History of Adelaide Gaol

Historic Adelaide buildings  

Adelaide Gaol is one of the oldest remaining colonial public buildings in Adelaide and is the site of some of South Australia's more interesting, grisly past and important history of Adelaide. 

In 1840, George Strickland Kingston was commissioned to design Adelaide's new gaol. The architectural plans for Adelaide Gaol were based on the latest in European gaol designs and were said to be radical for the time.

The original cost estimate for Adelaide Gaol was £17,000, but by 1841 costs had already reached £16,000 with only half the planned works complete. The final bill was more than double the original quote and the expense of construction sent the fledgling colony of South Australia bankrupt.

As a result, Governor Gawler, who was considered responsible for this situation, was recalled to England and replaced by Governor Grey. Governor Grey halted work and Adelaide Gaol construction languished for over six years.

The full extent of Kingston's original design was never delivered, but there were all kinds of additions and modifications made to the Gaol during its 147 years of operation. In 1879, Adelaide Gaol was packed to capacity and the New Building was constructed using the prisoners as labour.

Approximately 300,000 prisoners passed through Adelaide Gaol during its working years and 45 people were executed. Their bodies are buried within the grounds of Adelaide Gaol.

The first public hanging took place in November 1840 while the site was still under construction.

It was decided in the early 1980s that Adelaide Gaol would be closed and on 4 February 1988, was officially decommissioned.

Historic Adelaide Gaol Prisoner Secrets

Adelaide Gaol's prisoners soon learned to make secret contacts with the outside world. They also worked out conniving ways to engage in banned activities such as tattoong, secret hiding places, smuggling contraband and other facets to daily prison life.