Difference between revisions of "Mt Eden Prison Gymnasium Excavation"

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Gymnasium Excavation

Archaeological investigations by Clough and Associates Ltd at Mt Eden Gaol have commenced as the re-development of the Mt Eden Prisons gets underway. The excavation so far has provided a snapshot of the history of the site from the 1850s onwards. The first phase of work involved photographic and architectural recording of some of the smaller buildings to be demolished, including the “Gymnasium” and “Bag Shop” built in the early 20th Century. Following the demolition of the Gymnasium, parts of the earlier Mt Eden Gaol stockade built in the late 1850s were uncovered.

Gym excavation1.jpg

Under the modern asphalt are layers of fill and older levels for the yard and below that lies a dense layer of large basalt flakes probably relating to the construction of the later prison wing during early 20th Century. A thin distinctive layer of fill under the flakes consists of crushed fragments of white plaster mixed with wood fragments, a large collection of nails and an assortment of artefacts. This appears to relate to the demolition of the stockade.

The artefacts recovered so far include buttons, clay pipe fragments and ceramic sherds. Three items in particular stand out in the collection from the layer: a bone toothbrush with a “government issue” arrow scratched into the handle, a bullet and a clay pipe manufactured by Balme (London) with a stem that has been smoked down to last 2cm.

The dig exposed remains of the stockade: stone piles, probably for a wooden floor, and an early concrete footing along the western side with timber slots for the studs and wall. The unusual feature is a basalt block structure with curved corners surrounding the building, incorporating an entrance to the building along the northern wall.

Future investigations are targeted towards identifying the original fence-line around the stockade and other parts of the stockade that may have survived the building of the later prison.

Archaeological Team

  • Simon Best
  • Simon Bickler
  • Ben Thorne
  • Colin Sutherland
  • Rod Clough
  • Jennifer Low
  • Barry Baquie


Foundations of the Stockade.

Update May 2009 - Archival investigations suggest that the building was in the area o fthe stockade but most probably relates to the Chapel building. Whether that was originally a stockade building or constructed after the original building was removed is not yet known. More details are discussed in the Chapel page.

Area A

The east section below the stairs illustrates much of the history of the area.

  • At the base is a demolition layer from the stockade building including plaster and other miscellaneous artefacts on the base natural volcanic basalt layer.
  • Large Basalt flakes sit on the demolition layer and probably come from the building of the later prison wing (c. 1915)
  • Fill above the basalt flakes from the yard area under a old concrete layer probably an earlier yard surface (this probably dates soon after the construction of the prison and the stairs are likely to descend to this level.
  • More fill over the top of the old yard surface and a modern asphalt layer for the yard.

East section with labels.jpg

Area B

Small excavation at the corner of the Bag Shop building. The trench here illustrated the build-up of material from the old land surface.


View the Excavation in 3D