Old Beechworth Gaol – A Horrible History Tour.
The Old Beechworth Gaol guided tour is much more than a walk through a heritage-listed building. It is the perfect way to explore the gaol and have history come alive. Beechworth Gaol is a time capsule that offers an authentic and educational look into the past. Visit the cells that housed notorious bushrangers, learn about convict life, and uncover some of the gaol’s darker history. Step inside and go back in time with an expert guide.
Beechworth is North East Victoria’s best-preserved gold rush town, leaving a legacy of colonial architecture that boasts 32 heritage-listed buildings. Old Beechworth Gaol is one of those buildings, and it is heritage-listed by the National Trust for its historical, architectural, and archeological significance to the state of Victoria.
A short drive from Albury (45 kilometres), Beechworth is in my backyard.
For those living further afield, Beechworth is a 3-hour drive northeast of Melbourne (284 kilometres), 4 hours southwest of Canberra (391 kilometres), and about 6 hours southwest from Sydney (593 kilometres).
Don’t have a car? From Melbourne, Canberra, and Sydney, take a train to Wangaratta and then the bus to Beechworth on Wangaratta Coachlines.
Old Beechworth Gaol is located on the corner of Williams Street and Ford Street, Beechworth.
Tours of Old Beechworth Gaol operate daily at 11.00 am and 1.00 pm and take about one hour. You can purchase your guided tour tickets at the Old Beechworth Gaol Cafe located in the gaol wall near the main gates. Alternatively, you can book your tickets in advance online. Please check their Facebook page, The Old Beechworth Gaol, for updates on tours.
Our guided tour of old Beechworth Gaol started with a double vaccination status check. Walking through the main gates, the courtyard provided a venue for Daniel, our tour guide, to give us an overview of the history of Beechworth gaol.
- Taking approximately six years to build, Beechworth Gaol was opened in 1864 and initially housed men and women.
- The outer stone walls are granite.
- The razor wire on top of the gaol’s walls replaced the original barbed wire.
- The current iron gates replaced the original wooden gates in 1879 when there was a suspected prison outbreak.
- Beechworth Gaol was a medium-security prison.
- The prison has a history spanning 140 years, closing in 2004.
From the courtyard, our tour took us to the hard labour yard where male prisoners were put to work crushing granite rocks into gravel for roads and footpaths. The guards in the towers overseeing the hard labour yard worked 12-hour shifts.
Moving into the cell blocks was like entering a time capsule, where time has stood still since the prison’s closure in 2004. The feeling of being locked in time was confirmed by Daniel when he advised the cells have not been touched since 2004.
In the men’s cellblock, the gallows with the hangman’s noose was visible on death row – the top floor of the men’s cellblock. Eight men were executed in Beechworth Gaol between 1865 and 1881, and they are buried in unmarked graves in the exercise yard against the western wall.
Daniel regaled us with stories of Ned Kelly’s misadventures (murder, assault, theft, and armed robbery) that landed him in Beechworth Gaol. Daniel was an entertaining storyteller. See below for details of who was Ned Kelly and his connection to Beechworth Gaol.
In the women’s cellblock, cell 10 was the designated mother’s cell with its two doors. One door (the front door) led into the cellblock, and a guard could open the back door to allow the mother to let her children outside to play. Daniel explained that the children were not prisoners but were locked up with their mother.
At the end of the women’s cellblock is the solitary confinement cell where a prisoner was locked in the cell 23 hours a day. The prisoner was allowed outside in a caged area for one hour a day.
Our final tour stop was the exercise yard, the burial site of the executed men. An empty swimming pool dominates this lawned area.
Old Beechworth Gaol and the Ned Kelly connection
Ned Kelly was Australia’s most notorious bushranger and known for wearing a suit of iron armour during his final shootout with police. He was immortalised in the 1970 Ned Kelly movie starring Mick Jagger in the title role.
For those not familiar with Australian colonial history, escaped convicts who used the bush to hide from authorities were the original bushrangers. By the 1820s, the term had evolved to refer to those who took up armed robbery as a way of life, using the bush as their base.
Ned Kelly first became intimately acquainted with the inside of Beechworth Gaol at the age of about 13. Over the ensuing years, he became more familiar with the gaol on at least two other occasions.
Daniel was a wealth of information about Ned Kelly and his time spent in Beechworth Gaol. He held our undivided attention when telling of Ned’s imprisonment for lewd behaviour and assault when he was 16 years old. According to Daniel, Ned sent a package to a lady containing a man’s testicles and later assaulted her husband. There is great truth in the story as Ned did indeed send testicles to the lady. However, depending on your resource will determine the nature of the testicles. A man’s testicles, a calf’s testicles, two calves’ testicles – believe what you will. I suspect the story has grown legs.
For the lewd behaviour and assault crimes, Ned Kelly received 6 or 8 months (once again, depending on your resource) imprisonment in Beechworth Gaol.
Time for lunch
Whether you do the old Beechworth Gaol guided tour in the morning or afternoon, you must eat in Beechworth.
You are spoiled for choice for places to eat in Beechworth. I have eaten at several places and never had a bad meal.
On the day of my old Beechworth Goal tour, I ate at the Beechworth Pantry Gourmet Delicatessen & Coffee Shop on Ford Street. I ordered the Asparagus, Leek and Cheese Quiche with apple and Pear Salad and couldn’t resist the Hazelnut Meringue with Berries and Cream. I left the cafe very satisfied and with bars of fruit nougat in hand for later enjoyment.
My final review
If you plan to visit Beechworth, do yourself a favour and take a step back in time with a guided tour of old Beechworth Gaol. The tour provides all ages with an authentic and educational experience in which local, expert guides bring a dark history to life. It is a unique experience not to be missed and highly recommended.
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© Just Me Travel 2018-2022.
Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. The only other prison tour I have taken was to Alcatraz when I was visiting San Francisco. Where have you taken a prison tour?
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Author’s Note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip, and always follow government advice.