HM Prison Pentridge

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HM Prison Pentridge
Location Coburg, Victoria
Coordinates 37°44′21″S 144°58′9″E / 37.73917°S 144.96917°E / -37.73917; 144.96917Coordinates: 37°44′21″S 144°58′9″E / 37.73917°S 144.96917°E / -37.73917; 144.96917
Status Closed, partly demolished
Security class Maximum security
Opened 1851
Closed 1997

HM Prison Pentridge was an Australian prison built in 1850 in Coburg, Victoria. The first prisoners arrived in 1851. The prison officially closed on 1 May 1997.[1]

Pentridge Prison Guard Tower 2014

Pentridge was often known by the nickname "The Bluestone College", "Coburg College" or the "College of Knowledge". The grounds were originally landscaped by renowned landscape gardener Hugh Linaker.[2] Since decommissioning, the prison has been partly demolished to make way for a housing development. Large buildings have been built and a 16 floor modern apartment block is being planned.

The site is split in two with the northern prison being developed by Valad Property Group and the other areas by Pentridge Village. The National Trust has expressed strong concerns about the nature of the Heritage Victoria-approved Master Plans which involve peppering the walls with holes and building high-density high-rise between the historic divisions.[3]


Pentridge Prison H Division Front Garden 2014
Cells of Pentridge Prison

The prison was split into many divisions, named using letters of the alphabet.

  • A – Short and long-term prisoners of good behaviour but during the late 1980s till its closure it became a scene of many monthly bashings, stabbings and bludgeonings.
  • B – Long-term prisoners with behaviour problems
  • C – Vagabonds and short term prisoners, where Ned Kelly was imprisoned (Demolished early 1970s)[4]
  • D – Remand prisoners
  • E – A dormitory division housing short term prisoners
  • F – Remand and short-term
  • G – Psychiatric problems
  • H – High security, discipline and protection
  • J – Young Offenders Group- Later for long-term with record of good behaviour
  • Jika Jika – maximum security risk and for protection, later renamed K Division


Pentridge Prison Panopticon Ruin 2015

In 2014, archaeological work in the former prison grounds led to the discovery of three rare panopticons next to A and B divisions.[5] The first uncovered and excavated was to the north of A division and was built of bluestone in the 1850s.[5] The circular design, with walls coming out from the centre, created wedge shaped 'airing yards' where prisoners would be permitted one hour per day of exercise without coming into contact with each other.[5] The panopticon fell out of use, due to prison overcrowding, in the early 1900s.[5] Two more panopticons next to B division are yet to be fully excavated.[5] The panopticons were based on the design concepts of British philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham.[6]

Jika Jika high security unit[edit]

Jika Jika, opened in 1980 at a cost of 7 million Australian dollars, was a 'gaol within a gaol' maximum security section, designed to house Victoria's hardest and longest serving prisoners.[7] It was awarded the 'Excellence in Concrete Award' by the Concrete Institute of Australia before being closed, 8 years later, amidst controversy after the deaths of five prisoners in 1987.[8]

The design of Jika Jika was based on the idea of six separate units at the end of radiating spines. The unit comprised electronic doors, closed-circuit TV and remote locking, designed to keep staff costs to a minimum and security to a maximum. The furnishings were sparse and prisoners exercised in aviary-like escape proof yards.

In 1983 four prisoners escaped from ‘escape proof’ Jika Jika.[7] When two prison officers were disciplined in relation to the Jika Jika escape a week-long strike occurred.

1987 Jika Jika prison fire[edit]

Inmates Robert Wright, Jimmy Loughnan, Arthur Gallagher, David McGauley and Ricky Morris – from one side of the unit – and Craig 'Slim' Minogue and three other inmates on the other side sealed off their section doors with a tennis net. Mattresses and other bedding were then stacked against the doors. The windows in the day room were then covered with paper so the prison officers couldn't identify which prisoners caused the ensuing damage.

Prisoners Robert Wright,[7] Jimmy Loughnan, Arthur Gallagher, David McGauley[7] and Ricky Morris died in the fire. Convicted Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue and 3 other inmates survived as they were evacuated when the fire started.

Grave sites[edit]

Main article: Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly the day before his execution by hanging. His remains were buried at the former Pentridge Prison site.

