Women at Adelaide Gaol

Both male and female prisoners were kept at Adelaide Gaol until the new Adelaide Women's Prison was opened in 1969.

During this time, some of the most well-known female prisoners were housed here, including Saucy Sarah and Elizabeth Woolcock.

Saucy Sarah

A frequent offender who was well known to the residents and the police officers of Port Adelaide, Sarah Francisco was an alcoholic who was convicted 295 times, spent over sixteen years in Adelaide Gaol on short sentences, was committed to twelve-month terms on five different occasions, and spent Christmas Day in gaol twelve times. Many of her sentences were served concurrently; had she been incarcerated for the full terms for which she had been convicted, she would have been expected to serve over 180 years in gaol (History Trust of South Australia).

Elizabeth Woolcock

The only woman to be executed in South Australia, Elizabeth was hanged on 30 December 1873 after being convicted of murdering her husband. After surviving a traumatic childhood, Elizabeth married miner, Thomas Woolcock, at the age of 20. It quickly became apparent that Woolcock was a violent alcoholic, and Elizabeth tried to leave him several times. After a failed suicide attempt, she developed an addiction to morphine and when her husband died suddenly rumors of foul play began to surface (despite three different doctors administering different medication, including arsenic, in the weeks proceeding his death).

At the trial, damning medical evidence was presented to show how Elizabeth could have poisoned her husband over a period of time. The court also heard testimonies from townspeople about the symptoms of the illness that killed Thomas, Elizabeth's reputation for unruly behaviour and their unfortunate marriage.

Defiant but inarticulate, Elizabeth had little chance of winning the case. The jury took less than half an hour to find her guilty of murder, but recommended mercy because of her youth. The recommendation was ignored and Elizabeth was hanged to death in Adelaide Gaol at the age of 25.

Her grave is located between the inner and outer walls of Adelaide Gaol, and visitors often leave flowers as a tribute to her suspected innocence.

Womens rehabilitation centre sign