This is bound to generate some debate, but if you believe the good folks at the Richmond Gaol, Tasmania’s most important historic town would be… Richmond. Fancy that. The town itself is certainly a popular place for tourists to visit with many galleries, tearooms, gift shops, antique stores and cellar door options. We’ve talked about our interest in Richmond previously, and today we return to the subject with a focus on this significant historical site.
Devotees of Richmond for the title of “most important historic town” can certainly lay claim to substantial convict heritage and beautiful Georgian buildings. In the Coal River Valley region, it’s classified as a Tasmanian town of historic merit, an important military staging post and convict station linking Hobart with Port Arthur in the 1820s.
Just as we discussed last week in our article about Kangaroo Bluff Battery in Bellerive, the Richmond Gaol is managed by Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. It’s possibly the linchpin in the argument (let’s call it a discussion, shall we) for crowning Richmond as the king of important historic towns in Tasmania.
Before the Port Arthur Penal Colony
The Richmond Gaol pre-dates the historic site at Port Arthur by five years. It was built by convicts, with construction commencing in 1825, and remains the oldest Australian gaol still intact. Over a decade, the complex was extended, with a section added to accommodate female prisoners in 1835.
We’d certainly recommend a tour of the Richmond Gaol for visitors interested in Tasmanian history. It’s a pretty grim reminder of the life of a convict. As you may expect, the prisoners were kept in cramped and often solitary conditions and floggings were frequent.
Prisoner Day Release and Convict Escapes
The hangman for the colony was a chap by the name of Solomon, and he was an inmate himself at Richmond Gaol. His outings consisted of escorted trips to and from Hobart or Launceston in order to carry out executions. Not exactly the kind of day-release you’d be jumping for joy about!
It was not uncommon for convicts to escape. The Richmond Gaol could not be considered an impenetrable fortress, that’s for sure. With ingenuity and determination, prisoners were known to flee through the shingle roof; under the building’s foundations; out the windows and over the walls! Who could blame them?
Richmond Gaol: Where and When
A family pass for the Richmond Gaol will set you back about $20 (at time of writing). Entry is via a souvenir shop (which is free for everyone to visit). Once you’ve paid your dues, you are directed on through the heavy main door and into the yard to begin your discovery. A map, marked with the features of the complex, allows a straight-forward, self-guided tour. Staff are happy to answer any additional questions.
The Richmond Gaol museum is open to visitors each day from 9:00am to 5:00pm. For more details, visit the Richmond Gaol website; phone (03) 6260 2127 or visit in person at Bathurst Street in Richmond. You can also follow the Richmond Gaol Historic Site on Facebook.
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