The Hay Gaol is located at Hay, in the Riverina District of New South Wales, Australia. The entrance faces Church Street and is otherwise bounded by Piper, Macauley and Coke streets, north-east of the town centre. It operated as a "Public Gaol, Prison and House of Correction" from late 1880 to mid-1915, replacing the Hay Police Lock-up in Lachlan Street.
The first Gaol
The original gaol at Hay was a police lock-up, located in Lachlan Street on the site of the present Hay Post Office. The lock-up was proclaimed a Public Gaol on 1 December 1870. The gaol initially contained two cells to accommodate prisoners. During 1878, however, there was a large increase in the number of prisoners detained at Hay – 192 entries to the gaol (compared to just nine the year before) and 176 discharges (compared to thirteen previously). As a result, “much needed improvements” were made to the gaol, with the prisoner accommodation being increased by 1879 to four cells. In 1879 there were 173 entries and 175 discharges; and, in 1880, 154 entries and 158 discharges.
The large numbers of prisoners detained at Hay from 1878 onwards prompted the Comptroller General of Prisons, Harold Maclean, to approve the building of new gaol facilities, construction of which began in 1879. When the new gaol in Church Street was ready for occupancy in late 1880 the old Lachlan Street gaol was down-graded to a “Watch-house or Lock-up only”.
Hay Gaol – 1880 to 1915
The new Hay Gaol in Church Street was built during 1879-80 by the local building firm of Witcombe Brothers. The perimeter consists of a five metre high wall of locally produced red bricks, with a large central entrance gate (in front of a small barred entrance court). Two guard towers were placed at diagonally opposite corners of the perimeter wall. The main cell-block contained 12 cells (including two for female prisoners). The cells (apart from two of a larger size) measured 9 feet 9 inches by 10 feet 2 inches, each with cement floors and a galvanised roof. The compound also contained a solitary confinement cell, mess-hall, kitchen, meeting-room and officer's residence.
The Hay Gaol was officially opened in late 1880. A proclamation by the Governor of the Colony of New South Wales dated 21 December 1880 declared the "New Gaol at Hay" to be a "Public Gaol, Prison and House of Correction". A separate notice in the Government Gazette stated that the new gaol "has been appointed a place at which male offenders under order or sentence or sentence of transportation... shall be detained and be liable to be kept to hard labour".
A visitor to Hay in early 1881 wrote: "The gaol is a really fine building and deserves mention; it faces one in a most ominous manner on coming into the town from Narrandera". The writer added: "As yet they have not got the hanging apparatus up".
Hay Gaol initially operated under the control of the police. On 17 March 1882, however, the gaol was placed under the administration of its first gaoler, Ghiblim Everett. Everett's wife, Mary Ann, was the matron at the gaol; the remainder of the staff comprised a senior warden and four other wardens. Ghiblim and Mary Ann Everett were at Berrima before coming to Hay, where Ghiblim was chief warder at Berrima Gaol. The Hay Gaol facility continued mainly to be used to incarcerate comparatively short-term offenders from the surrounding districts. Ghiblim Everett was an active gardener and during his period as gaoler “he created a garden there which was one of the beauty spots of Hay”. A vegetable garden at the gaol, maintained by the inmates, supplied fresh produce for prisoners’ meals.
The daily average number of prisoners at Hay during the period 1895-7 was 25 (1895), 17 (1896) and 14 (1897). Ghiblim Everett eventually retired as the gaoler at Hay (probably in about 1896), “because of being over the superannuation age, on a pension”. The Gaoler at Hay during 1897 was Benjamin Shaw. On 14 December 1897 P. Phelan took over this position. The first gaoler of the Hay Gaol, Ghiblim Everett, died in May 1898 at Hay.
From 4 April 1899 the Hay Gaol was under the control of S. J. Nebbett, who took over from D. D'Arcy (previously Chief Clerk at Darlinghurst Gaol). In April 1899 lights were installed for the first time in all cells at the Hay Gaol, "a privilege highly appreciated by the prisoners, the monotony of the cells being very much relieved by lights and reading". Library books were issued twice weekly to all well-conducted prisoners, and "also slates and school books if required". Apparently some sort of rationalisation occurred during 1899, probably in regard to staffing at the gaol: "It was found possible to reduce Hay Gaol, making the sixth Prison [in New South Wales] so dealt with...".
By 1915 the gaol had only three prisoners being supervised by a staff of four. It was costing £582 per year to remain open and the former Governor of Parramatta Gaol, Superintendent O'Connor, deemed that Hay Gaol was "no longer useful". It was officially closed on 30 June 1915 (though it remained operating until 4 July 1915).
In 1919 the premises were used for several months as an emergency hospital during an epidemic of Spanish influenza. From 1921 to 1928 the former gaol was utilised as the first Red Cross Maternity Home at Hay.
A Gaol again - 1930 to 1947
In August 1930 the former gaol at Hay was again proclaimed as a public prison, applicable from 9 September 1930. Harry Hood was appointed as the governor. In 1940, with the influx of internees and prisoners-of-war to camps at Hay, the gaol was used as a temporary hospital by the military authorities. Later Italian and Japanese POWs were confined there. The Italian, Lieutenant Edgardo Simoni escaped from there, but was recaptured after several months. It was de-commissioned as a prison on 31 October 1947.
Institution for Girls
In February 1961 it was re-established as a maximum security institution for girls, under the NSW Child Welfare Department. The Hay Institution for Girls was closed on 30 June 1974.
Museum and Cultural Centre
The Gaol and surrounding grounds were reserved for the Preservation of Historic Sites and Buildings by notification in the Government Gazette of 6 June 1975. It is now a museum and cultural centre and is open every day between 9am and 5pm.
- New South Wales Government Gazette, No. 295, 6 December 1870, p. 2711.
- ’Prisons (Report for 1878)’, pp. 1-3 in New South Wales Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1879-80, Vol. 2, p. 973-5; ’Prisons (Report for 1879)’, pp. 1-3 in NSW V&PLA, 1880-81, Vol. 2, pp. 149-51; ’Prisons (Report for 1880)’, pp. 1-3 in NSW V&PLA, 1881, Vol. 2, pp. 923-5.
- The Witcombe Heritage: A History of the Buildings of Hay by Caroline Merrylees and Derek Woolcott (Hay Historical Society: 1993).
- New South Wales Government Gazette, No. 508, 24 December 1880, p. 6641.
- 'Hay' (by "The Raven"), Town & Country Journal, 30 April 1881, page 848.
- Blue Books (New South Wales Public Service Lists), 1882-9, p.87; NSW birth registration details.
- Obituary – Ghiblim Everett, Riverine Grazier, 23 May 1898, p. 2; Hay Gaol reports (from 1896), Votes and Proceedings of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
- Obituary – Ghiblim Everett, op. cit.; 'Hay Gaol' (report) from 'Prisons (report for the year 1897)', New South Wales Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, Vol. 3, 1898, pp. 26-7.
- 'Hay Gaol' (report) from 'Prisons (report for the year 1899)', New South Wales Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, Vol. 2, 1900, p. 26.
- New South Wales Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, 1915-1916, vol. 4, p.44; Riverine Grazier (newspaper), 25 June 1915; 13 July 1915.
- Merrylees & Woolcott, op. cit..
- NSW Government Gazette No. 121, 29 August 1930, p. 3446; Merrylees & Woolcott, op. cit.; Haywire: The Wartime Camps at Hay, Hay Historical Society, 2006.
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