Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Gaol Ghosts! :Stories from the Gladstone Gaol - part V

Gaol Ghosts!
Stories from the Gladstone Gaol - part V

If you've been following the blog weekly, you would know I've covered a little history on the Gaol, and a couple of deaths that happened inside her walls, this week I am going to delve into some of her paranormal mysteries, and my own personal experiences.
The Gladstone Gaol is a foreboding presence, perched slightly higher than the rest of the town, like a massive jutting crown of cold stone and brick.
Inside her walls, that imposing stone gives off a claustrophobic effect, cutting you off from the rest of the world. Standing in her cells, looking out the small windows, you can feel the sense of dread that prisoners would feel, waiting for their sentence to expire...of course, most people only spent a few months in this gaol, serious offenders were always transported to Adelaide, but still, you knew, being here, was being cut off from the world, from life.
I first ventured across the gaol many many years ago whilst in the area following up some genealogy leads, I walked through her cell blocks during the day, and knew...one day I would be back to investigate for spirits.

That day eventually came, and many more nights have followed since, but the gaol, like all allegedly haunted locations, doesn’t always reveal her spectres every time you visit. In fact, this is one place that is very much hit and miss with paranormal phenomena. Maybe the ghosts just aren’t in the mood, or maybe they are out doing other ghostly things, who knows? But I find this Gaol to be one that doesn’t always offer a haunting.

I am very much a researcher as well as an investigator, and like all locations my team enters, I always try and find out what has already been seen, felt, heard or captured, to see if I can put forward a reasonable explanation that is natural, but also to see if my team also gets similar effects (some people would say that going in cold is better, as you have no preconceived notions, but I say, if ghosts are real, and are indeed there, your notions preconceived or not, are irrelevant)
I had heard of the typical “cold spots” in C wing, an apparition sighting in the Main Hall, sounds likes doors opening and closing in A wing, and many other witness offerings that, to a sceptical mind, can be easily debunked as natural occurrences that seem paranormal, or, in technical terms, “Xenonormal”

My team has investigated a number of time with other teams in the gaol, and so far we have very little “evidence”, but a lot of personal experiences, some of which we tried every which way to debunk, and could not.
One involved an experiment where locked people in the cells, and myself and a team leader from another team acted as Warden and Gaol, telling the “prisoners” it was “lights out” . As we turned off the lights, in the complete silence of the pace, we heard foot steps shuffling behind us, we both turned and saw a tennis ball sized yellow, hovering light leave a cell and vanish into the air.
It happened in a blind spot of the DVR system we had set up, so we could not offer it as data or evidence, just personal experience – but it happened! We tried to debunk it, we told the other teams, and they tried to debunk it – and none of us could offer a simple explanation – what was it? No idea - but it was pretty exhilarating at the time.

A later investigation, I decided to aim a DVR camera at the door where we had seen the light previously – we were with different teams this time, and it was well into the night. Three of us were sitting on the cold slate floor watching the monitor, whilst another investigator was walking through the cell block. When the investigator came to the door that the camera was pointing at, three of us all saw a man walk out of the woman’s body and into the room, and then watched the investigator, a female do the same thing. All of us jumped up to see what the heck was going on. The investigator was startled by our reaction, as she had no clue what had just happened. I reviewed the DVR system, and you can clearly see the investigator walk in the room, and the reaction of the other three investigators looking at the screen (a camera further down the hall was pointing back at us) but you could not see the apparition leave her body and walk in to the room.
We tried everything we could think of to debunk the image, and we have no plausible explanation. What we do have is a ton of “what if”s" – What if the DVR was faulty? What if the DVR frames per minute were faster/slower? What if it was some weird trick of the light?
Of course, we cannot offer “truths” or validations to “what if's?” They remain exactly that, unexplored scenarios that did or did not happen in an instance of time. Sure, we can remove variables, try and debunk, try and re-enact, but the exact moment is gone and not re-creatable to the exact specifics of the initial incident, so lets just leave that as another “personal experience” for those involved.

