Wagga residents described the city jail as an “eye-sore”, before it was torn down in 1919.
But it was still better than the big log prisoners awaiting trail had been handcuffed or chained to, inside the dodgy police lockup on Fitzmaurice Street.
Across 55 years, it was the site of at least five executions and four escape attempts.
As part of the Wagga Rewind series, The Daily Advertiser this week explored the history behind the city’s first prison, that stood on the corner of Sturt and Tarcutta Streets.
Before its construction, convicted felons had served out the term of their sentence in Goulburn. But as the town and district grew, it was decided Wagga needed its own correctional facility.
In 1860, local company Hardy and Company successfully won the tender of £9100 for its construction and two years later it held its first prisoners. Half a century later, the same company was paid £1382 to knock it down.
The town’s Chief Constable Robert John Monteith was appointed as the first “gaoler”, and his wife, Jane, the first matron.
The facility was capable of holding 40 male and female prisoners in its 11 cells, but these were often overcrowded, according to the archives. In 1876, for example, 292 inmates – 30 women and 162 men – were reported to have come through the cells.
In 1871, following the erection of watchtowers, the gallows were built. The hanging beam was the same height as the jail wall, and a seven-foot bricked-in well was set underneath.
Executioners sent from Sydney, were often not welcome at hotels in Wagga and were instead put up within the jail walls, until the final hanging in 1890.
It was an unpopular site for more than this reason, due to its unfortunate proximity to the bustling main street, hospital and school providing an unattractive picture. The smell may also have been a concern, with inadequate sanitation or drainage for almost a decade after its construction.
With no toilets, one DA article reported cells had been simply “hosed out”.
By 1916, the building was reportedly riddled with white-ants and was vermin infested. Detailed reports and complaints lead to the building’s condemnation that year.
Visit the CSU Regional Archives’ On The Record blog to find out more.