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Melbourne Watch House tour

Thursday, June 19, 2008
The three-tier bluestone Old Melbourne Gaol has been open to the public since 1977, but the Watch House next door has only been open since the end of 2007.

A visit to the old gaol gives an insight into Victoria's penal history of the 1800s, and now, at the Watch House, visitors can experience criminal history of the 1900s. The building and cells have remained unchanged since it ceased operation.

One of Melbourne's oldest surviving buildings, the gaol was built in the 1840s to house Victoria's fast-growing criminal population. 136 people were hanged there, including infamous bushranger Ned Kelly.

The Watch House opened in 1906 and held every prisoner arrested in Melbourne from then until 1994 before they were tried at the court next door. Up to 19,000 prisoners passed through in a year, averaging around 50 a day. When the Watch House closed, the last officer-in-charge, Senior Sergeant Passant, reflected "This is a monument to human misery".

The most common charge, particularly on weekends, was 'drunk and disorderly'. On some weekends more than 100 drunks were locked up in the three wet cells. Other common offences included indecent language, offensive behaviour, assault and robbery. At the extreme end were those charged with and later convicted of murder.

Many prisoners left their mark in graffiti which remains on the cell doors and exercise yard walls.

The padded cell is a stark reminder of the lack of facilities for the mentally ill in the past.

Tour guides, who are actors, take you through the criminals' experience. Some of Australia's most infamous villains spent time in the City Watch House: Squizzy Taylor; Ronald Ryan; the Russell Street bombers; the men charged with the murder of two police in Walsh Street; Julian Knight; US soldier Edward Leonski who became known as the 'Brown-out Strangler'; and Jean Lee, the last woman to be hanged in Victoria.

The Old Melbourne Gaol is operated by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).


Melbourne's Russell Street.


Old Melbourne Gaol Crime & Justice Experience half-hour tours are $18 for adults and $9.50 for children. Family tickets are $44. Entry is to Old Melbourne Gaol and the Watch House. It is open between 9:30am and 5pm every day.

Virgin Blue has flights to Melbourne.

One-way fares from:

  • Hobart $89
  • Adelaide $95
  • Sydney $110
  • Brisbane $139
  • Darwin $199
  • Perth $219

    There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares are one-way on the Internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at June 19, 2008 and are subject to change.

    Prices correct at June 19, 2008.

    For further information

    Old Melbourne Gaol
    Russell Street
    Melbourne 3000
    Ph: (03) 8663 7228
    Fax: (03) 9650 2310

    Virgin Blue
    Ph: 136 789

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