I am yet to hear a convincing EVP, see a photo or video that truly defines the Gaol as haunted, of course, that doesn't mean it is not haunted, just that the spirits that reside there are a little cautious, or perhaps shy...but like many, I'll keep going back, as I love chatting to caretaker Tony Holland, and enjoy walking through the old Gladstone Gaols spooky corridors 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Gaol or Hospital? Stories From The Gladstone Gaol: Part IV

Gaol or Hospital?
Stories From The Gladstone Gaol: Part IV

Gladstone Gaol was built at massive expense to the colony in 1879, and many questioned why such a building was erected in such a remote location. In its many years of operation it never really saw any hardened criminals, other than those waiting to be transferred to Adelaide Gaol. There was no long term serious offenders within its walls. They would all be transported to Adelaide Gaol to see out their long prison terms, instead, Gladstone Gaol was used to house mainly drunks and people who couldn't pay their debts.
Looking down on the inside of the tower
© Allen Tiller

Mostly the gaol housed the sick and the disabled, and more often than not, it would see the sick and elderly be transferred from other Gaols in the South Australian colony.
It was common practice to remove the frail and ill from Adelaide Gaol and send them to Gladstone to see out their days, most were elderly women, who would pass away within her walls.
Here is one such example below found in a newspaper, I also talked about Eliza Evershed in part one of this series, who was also transferred from Adelaide Gaol, and passed in Gladstone – seems to be a common theme doesn't it?

The South Australian Advertiser Tuesday 1 December 1885 – page 5
Caroline F. C. Grahlow, an old woman, died in gaol yesterday. An inquest on the body was held at the gaol by Mr. Ingram J.P., Mr. Stewart being foreman of the jury.
The evidence of the doctor, matron, and keeper was taken, and a verdict was returned that death occurred from natural causes. The woman's age was 65. She was sentenced in  Adelaide to four years' hard labor for burning a dwelling-house, and had served nearly eighteen months of the term. She had been ailing ever since her arrival here, and a fort-night ago the doctor asked for a remission of the remainder of her sentence owing to her suffering, but the order for her release only came here this morning. Up to the time of her death she did not acknowledge the crime for which she was sentenced. Mrs. Rofran, sister of the deceased, arrived by train from Adelaide this afternoon with a coffin, and there mains were taken back again by this evening's train for interment in Adelaide. It seems that the Government will persist in weeding out all cripples and dying people from the Adelaide gaol to this one. Since its establishment the Gladstone gaol has been nothing better than a hospital, and many complaints have been made, but to no purpose. It is said most of the prisoners in the gaol here are invalids from Adelaide, the case of the poor woman who died yesterday is a most pitiable one, and should be enquired into
Between the walls of Gladstone Gaol
© Allen Tiller

By the end of the year of 1885, things had not improved at Gladstone Gaol as this newspaper story from the South Australian Weekly Chronicle attests
South Australian Weekly Chronicle Saturday 19 December 1885

Gladstone, December 16.
A prisoner has been released from the gaol in order to go into the Adelaide Hospital. The poor woman had to be carried into the train this morning. She is utterly helpless, and in a pitiable state. A male and a female warder from Adelaide came for her, and under their charge the prisoner was taken away. Dr. Hamilton ordered her removal. This is another instance of sending prisoners here in a frail condition, making this prison an asylum for sick criminals."

The Gaol, although built to house prisoners, seems to have spent more time being a hospital and way point/transfer station of inebriates and debtors more-so than an actual prison. Although it had a number of escapes over the years, only one man was never found. The Gaol did have a few deaths happen within her walls, but none from execution, riot, experimentation or firing squad !

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Experimental Gaol: Stories From The Gladstone Gaol - Part 3

Experimental Gaol:

 Stories From The Gladstone Gaol - Part 3

In late 1953 the Gladstone Gaol was re-opened for a period as a Medium Level corrective training facility for 18 – 25 year old offenders.
In 1955 Gladstone Gaol saw its first new extension, what is now known a “C” block, or the experimental wards. The complex increased to 125 cells.  In 1969 130 prisoners were housed with up to 20 transfers each day..
Looking at the central guard tower - Gladstone Gaol
© Karen Tiller

The term “experimental” is misleading, I have read many outrageous stories that have abounded because of misinterpretation of this word. The Gaol was never “experimental” with its prisoners, there were NEVER pre-frontal lobotomies, or other medical procedures done to prisoners, in fact, what the “experimental” refers to is the style of the cells themselves.
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954),
 Wednesday 16 April 1952, page 5

At the time, no other prison in the world had cells like the new ones being built at Gladstone Gaol. These Cells had no windows at all, and contained a concrete ledge at the end of the cell, which was the prisoner bunk. It also had its own internal air circulation vents, which were made in such a manner they could not be escaped through. The cell block is also raised from the ground (as can be seen from the outside when one walks around the cell block), allowing air to circulate underneath the cells, therefore keeping them much cooler in the hot Gladstone summers, where the temperature can easily reach 46C in summer.

