Royal Reels: Gambling


Although this cover is addressed to James Barrow Esq, SupPenal Department, Pentridge, there is considerable research information that the man named was Samuel Barrow. There was a ms. ‘2 To pay’ and the ‘Half Length’ Third State 1d dull orange vermillion S.G. 8 was cancelled with two Melbourne barred ovals of ‘1 over V’. The vendor stated that it was posted in March 1853, and there was a poor but discernible ‘Pentridge’ backstamp (Figure 1).

The town of Pentridge was renamed Coburg in 1870, and The Sydney Morning Herald of 30 October 1850 had a short paragraph on page 2, headlined Appointment – His Excellency the Governor (of New South Wales, for separation of Victoria in 1851 had not yet occurred) has appointed Samuel Barrow. Esq, to be Superintendent and Visiting Justice of a gang of prisoners, under sentence to hard labour on the roads or other public works of the colony, employed at the stockade at Pentridge, Port Phillip.

It was the result of greatly increased crime in Victoria due to the Gold Rush, the government decided to establish a number of penal stockades, one of which was Pentridge, close to Melbourne, but isolated from it. The first superintendent of the stockade was Samuel Barrow. The prisoners worked on the roads in chains breaking up the bluestone in the area and making the roads. The residents of the area were originally frightened and angry because the stockade consisted of log huts on wheels behind a low 1.2 metre wooden fence with prisoners guarded by inadequate number of overseers. Because it was so insecure, mounted aboriginal troopers were employed to patrol its perimeter. The prisoners slept on wooden benches in all weathers, shackled with leg irons. In the period 1857-64 the stockade was transformed from an earlier dormitory accommodation of the stockade into single cells. High external bluestone walls with towers for sentries were built to provide a much higher level of security. An undated picture of the entrance to H.M. Prison Pentridge is seen in Figure 2.

Prisoners worked in various industries such as a woollen mill, bakery, printery, tailor’s shop, garden, library or in the labour yard, rock-breaking. A car number plate factory was established in 1962. In the 1950s and 1960s the prison became more humane, for they could study, join a debating team and some acted and put on plays. By 1970 there were over 1000 prisoners. With the closure of the Melbourne gaol in 1926 all executions in Victoria had been carried out at Pentridge, the last man hanged there in 1967. For a long time Coburg Council tried to have the prison moved or closed. From 1984 there was drugs and general unrest in the prisons which gave rise to rioting and strikes. In 1994 the State Government announced its program to privatise prisons. There was a closure of the northern half Pentridge in May 1997 and the southern part was closed in on 28 November 1997. In 1999 the site was sold and developed as housing estates, parklands and a business precinct.

Samuel Barrow was confirmed as the first Pentridge superintendent in several other websites, but biographical data on him is still lacking. Surprisingly on 8 July 1852 his name cropped up again in a totally different role, for at a public meeting in the former Methodist church school he was elected chairman of a seven member school building committee, which confirmed that he was the superintendent of the nearby Pentridge Stockade. Did he keep his day job!

This battered Victoria 1890-99 postcard with the 1d orange-brown stamp had a duplex MELBOURNE/ 4 A/ MR 16/ 93 postmark and it also had an orange crayon manuscript ‘21′ in an oval, was addressed to A.E. Thomas, 421 Collins St (Melbourne) (Figure 3).

The printed reverse showed that it had been sent by the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects from its Ludstone Chamber, 352 Collins Street, Melbourne, and the date of 14th March, 1893 was uncharacteristically also printed, rather than in manuscript. As usual it gave notice of a meeting at which a Paper was to be read, but the major point of interest to me was a notice of a visit to the New Female Prison at Pentridge, via the Brunswick tram (Figure 4).

I have been unable to identify any of the named persons, but there can be little doubt that A.E. Thomas who resided or worked in Collins Street was a member of the august professional association of architects.

The ‘A’ division was designed as the women’s prison and remained as such until 1871 when female prisoners were transferred to the Melbourne Gaol. By 1870 there were 650 male and female prisoners and 100 staff. A new three-storey building was erected within the walls of Pentridge in 1894 to accommodate the then 195 female prisoners. All female prisoners with sentences of three months and more were transferred to this new building. It was supervised by a female governor and staff and continued until 1956 when Fairlea Female Prison was opened. The visit to the New Female Prison, Pentridge was on the 24 March 1893, so the architects were at the prison before the women were transferred there.

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