Blackall Prison (1891-1902)

The introduction of the Prisons Act 1890 in Queensland led to a shake-up of the prison system here, with attention paid to the official classification of police gaols and 'real' prisons. One gaol to be upgraded was at Blackall, a small Queensland town lying some 500 km south-west of Rockhampton. European pastoralists had arrived there during the 1860s and a village was in place by 1867. This was named Blackall and it later became the administrative centre for the local district.

Shamrock Street, Blackall, ca. 1885 (John Oxley Library)

By the late 1870s the town had seven hotels, seven stores, a school, and a growing need for a local gaol. Carceral facilities were vital for regional areas, given the high cost of otherwise transporting prisoners over great distances to prisons in cities so they could face trial. A meeting of the Blackall Progress Association in 1879 noted this when it called for the erection of a local gaol. They cited the recent case of a Chinese prisoner who was committed to take his trial at the Blackall District Court, but had to be sent to Rockhampton and brought back again at a cost of £60. An 1880 article in the Brisbane Week also crunched the numbers to argue the case for a gaol at Blackall.

The logic was clear, and a police gaol was established at Blackall circa 1881. This facility was described in an 1887 report as having two divisions, one with six cells to hold up to ten male prisoners, and the other with three cells for three female prisoners. Conditions there were described as 'deplorable'. Escapes were not uncommon, and in 1890 a reporter wrote that 'it really gets monotonous chronicling escapes from this gaol', and he blamed the 'dilapidated state of the building'.

The police gaol building was proclaimed to be HM Prison Blackall in November 1891. It remained a small timber prison used mainly for the incarceration of up to nine prisoners serving short sentences. A local police officer acted as superintendent, with the aid of a temporary warder if prisoner numbers exceeded ten. Inmates held there were employed cutting wood and carrying out repairs on government fences or police horse harnesses.

The prison remained open for a decade, during which time there was still the occasional escape, including this one.

HM Prison Blackall closed on 15 August 1902 as the Queensland government sought to rein in spending, and it immediately reverted back to the status of a police gaol. All prisoners serving sentences longer than 30 days were transferred to Rockhampton. The police gaol was eventually closed in 1922.
After being in existence for about a half century the Blackall gaol has been closed in pursuance of the "deflating" policy of the Government. In the old days the gaol was used for prisoners as far away as Birdsville, Betoota, Bedourie, and other places in the "Never-Never," and even from Winton. Among the distinguished unpaid guests was "The "Wild Scotchman," whose correct name was Macpherson. (Western Champion, 15 July 1922)

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