Maitland Gaol - History and Facts | History Hit

Maitland Gaol

Maitland, New South Wales, Australia

Maitland Gaol was Australia’s longest continuously operating prison and now operates as a museum and tourist attraction.

Antara Bate

24 Nov 2020

About Maitland Gaol

Maitland Gaol in New South Wales was Australia’s longest continuously operating prison before being closed and reinvented as a museum and tourist attraction.

First opened in 1848, Maitland was finally shut in 1998 as part of a general upgrade to Australia’s prison system.

Maitland Gaol history

For almost 150 years Maitland Gaol kept some of Australia’s most infamous criminals contained behind its towering sandstone walls and razor wire fencing.

The award-winning tourist attraction is one of around a dozen historic gaols and similar sites that are now open to the public across Australia, providing an insight into the country’s prison system, as well as many other aspects of early life in the colony.

Maitland Gaol was built in the mid-1800s using sandstone sourced from the local area including Morpeth and Farley. Positioned prominently on top of a hill in East Maitland, the foundation stone was laid in 1844, with the first prisoners incarcerated in the multi-building complex in December 1848.

The gaol was built over several stages between 1844 and 1900, with much of the masonry work carried out by prisoners. Some additions and alterations were undertaken in the late 1960s and ’70s yet the closure of the gaol was announced in 1996 as part of an upgrade to the state’s prison system.

Maitland Gaol closed as a maximum-security prison on January 29, 1998, with the honour of being Australia’s oldest structure in continuous use as a gaol. Thirteen months later Maitland City Council was awarded a 50-year lease for the site, with plans to adaptively reuse the Gaol as a museum. The Gaol was also added to the State Heritage Register in 1999.

Over the years since being reopened as a tourist attraction, a number of guided tours have been developed at the Gaol.

The Gaol was also the site of numerous daring escapes, with almost 40 attempts made throughout its history, although most of them failed. The last recorded escape plot, on May 17, 1997, was thwarted before it even began.

Guided tours led by ex-warders and ex-inmates are among the Gaols’ most popular offerings, providing a unique perspective into life behind bars with stories that are not for the faint-hearted.

Maitland Gaol is rumoured to be the most haunted site in the Hunter, making its regular ghost tours another popular activity for those curious about the paranormal.

Maitland Gaol today

Thousands of visitors from all over the world visit the convict-built structure every year to explore the stories of what life was like behind its grim stone walls. Today, visitors to Maitland Gaol can learn about its vibrant history, which spanned more than 150 years.

Maitland Gaol doesn’t contain signage with information for our visitors to read, instead, a self-guided audio tour is available, along with a number of guided tour options. Each tour has a route to follow and visitors are provided with a map of the site.

Getting to Maitland Gaol

Maitland Gaol is located at 6-18 John Street in East Maitland. Visitors can take the train to Maitland Gol, East Maitland Train station is located 100m away from the entrance of Maitland Gaol.

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