Historian and paranormal investigator Deb Robinson details the brutal past of one of Australia’s longest-running gaols
“During its history, there have been at least 275 inquests performed at the Gaol investigating the deaths that have occurred there”
For more than 170 years the bluestone edifice that is the Geelong Gaol has overlooked the town of Geelong, keeping its residents safe from the criminal element of society incarcerated inside.
The gaol operated for 138 years up until 1991, reportedly the longest continuously running colonial prison in Victoria. After being built by the prisoners themselves while being kept on hulks in Corio Bay, the gaol received its first intake of 12 men and three women in April 1853.
Over the years Geelong Gaol has been called many names, sometimes even by the prisoners themselves. It has been known as the Seaside Resort, the Temperance Hotel and the Old Geelong Gaol over the years.
The role of the gaol has changed over time, too. Initially it was a maximum security prison for both men and women, although juvenile offenders were also held here.
In those days, it was based on the Pentonville system which was about silence and separation so that prisoners could reflect on the error of their ways.
By the 1900s, all female prisoners except those on short-term remand were sent to the Female Penitentiary which was part of the Pentridge complex.
Between 1868 and 1872, the north, south and east wings were converted into the Myers Street Industrial School for Girls.
At its peak, it held 192 girls between the ages of three and 16 years along with boys under the age of six.
This was in response to the introduction of the 1864 Neglected Children’s Act and the already overflowing institutions in Geelong.
In 1874 it became known as the Hospital Gaol for the colony and prisoners from any Victorian gaol who needed specialist care, were dying, elderly or disabled could be sent here.
During its history, there have been at least 275 inquests performed at the Gaol investigating the deaths that have occurred there – although there would have been many more than that!
The Geelong Gaol has hosted six prisoner executions, and the final man put to death there is buried on site. During WWII it became the Geelong Detention Barracks for the armed services, but reverted back to a gaol in 1947.
Today, it is a museum exploring the penal history of Victoria with ghost tours running at night.
There are many stories contained in every fibre of this building — and many are yet to be uncovered. Staff who run tours here often have encounters with the spirits of those who were once incarcerated within its walls.
One of the most interesting experiences, to us as a team at least, was a few years ago when we were setting up for a live stream while it was still broad daylight. We had about six staff members on site when a phone began ringing in one of the towers. When we headed out to the yard to investigate, it would stop. As soon as we were inside it would start again. The interesting thing is that it was a very old-fashioned ringtone – AND there are no longer any phones in the towers!
Another unexplained encounter was at the end of a ghost tour, just before a paranormal investigation began. The ghost tour guide told the investigator how weird it was in the west wing, and they both headed there to check it out. They both saw a mist that descended the staircase with a pair of white tennis shoes materialising for a short period before disappearing.
A few years ago, after some of the ghost tour guides had experienced what can only be described as a ghostly hazing with clothes being tugged and hair pulled, a group of us investigated Cell 83 where we encountered a spirit named Raymond. He wasn’t very happy we were there, and made one of the investigators physically ill. We had been using the echovox to communicate and as we left, we heard the words “Have a nice day!”, closely followed by “ignorant bitch”. Charming!
These are just a couple of the catalogue of experiences that we could tell you about. But whether you visit the Geelong Gaol day or night, you never know who you may come across!
Geelong Gaol and museum is open to visitors for daytime tours, ghost tours and paranormal investigations. See their website for more information.
You can visit their page here; https://geelonggaol.com.au/tours/