Crime & Punishment - Old Melbourne Gaol, Melbourne - The HDR Experence by Philip Johnson

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This iconic landmark is the site where 135 people, including infamous bushranger Ned Kelly, were hanged. The prison was also a focus during some of Australia’s most significant historical moments, including the Gold Rush and World War II.

The bushrangers, murderers, baby farmers and gangsters kept here lived alongside petty offenders, including lunatics, vagrants and bankrupts. Experience what life behind bars was like for some of our most notorious villains – learn about their life and crimes, their trials and treatment. Step into the shoes of a hangman…

Old Melbourne Gaol dominated the Melbourne skyline as a symbol of authority when it was built in the mid 1800s. Between 1842 and its closure in 1929 the gaol was the scene of 135 hangings including Australia’s most infamous citizen, the bushranger Ned Kelly.

The Old Melbourne Gaol was the first extensive gaol complex in Victoria. The first Melbourne Gaol was built in Collins Street West in 1839-40, but was far too small. A second gaol was built in 1841-4, adjoining the then Supreme Court at the corner of Russell and La Trobe Streets, but this was entirely demolished early in the twentieth century when the Magistrate’s Court complex was built.
What was officially a new wing, but really stage one of the third gaol, was built in 1852-4. It was of bluestone rather than sandstone, and had its own perimeter wall. This new design was based upon the designs of the British prison engineer Joshua Jebb, and more particularly upon the Pentonville Model Prison in London.
The building was a model prison and based on the current prison reform theories of the day. In spite of the amount of building and extension work performed on the Gaol, the complex was consistently overcrowded. It was extended in two stages in 1857-9, and the boundary wall was also extended in 1858-9.
The present north wing, comprising the entrance buildings, central hall and chapel was begun in 1860. In 1862-4 a western cell block, virtually a replica of the present east block, was built to house female prisoners, and the perimeter wall was finally completed in 1864. The west wing extended into what is now the RMIT site, and has since been demolished.
Other building work consisted of support buildings constructed around the gaol complex. For example, seventeen jailer’s houses on Swanston St (1860), a hospital in one of the yards (1864) and a chief warders house on the corner of Franklin and Russell Sts.
In a review of the penal system in 1870 it was recommended that the gaol be closed and the prisoners be moved to a more ‘suitable’ location. Between 1880 and 1924 the gaol was slowly rundown and portions of the original site demolished. The gaol was finally closed in 1929. It reopened briefly during the Second World War as a military prison for Australian soldiers who were Absent Without Leave. Later it was a storage depot for the Victorian Police force.
In 1972, the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) began management of the Old Melbourne Gaol as a tourist attraction.

Equipment: Nikon D300, Sigma 10-20mm, handheld

Technique:HDR 5 Bracketted Images Photomatix 3.26


australia, gaol, hdr, melbourne, old, prison

Philip Johnson is a Photographer located on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Specialising in HDR photography his works have been shown in galleries,published in Tourism campaigns. His work will also be available as Jig Saws through Crown & Andrews

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  • Bernie Stronner
    Bernie Stronnerabout 4 years ago

    Fascinating indeed, I love the desription, When I travel to Melbourne next the Gaol will def be spot I would love to visit, thank you for sharing…

  • yes its a good place to visit, they do tours during the day and i believe ghost tours at night. lots of photo opportunities

    – Philip Johnson

  • Akkra
    Akkraabout 4 years ago

    Interesting pov Philip, it’s not much of a view for the inmates but at least they had a glimpse of the sky. I’m not sure if that wouldn’t be more torturous! You should so go on a night shoot and see if you get any ghosties :o)

  • the prisoners when they left the cell had to wear hoods so other prisoners could not recognise them

    – Philip Johnson

  • NinaF
    NinaFabout 4 years ago

    Great POV & interesting history

  • Trish Meyer
    Trish Meyerabout 4 years ago

    Excellent perspective on this image Philip!

  • Sean Farragher
    Sean Farragherabout 4 years ago


  • Clive S
    Clive Sabout 4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your artwork with the Photomatix HDR Group!

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