Queen Street Gaol

From Archaeopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

(From Best 1992) The first statistical returns for New Zealand, the Blue Book of 1841, describes the gaol in Official Bay.

"The temporary building used as a Gaol at Auckland was built of Raupo the size being 20 feet by 12 feet divided into 2 apartments the one of the Gaoler and the other a Cell capable of containing 8 prisoners. " (Blue Book 1841)

By halfway through that year the new gaol in Queen Street had opened, and for the next 15 years served as the only prison in Auckland. This was gradually replaced from 1856 by the new goal at Mt Eden, and by 1865 had closed its doors for the last time.

The Gaol

The fist of these to go up was the gaol itself. Just when the work commenced is not yet clear, but a gaoler was appointed on 8 July 1841, and the prison itself gazetied as a common gaol 20 days later. A week prior to this however, on Tuesday 13 July, the fust prisoners, four in number,had been transferred from the old lock up to the new quarters.

The building was unfinished at that time, but 'I.. . a sufficient portion of jt is completed for the safe custody of the prisoners, and as a residence for the gaoler ...I' (N.Z.H.A.G. 1841b). None of the charges against these prisoners was said to be serious. However, the gaol returns for May of that year show that two of the three inmates were there for assault and battery with sword and gun against the police magistrate himself and his constables, and the other for assault and drunkenness (Fig. 7). The latter was sentenced to three months hard labour, the others committed to the Quarter Sessions (I.C.C.S. 1841b). These three were still in custody when the move to the new prison took place, and the tone of the article, which also refers to the police as 'I... an efficient body ...'I appears to contain a certain amount of journalistic license.

The sword and gun wielding McNaughton and Sharkey, both stonemasons who arrived on the Anna Watson, and who were later to lay the foundations of the Court House, were actually extremely lucky. Their case came up in early October, and due to the separation of that time of the New Zealand government from that of New South Wales, Hobson released them with a fine of one shilling each (N.Z.H.A.G. 1841d).

The fourth prisoner may well have been one William Phelps Pickering, who had been in custody since July 4 for misrepresentation and fraud, and who was eventually sentenced to 7 years transportation to Van Diemens Land (N.2.H.A.G 1841a). He also was lucky, his education finally made him too valuable to export to Australia; despite escaping from the schooner Hawk which was to take him there he eventually had his sentence commuted to hard labour in the Auckland gaol, on the condition that he become the gaol's schoolteacher (I. C. C. S . 1842t).

It would seem that at the time of occupation the gaol was not roofed; a letter dated 28 July, from Holman, the Superintendent of Works, to Hobson, states that for lack of a shingle splitter 'I... the gaol must remain uncovered until there can be some shingles procured." (I.C.C.S. 1841g). Even by 10 August work was not complete, the amount remaining being estimated to cost thirty-four pounds fifteen shillings (I.C.C.S. 1841h), although this may refer to features such as the gaol fence, which is described as consisting of stakes 'I.. . 4 to 5 inches substance, 7 feet above the ground and 4 to 5 feet in the ground, quite close each other and to be tied with [illegible]." (I.C.C.S. 1841g).

For a while, presumably, the set-up functioned more or less adequately, but by April of the next year overcrowding (14 men in a cell 11' 5" by 10' 9") and bad conditions (damp and rat-infested) were among the complaints in a letter from Coates the Sheriff to the Colonial Secretary (I.C.C.S. 1842g), and from then on everything was downhill.

Excavation Simon Best (1992) of Queen St Gaol

For almost a quarter of a century the Queen Street gaol was more or less open for business. During this time it was probably fairly representative of similar institutions throughout New Zealand. What did it mean then to fall foul of the law in those early days?

As we have seen, there was little of the institutionalised brutality of the earliest Australian system. Indeed, any really hard cases were quickly deported across the Tasman to where facilities were available to handle them. The Queen Street gaol was small beer compared to the Rocks in Sydney or the Tasmanian Penal Institutions, but circumstances did conspire to make it an extremely unpleasant place in which to be confined. These were its low-lying aspect, its position on the banks of a stream which received gaol sewage and various other unhealthy garbage, and the overcrowding which saw criminals and lunatics so packed together that not much more than one square metre of cell space was available per person (A.J.H.R. 1861). Women who were breast-feeding children were sentenced for up to two years with hard labour for crimes such as theft or debt, and were often imprisoned in the dark and damp cells under the south-west corner of the Courthouse. Under the heading of "Horrible state of the Auckland Gaol" in the Daily Southern Cross of 1853, words such as "inhuman" and "barbarous" are used to describe the prison conditions, and the article points out that

"The Queen Street Gaol is coeval with the foundation of Auckland. In its very best condition, it was but a confined and ill-contrived wooden structure. In its present, it is a rotten and ruinous hovel, overrun with rats, and only fit to be used as a place of torture." (Daily Southern Cross 1853)

The Queen Street Gaol was replaced my the Mt Eden Stockade.