The grave site of bushranger Ned Kelly formerly lay within the walls of Pentridge Prison while Ronald Ryan's remains have been returned to his family. Kelly was executed by hanging at the Melbourne Gaol in 1880 and his remains moved to Pentridge Prison in 1929, after his skeleton was disturbed on 12 April 1929 by workmen constructing the present Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) building. Peter Norden, former prison chaplain at Pentridge Prison, has campaigned for the site's restoration.

As of 2011, most of the bodies have been exhumed by archaeologists and have either been re-interred in the original cemetery near D Division, are awaiting identification at the Melbourne morgue or have been returned to their families.[9]

In 2011, Ned Kelly's remains were once again exhumed and returned to his surviving descendants for a proper family burial.[10] The identified remains of Kelly included most of his skull.[9] DNA testing also established another complete skull believed to be Kelly's was not in fact his.[11][9]


Last execution[edit]

Main article: Ronald Ryan

Ronald Ryan was the last man executed at Pentridge Prison and in Australia. Ryan was hanged in "D" Division at 8.00 on 3 February 1967 after being convicted of the shooting death of a prison officer during a botched escape from the same prison. Later that day, Ryan's body was buried in an unmarked grave within the "D" Division prison facility.

Notable prisoners[edit]

Entrance of Pentridge gaol circa 1861.


  • 1850's 'F' Division opened
  • 1870's 'G' Division opened as an Industrial Reformatory School
  • 1894 Female prison at Pentridge ('D' Division)
  • 1951 Last woman executed in Australia, Jean Lee is hanged.
  • 1967 Last execution in Australia – Ronald Ryan (between 1842 and 1967, 186 prisoners were executed)
  • October 1987 – Five prisoners die in a fire in Jika Jika during riots over prison conditions. Craig Minogue and 3 other inmates survived the fire.
  • 1 May 1997 – Pentridge Prison is closed.
  • Present day – Development threatens the integrity and preservation of the sites important history


  • 1851 Frank Gardiner - one of fifteen to escape that day
  • 1899 Pierre Douar – Suicided after recapture
  • 1901 Mr Sparks – never heard of again
  • 1901 John O'Connor – Caught in Sydney two weeks later
  • 1926 J.K. Monson – caught several weeks later in W.A.
  • 1939 George Thomas Howard – caught after two days
  • 1940 K.R. Jones – Caught in Sydney two weeks later
  • 1951 Victor Franz – caught next day.
  • 1952 Kevin Joiner – Shot dead escaping
  • 1952 Maxwell Skinner – pushed off prison wall, broke leg[19]
  • 1957 Willam O'Malley – caught after 15 minutes
  • 1957 John Henry Taylor – caught after 15 minutes
  • 1961 Maurice Watson – caught next day
  • 1961 Gordon Hutchinson – caught next day[20]
  • 1965 Ronald Ryan – caught in Sydney 19 days later
  • 1965 Peter Walker – caught in Sydney 19 days later
  • 1972 Dennis Denehy – [21]
  • 1972 Gary Smedley – [21]
  • 1972 Alan Mansell – [21]
  • 1972 Henry Carlson – [21]
  • 1973 Harold Peckman – [22] caught next day
  • 1974 Edward "Jockey" Smith – [23]
  • 1974 Robert Hughes –
  • 1974 George Carter – [24]
  • 1976 John Charles Walker – [25]
  • 1977 David Keys – [26]
  • 1977 Peter James Dawson and three others[27]
  • 1980 Gregory David Roberts (at the time known as Gregory Smith) – escaped in broad daylight with Trevor Jolly and subsequently went to India after a brief period in New Zealand[28]
  • 1980 Trevor Jolly – [28]
  • 1982 Harry Richard Nylander – [29]
  • 1987 Dennis Mark Quinn – [30] Recaptured in New Zealand 19 days later.

Usage in media[edit]

  • The front gate showing the "HM Prison Pentridge" sign is featured on the cover of Australian band Airbourne's debut album Runnin' Wild.[31]
  • Episode 2, "Homecomings" of the 1976 ABCTV adaption of Frank Hardy's novel Power Without Glory features John West picking his brother Frank West up from Pentridge Prison after serving 12 years for rape.
  • The 1988 John Hillcoat and Evan English film Ghosts… of the Civil Dead was largely based on events which occurred in Pentridge Prison's infamous Jika Jika Maximum Security prison during the lead up to the 1987 fire.
  • The 1994 Australian film Everynight ... Everynight details prison life inside Pentridge's H Division.[32]
  • The 2000 Andrew Dominik film Chopper was partially filmed in H Division.
  • In the 1997 Australian film The Castle, Wayne was a prisoner of HM Prison Pentridge.