In all its years of operation as a gaol there were only 26 escapes in the gaol’s 100 year history and only one of them, an Italian man who had fashioned a “Master Key” from a piece of wire, was never caught and returned to the facility.
Looking over the Laundry area from the tower
© Karen Tiller

The Gaol eventually closed in December 1975 due to the Governments concern that its facilities were “outdated”. Recently a former prison worker who was there for the last five years of the Gaols service, has publicly pushed for the facility to be reinstated as a Gaol and used by lower level criminals.

In 1979 The gaol saw some new prisoners enter, but these were all just actors there to film the Bryan Brown movie “Stir”, a disturbing and graphic movie about life in an Australian Prison. Many of the props from the movie, including the “daily activities” lists on the back of cell doors still exist to this day, as a well as a tiny museum dedicated to the movie in the “C” Block. Many signs, including one saying “Maximum Security” within the gaol, are leftover props from the movie.
Movie Prop from the movie "Stir"
©Allen Tiller

Mr Rob Williams was quoted in the local regional newspaper “The Flinders News” as saying
“It was a very sad, depressing and unnecessary day when the prison closed, It was a ridiculous decision, one that was totally political.
Now, the whole criminal justice is soft. There is too much emphasis today on the comfort of the offender than there is on the welfare and safety of the victim.
Gladstone Gaol is unique in all ways possible, with its high tapered walls and self-sufficient arrangement, Instead of closing places such as Gladstone and Adelaide Gaol, both should have been kept operational.”

Currently the Gaol is a Bed and Breakfast and Museum under the care of Tony Holland, it features its own coffee and gift shop and allows for people to stay over night to experience prison life first hand.

The Flinders News


Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Construction: Stories From The Gladstone Gaol - Part 2

Stories From The Gladstone Gaol -Part 2

In South Australia's Mid-north, approximately 221 km's from Adelaide, sits the town of Gladstone, and over on Ward Street, in the towns west, sits the imposing Gladstone Gaol.
The gaol was constructed between 1879 and 1881 with a total cost of £21,640. Its grey slate floors were made from slate mined at Mintaro and carried to Gladstone by Bullock Dray
B Wing - Gladstone Gaol
© Karen Tiller
Many people question the reasoning behind the construction of the gaol in such a remote part of South Australia, and somewhere so close to where three gauges of train line come together, offering an easy escape route if needed.

A newspaper story in The Mail, printed on the 8th of August 1881 refers to the building of the Gaol, but also the first Female prisoner to be imprisoned there:
8 August 1881 Gladstone Gaol
On 8 August 1881, two months to the day after it had been opened, Gladstone Gaol received its first female prisoners. Some time before 1879 Charles Mann, MP for the district, was asked by the residents what he could do for the town. He asked them if they would like a gaol and two years later Gladstone Gaol, said by one writer to have a gloomy solidity, was opened. Mr Pollett from the Redruth Gaol at Burra was appointed head keeper and the gaol had accommodation for 60 male and female prisoners. It appears that it rarely had a full complement and the only ‘lifer’ was a cat called Lady Jane Grey.
Sunset Through The Bars
© Allen Tiller

Rumours have long been whispered that its building was a “political stunt” orchestrated in the area because a former Government Minister who eventually became the Attorney General wanted to see some funding injected into Gladstone, which eventually led to the Gaol being built. The Gaol could house 60 prisoners easily at the time it was built, when Gladstone’s population was only 900 people.
Because of its distance to Adelaide, the gaol was never used for much more than Debtors and inebriates, in other words, people who couldn’t pay their bills and alcoholics. Much of the time the Gaol was completely empty, in fact, when alcoholics did elect to do their stay in Gladstone Gaol, they actually got paid for it, at £26 per year!

Probably the only time this Gaol saw anything near full capacity was when there was a viral outbreak of measles or some other virally contagious disease in Adelaide, then Gladstone Gaol would become a make-shift hospital and quarantine area.

During the World Wide conflict of World War II, Gladstone Gaol was used as a interment camp for people of Italian and German origin, prisoners of war who were regarded a security risk to the Nation. It was also used in this period to house soldiers who had gone AWOL (absent without leave) from their Military Posting.
From 1943 until 1953 the prison lay dormant and empty

NO-ONE WAS EVER HUNG IN THIS GAOL - sorry about the capitals, but I had to reiterate this point, despite all the conjecture, rumours, misinformation and legends, no-one was ever hung at Gladstone Gaol, formally, or informally.

Next week we take a look at the new extensions to the Gaol!