In our new series “We Love Parramatta”, we highlight Parramatta’s many histories and cultures.
This week we look at Parramatta Gaol, located at the corner of O’Connell and Dunlop Streets in North Parramatta. Established in 1842 and closed in 2011, this was the third prison in Parramatta.
Parramatta was established as a British penal colony in 1788. Finding Sydney Cove unsuitable for large-scale farming, British administrators settled on Parramatta’s fertile soils to house and feed 1,000 convicts.
Parramatta’s first prison was established in 1798 (where Riverside Theatre now is). The prison was “a strong logged gaol of 100 feet in length, with separate cells for the prisoners … and paled around with very high fence”. The flammable prison was subsequently torched by arsonists on 28 December 1799, killing the eight prisoners.
Parramatta’s second prison, “a modest variant of an army barrack”, was built on the ashes of the first between 1802 and 1804. Male and female prisoners were housed separately within the three-room prison. Run by Parramatta’s magistrate, the Reverend Samuel Marsden (nicknamed “the flogging parson”), life at the prison was extremely harsh. Prisoners were flogged in the prison yard, or placed in stocks at the entrance. Hangings took place outside, both as public entertainment and as a warning to others. Although less-flammable than Parramatta’s first prison, surviving an arson attack in 1807, the gaol quickly became unfit for purpose – overcrowded and unsanitary.
From 1831, Richard Bourke, the new Governor of NSW, petitioned London for a new prison that befitted Parramatta’s growing colony. Construction began in the mid-1830s, and, as a result of funding shortages, the partially-constructed prison was declared open on 3 January 1842. The design incorporated five radiating wings, evidently influenced by the “Panopticon” prison model proposed by Jeremy Bentham.
From the late 1850s, as a result of the Gold Rush population boom, the prison was doubled in size. The new prison incorporated workshops, a kitchen, and male and female hospital wings. In 1883-1889, further prison wings were built, including one reserved for “criminally insane” prisoners. By 1897, Parramatta Gaol was the second-largest in NSW, with 364 men and 8 women.
In the twentieth century, Parramatta Gaol was variously used as a mental asylum, a rehabilitation centre, manufacturing prison, and medium-security prison. Parramatta Gaol was finally closed in 2011, and returned to Deerubbin Local Aboriginal Land Council in 2015.
Parramatta has a long and varied penal and criminal history. Although Parramatta Gaol has closed, criminal matters are still heard in Parramatta’s District Court, Local Court and Children’s Court.
If you have a criminal matter, Martin Bullock Lawyers can assist you. Call Greg Martin or Jacqueline Wainwright on (02) 9687 9322.