  1. ^ Egger, Simone; David McClymont (2004). Melbourne. Lonely Planet. p. 69. ISBN 1-74059-766-4. 
  2. ^ "Mont Park Psychiatric Hospital Precinct (listing RNE100229)". Australia Heritage Places Inventory. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 12 November 2008. 
  3. ^ "Pentridge tower gets nod". The Age (Melbourne). 29 April 2009. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "Archaeologists dig major new find at Pentridge Prison". The Age (Fairfax Media). 2014-05-10. Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Archaeologists dig major new find at Pentridge Prison". The Age (Fairfax Media). 2014-05-10. Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  6. ^ #1 Pentridge Prison's Panopticon - Tempus, 7th October, 2014
  7. ^ a b c d Sawtell, Lydia (2012-04-24). "True Crime Scene details the escapes from Pentridge Prison in its 140-year history". Herald Sun (News Corp Australia). Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  8. ^ O'Toole, Sean (2006). The History of Australian Corrections. UNSW Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 0-86840-915-4. 
  9. ^ a b c Smith, Jeremy (2011). "Losing the Plot: Archaeological Investigations of Prisoner Burials at the Old Melbourne Gaol and Pentridge Prison". Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria (10). ISSN 1832-2522. Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  10. ^ "Ned Kelly farewelled by family". Australian Geographic (Bauer Media Group). 2013-01-18. Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  11. ^ "Scientists at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine have identified the body of Ned Kelly". Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. Retrieved 2014-08-06. 
  12. ^ 19 Jan 1951 – WARDERS WITNESS DARING ESCAPE FROM PENTRIDGE MEL. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.
  13. ^ 20 Jan 1951 – SEARCH FOR GAOL ESCAPEE MELBOURNE, Monday. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.
  14. ^ 23 Jan 1951 – GAOL ESCAPEE SAYS HE HAS REFORMED MELBOURNE, Thu. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.
  15. ^ 19 Jan 1951 – GAOL ESCAPEE RECAPTURED MELBOURNE, Tuesday. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.
  16. ^ 20 Jan 1951 – GAOL ESCAPEE WELL GUARDED MELBOURNE, Wednesday. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.
  17. ^ 15 Jan 1952 – CONVICT MURDERER KILLED IN ESCAPE BID; COMPANION. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.
  18. ^ 16 Jan 1952 – PRISON STAFF COMMENDED; ESCAPE FOILED MELBOURNE. Retrieved on 2011-12-04.
  19. ^ "Man shot dead in bid to flee gaol". The Sydney Morning Herald. 15 April 1952. 
  20. ^ "Through Roof". The Age (Melbourne). 17 January 1961. 
  21. ^ a b c d "Prisoner's death". The Age (Melbourne). 10 May 1972. 
  22. ^ Dunn, Alan (2 February 1973). "Axe murderer escapes from Pentridge gaol". The Age (Melbourne). 
  23. ^ "'Jockey' is back facing court again". The Age (Melbourne). 3 December 1989. 
  24. ^ "Mattress pile clue to gaol escape". The Age (Melbourne). 5 October 1974. 
  25. ^ "Tighten up order after Pentridge escape". The Age (Melbourne). 28 April 1976. 
  26. ^ "Prisoner escapes over wall". The Age (Melbourne). 17 October 1977. p. 4. 
  27. ^ "Prisoner used jail gear for escape". The Age (Melbourne). 20 January 1978. p. 5. 
  28. ^ a b Marshall, Ian (24 July 1980). "No news is dull viewing". The Age (Melbourne). p. 2. 
  29. ^ Gray, Tony; Eccleston, Roy (21 July 1982). "Prison had two warnings of escape: Toner". The Age (Melbourne). p. 3. 
  30. ^ Athersmith, Fiona (30 March 1988). "Robber gets 12 more months for escape from Pentridge". The Age (Melbourne). p. 18. 
  31. ^ Airbourne's official site, accessed 1 August 2009
  32. ^ Everynight... Everynight, National Film and Sound Archive, Accessed 8 March 2008

External links[edit]