On this day …….. 8th of August 1789

Australia was settled by the convicts and officers of the First Fleet in January 1788. It was believed that the colony’s isolation from any civilisation would be deterrent enough for convicts attempting to escape. Many thought they could reach China by escaping into the bush; some returned, exhausted and starving, to the flogging that inevitably awaited them. Many never returned, and stories abounded that skeletons of convicts who escaped but could not survive littered the bushland surrounding Port Jackson and Sydney Cove. It was necessary to establish a police force to pursue the errant convicts, and to also guard against petty thievery that went on. On 8 August 1789, Australia’s first police force was established in the colony of New South Wales. It was made up of a dozen convicts. The NSW police force has continued to develop and change over the years. The force in its current form was established in 1862 with the passing of the Police Regulation Act and drew upon members of the Royal Irish Constablary.


On Friday the 29th of July 1859, the Kilmore gaol was opened for the reception of prisoners, after having taken a year and nine months to build. The buildings are surrounded by stone walls 16 feet high with half-round coping, and guard house overlooking the yards, which were also surrounded by stone walls of the same class, but even then prisoners made their escape. The dimensions of the building were 54 feet by 26 feet. The whole building was divided into eight compartments—four large and four small. There was four small cells for the prisoners, two on each side of the gaoler’s room which is in the centre.” At that time and for some

years afterwards some of the worst criminals in Victoria were sent to Kilmore for safe keeping, but from the time of the destruction of the Kelly gang of bushrangers in June, 1880, the building had been little used until the Kilmore dairy company took it over for a more peaceful purpose than keeping prisoners. The company paid pretty heavy rent for years, until they purchased the property from the Government for the small sum of £300, and paid cash down, so they secured the place for a mere song. It was intended to gradually make alterations and improvements until the place is an up-to-date butter factory, and about the first alteration will be the pulling down of the stone walls, the Kilmore shire council having agreed to purchase the stone broken into 2½ inch metal for road purposes in quantities required, at 5s per yard stacked at the factory.

On this day …….. 13th May 1787

Conditions in England in the 18th century were tough: the industrial revolution had removed many people’s opportunities to earn an honest wage as simpler tasks were replaced by machine labour. As unemployment rose, so did crime, especially the theft of basic necessities such as food and clothing. The British prison system was soon full to overflowing, and a new place had to be found to ship the prison inmates. The American colonies were no longer viable, following the American war of Independence. Following Captain Cook’s voyage to the South Pacific, the previously uncharted continent of New Holland proved to be suitable. On 18 August 1786 the decision was made to send a colonisation party of convicts, military and civilian personnel to Botany Bay, New South Wales, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, who was appointed Governor-designate. The First Fleet consisted of 775 convicts on board six transport ships, accompanied by officials, crew, marines and their families who together totalled 645. As well as the convict transports, there were two naval escorts and three storeships. The First Fleet assembled in Portsmouth, England, and set sail on 13 May 1787. They arrived in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. Phillip immediately determined that there was insufficient fresh water, an absence of usable timber, poor quality soil and no safe harbour at Botany Bay. Thus the fleet was moved to Port Jackson, arriving on 26 January 1788. Australia Day, celebrated annually on January 26, commemorates the landing of the First Fleet at Port Jackson, and the raising of the Union Jack to claim the land as belonging to England. Governor Phillip was a practical man who suggested that convicts with experience in farming, building and crafts be included in the First Fleet, but his proposal had been rejected. He faced many obstacles in his attempts to establish the new colony. British farming methods, seeds and implements were unsuitable for use in the different climate and soil, and the colony faced near-starvation in its first two years. Phillip also worked to improve understanding with the local Aborigines. The colony finally succeeded in developing a solid foundation, agriculturally and economically, thanks to the perseverance of Captain Arthur Phillip.


The execution of the two men James Smith and Thomas Brady, who were condemned to death at the Beechworth Circuit Court for the murder of Mr. Watt, at Wooragee, took place in the Beechworth Gaol. At 7am the irons were struck off the condemned men. Smith was the first brought out of his cell, which is only 8ft. from the drop. He appeared to feel his position very keenly, trembling in every limb, and we question whether his countenance was more livid after death than at this moment. The hangman William Bamford at once without an instant’s delay proceeded to adjust the rope. The lips of the unfortunate man trembled, and we could perceive that he was desirous of speaking, but that the words were choked or kept back by the intense emotion which made his frame so tremulous. At length, however, half turning towards the sheriff, who stood on the left of the drop, Smith inquired, “When may I speak?” There was an appealing, beseeching look about the eye which we can never forget. The question was repeated a second time, the prisoner in his great eagerness not having given the officer addressed time to reply. At this juncture it did not require a very keen observer to note that the fear predominant in the man’s mind was, that he would be “turned off ” by Bamford before he had the opportunity of saying what he desired; and then, after the sheriff had answered, “You may speak now, and say anything you have to say,” Smith looked for a moment at those around him, cast a glance at the hangman’s countenance, and seemed to despair of getting anything like a sympathetic audience. The result of his quick, nervous survey almost unmanned him, and it was with difficulty that, in a low voice, and from the direction in which he turned his head we think addressing the sheriff rather than the people, he said, “All that I have to say is, that I have given a document to the governor of the gaol of what we have to say in our defence, and of ourselves.” These words had scarcely passed the lips of Smith before Bamford put his head in position, and drew the cap over his face. Bamford next proceeded to the cell, and led forth Brady. In a moment the rope was round his neck, in another James Smith and Thomas Brady were hanging by their necks, the former in the agonies of the death struggle, which lasted for two or three minutes, the latter dead, having been instantaneously deprived of life. Whilst the executioner was bringing out Brady, the Rev. Dean Tierney read the prayers of the church by the side of the drop, and continued doing so until the bolt was drawn. Smith responded after the reverend gentleman in an audible and deeply reverential voice, but Brady had scarcely touched the scaffold, and had hardly time to realise where he was, before the rope was over his neck, his face covered with the white cap, and (in a second afterwards) his soul in eternity. The two convicts were executed in the same clothing worn by them at their trial. Smith had fallen off, but there was very little, if any, apparent difference in Brady. The bodies were left hanging the usual time prescribed by law; the certificate of execution was signed by several of those who had witnessed it, and the dreadful scene closed. Of course the formality of an inquest had to be gone through, but there could be no difficulty in arriving at a verdict in this case.


