GOTHIC HORROR: The old Grafton Jail on Victoria St near the courthouse.
GOTHIC HORROR: The old Grafton Jail on Victoria St near the courthouse. Clarence River Historical Societ

Old jail too small and smelly for regional city

Built in 1861 after Clark Irving, Member for the Clarence and Darling, secured Grafton the jail after the Clarence & Richmond River Examiner expressed doubt over the future of justice in Grafton.

"The excuse offered is that Grafton possesses no accommodation for the judge and officials and no place to confine prisoners... After taking thousands of pounds from the district, government has left us with a lock-up, according to Mr Justice Owen, unfit to place a pig in, and a small building called a court house, which threatens to fall in upon and smother the magistrates and lookers-on on every occasion when a breeze is blowing.”

While the court house built at the same time as the Victoria St jail is still standing with its impressive facade, the jail built by Mr Irving has been demolished for almost half a century.

As the jail began to take shape, it was reported to have a circular-headed door and five circular windows, with stone dressings rusticated, and base cornice plinth, and with stone caps upon pilasters.

When the construction was complete, the Clarence & Richmond River Examiner urged authorities to move the inmates into the new building.

An historic view of the first jail to be built in Grafton on Victoria St.
An historic view of the first jail to be built in Grafton on Victoria St. Clarence River Historical Societ

"There being now no reason for the infliction of unnecessary torture upon offenders of our laws by incarceration in such a vile hovel during the excessive heat of the season,” they wrote.

At least two men were hanged in the jail, and a number of escapees had scaled the brick walls for a chance at freedom, no matter how short-lived.

It became evident as the town expanded that the jail was built in the wrong place.

Nearby the "fashionable” part of town, in the residential and business section of the city, it became clear to the community a new jail was needed "out of town”.

It took several years for the government to make their final decision on building a new jail after calling for tenders for alterations to the existing building, which was called a great mistake in the Examiner in 1887.

"The old buildings are on bad foundations, and no outlay short of pulling the whole affair down will ever make them better,” they said.

Finally, the new Grafton Jail on Hoof St was constructed from 1891-3.

However, the end of Grafton's original jail was not spelt until 74 years later.

In September of 1987, the jail was marked for demolition in order to make way for the Lands Office, which still stands on Victoria St today.

The NSW Government building on which was built where the old Grafton Jail once stood.
The NSW Government building on which was built where the old Grafton Jail once stood. Caitlan Charles

The old jail was taken over by the Lands Department, during which many extensions and alterations were added to the building, and in its final days, it looked little like the original prison.

When the Lands Department left the building, lead flashing had been ripped off the roof, despite being next to the Grafton Police Station.

"During the years that it was a jail, many must have been confined there for theft, and it seems a strange quirk of fate that in its final days the building should be the object of attention of thieves,” an article in the Daily Examiner said.



Landcare and students work together to feed our koalas

Landcare and students work together to feed our koalas

Lawrence Landcare and Lawrence Public School join forces

Future bright as Clarence schools clinch state glory

premium_icon Future bright as Clarence schools clinch state glory

WESTLAWN proud as girls and boys reach knock-out finals.

CHASING DREAMS: Brothers make giant leap in the ring

premium_icon CHASING DREAMS: Brothers make giant leap in the ring

COTTEN brothers chasing glory in professional fight debuts.

Local Partners