the sole occupant of the site. The Darlinghurst Road side of the Gaol, (commonly known as “the wall”) was for many years a popular place for male prostitutes to offer their services.

I have to ask if it’s a coincidence that the National Art School is housed in a former gaol? After all, doesn’t society like to lock up those who think outside the square and who better than artists and creatives!

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The guard at the gate told me that there was a tunnel from the courthouse to the gaol and so I wandered round there and took some photos. The architecture is just begging to be photographed and is, as I’ve heard said: “very instragramable”. That is if you’re on Instagram.

Stumbling across the gaol was a reminder of the chance finds you come across when you explore a place on foot. I had a great uncle who was particularly well-travelled for his day. He used to say that if you wanted to know a city, you needed to walk around it on foot. He was so right and he was in great company with these minds:

“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.”
― Charles Baudelaire

“There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.”

-Paul Scott Mowrer

However, as much as I love walking around the inner city exploring every nook and cranny, time was not my friend. Mum was minding my kids and I really had to get home. So, after already deviating via the Anne Frank Exhibition and Darlinghurst Gaol, I was now Cinderella at 5 minutes to midnight.  I  needed to hot foot it to Central Station via Surry Hills to catch the train home.

Well, maybe just one last detour. After walking out of gaol, I wandered into a chocolate shop. Just goes to show that it doesn’t take much to lead me astray!

Now, it’s time to get on with the weekend!

xx Rowena

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3 thoughts on “Wandering into Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney…

  1. Tails Around the Ranch

    Your guided museum tours are always so pleasant and informative. They are especially wonderful since there’s no admission fee for us on the receiving end, no lines and no rude people to step on toes or block views. Bless you, Rowena! ღ

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