ON This Day – 31st March 1908

It was arranged by the Penal authorities, that Mr. R. Paterson, governor of the Geelong gaol, shall take over, the charge of the Melbourne Gaol on this day in 1908. He return to Geelong in the evening, and hand over the care of the Geelong gaol to Mr Furnell, of Beechworth, who has been appointed to succeed him. Mr. Paterson was extremely popular with his staff, who regret his departure from Geelong.


On This Day – 23rd March 1875

On this day in 1875, Mr Peter Dwyer, Governor of the Geelong gaol, was asked upon what terms the labour of prisoners can be obtained for working in the Geelong Botanical Gardens.



On This Day – 9th March 1855

Convicts Jane Purdon, Jane Joyce and Mary Carmody were at the charged at the Geelong gaol with disobedience of orders and sentenced to 7 days in solitary with bread and water.



On this day ………… 6th March 1788

When the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson in January 1788, Phillip ordered Lieutenant Philip Gidley King to lead a party of fifteen convicts and seven free men to take control of the Norfolk island and prepare for its commercial development. They arrived on 6 March 1788. Neither the flax nor the timber industry proved to be viable, and the island developed as a farm, supplying Sydney with grain and vegetables during the early years of the colony’s near-starvation. More convicts were sent, and many chose to remain after they had served their sentences. By 1792, four years after its initial settlement, the population was over 1000.



On this day ………… 25th February 1834

It is also generally accepted that the Dutch were disinclined to colonise Australia, and that the first European settlement occurred with the convicts, marines and officers of the First Fleet. This, however, is not entirely the case. The first prisoners in Australia were Dutch seamen Wouter Loos and Jan Pellegrimsz de Beye who were abandoned on the mainland for their part in the murders of the passengers of the wrecked ship ‘Batavia’ in June 1629. This was not the only time that Dutch made Australia their home. It is estimated that, between 1629 and 1727, around 300 Dutch passengers and crew linked to the Dutch East India company occupied parts of Western Australia as a result of the many shipwrecks which occurred off the coast of what was then known as “New Holland”. On 25 February 1834, English newspaper ‘The Leeds Mercury’ reported on the findings of a secret English expedition to Australia which had taken place in 1832. Led by Lieutenant Nixon, the expedition claimed to have discovered a settlement of several hundred Europeans who were descendants of Dutch survivors from shipwrecks between the mid 1600s and early 1700s, such as the Vergulde Draeck (1656), the Concordia (1708), the Zuytdorp (1712), and the Zeewijck (1727). The survivors were said to have established a colony some 1500 km from the coast, in central Australia’s Palm Valley. However, although Palm Valley exists as a desert oasis in the Red Centre, no evidence of, or artifacts from, such a colony have ever been located.



On This Day – 14th February 1864

Convicts Henry Holm and James Williams were charged with fighting at the Geelong gaol on this day in 1864. Both men were charged by turnkey Leys and given 48 hours in solitary confinement on bread and water.



On This Day – 13th February 1862

The situation of chaplain to the Geelong gaols has for many years been worthily filled by the Rev J. C. Handt, a German missionary, who, we believe, received his ordination in the colony. In addition to his labours at the gaols, it has been his duty to attend to the religious wants of Church of England patients at the hospital. Report speaks highly of his earnest, unassuming, truly Christian deportment, and he has performed his duties with all the energetic simplicity. Whether ministering to the hardened criminal working in irons, or giving rights of the disease lying in expectation of the hour of dissolution, he has been equally zealous in the discharge of his trust ; and if winning the esteem of those to whom lie, has ministered be a proof of success, we believe that his services have been beyond all price. Mr Handt has laboured in his vocation as a missionary for some thirty or forty years, twenty-five of which have been spent in this or the neighbouring colonies. His first field was Moreton Bay, where he went out preaching the Gospel among blacks and bushrangers, and ever since has he been working in the same good cause, with but poor reward. This man, now verging on if not exceeding sixty years of age, has for some time found congenial employment in the gaols and charitable institutions of Geelong. His emoluments were just sufficient to supply his simple wants, and he was looking forward to the continuance of his labours among the sick and dying until his own time should come. But it seems that he is doomed to disappointment. He is a man of quiet, un complaining disposition, one who makes no parede of his martyrdom, and we have, accordingly, only learned by accident tho great calamity that has overtaken him. One day not long ago this excellent old man received a letter, a cold, heartless, cruel letter, dismissing him from his situation. The letter was signed, ‘ Your faithful brother , in Christ, C. Melbourne.’ A few days after dismissing this really efficient working clergyman, his Lordship the Bishop told the Assembly of his Church that he would have to go to the world’s fair to bring out clergymen to supply the spiritual destitution of the colony.



On This Day – 10th February 1864

Convicts William Lawrence and William Turner were both charged with fighting at the Geelong Gaol. They were charged by the overseer of labour and given 24 days solitary confinement by the Governor.