1883: The Birth of Boggo Road

Jun 26, 2018 0 comments
(The following is extracted from the Brisbane Courier, 3 July 1883. HM Prison, Brisbane - known colloquially as Boggo Road - was used for the first time on 2 July 1883. It was initially comprised of a single cellblock designed to hold short-term male prisoners.)

'The new gaol is reached from North Brisbane by means of a threepenny 'bus. Some people are taken there free of charge, but it is not to ordinary mortals that the State pays such attention. The building lies like a country gentleman's mansion within its own grounds. Alighting from the 'bus we pass through a gate and along what is by courtesy termed the avenue. This title is anticipatory, but, judging from appearances, not without good reason. Here a warder watches over ten hard labour men who are ‘grubbing up’ stumps. They are an able bodied lot of follows, and belong to a class of prisoners who have broken the law and are taking their punishment quietly and with no ambition to make themselves notorious by essaying escape or to prolong the terms to which they have been sentenced.

Superintendent's Quarters at front of Male Prison, Boggo Road, c.1914. (BRGHS)
The courtyard of the prison is entered upon by passing under a lofty arch, on one side of which are the offices of the establishment, and on the other the quarters of the governor of the place, Mr Bernard. In the centre of the courtyard is a large circular bed of choice flowers which do much to break the monotony of the scene when once within the walls. Under this flower garden is a vast underground tank, from which the water supply of the gaol is drawn.

Courtyard inside main gates of Male Prison, Boggo Road, c.1915. (BRGHS)
On the left is the hospital ward, and the room of the warder in charge of it. This is upstairs, while other offices and a surgery are on the ground floor. From this we pass to the yard where men committed for trial and on remand are allowed to exercise themselves. They are allowed tables and stools, and have a fine spacious bathroom with a shower that, after a warm dusty drive, looks rather inviting. Leaving the yard we entered the principal building within the walls. On the ground floor is a wide corridor with cells on each side, and then a staircase leads to a higher region where there are other cells. The building is very lofty and well ventilated, and the cells are of very fair dimensions.

Hospital ward, Boggo Road, c.1915. (BRGHS)
After spending a few minutes downstairs in the dark cells, with the outer doors closed and complete darkness established, one cannot fail to come to the conclusion that there are places on earth more bearable than these underground cells in the Brisbane Gaol. The darkness can almost be felt; the stillness is awful, and there grows on one the reeling of utter gloominess and desolation. To a hard-headed man who could stretch down and go to sleep, a few hours in one of these cells would not mean much, but to a sensitive organisation might mean madness or death. This may seem incredible to those who have, never been shut up where not even the faintest colour of light can be discerned; if they are wise they will not try the experiment in a prison cell. Even when the thing is done out of curiosity the sensations, for some time after experiencing the confinement, are by no means pleasant.

Gladly do we pass from the cells and into the kitchen, where an imperturbable Chinese prisoner holds sway. Now here, thinks the political economist, is a chance of exposing an official shortcoming - Chinese labour allowed to usurp the poor white man even within the prison walls. Well, perhaps our civilisation can boast a few who would be more eligible for the post than the Chinaman; some of those smart lads who make our street corners lively with oaths and our pavement slippery with exuded saliva for instance. The kitchen is spacious, clean, and the Chinese cook and his European helps looked as though their occupation agreed with them. In another yard we saw another Chinaman, a fat old fellow, whose once raven hair bears the silver sheen of many summers. If his sentence is served through it is quite probable that he will have little hair, silver though it be, to weave into a pigtail and trot gaily back to the Flowery Land.

Vegetable patch to the side of the Male Prison, Boggo Road, c.1915. (BRGHS)
Outside the walls work is going on in all directions; Mr Bernard has certainly not wasted the labour at his disposal, for the hungry ridge on which the gaol stands has been trenched, good soil deposited on it; fruit trees are blossoming, the chaste pink of the peach begins to burst out from the branches, and vegetables are springing up in rows made with mathematical precision. By-and-by the place will look pleasant outside, and the buildings will not be such an eyesore to the people who live in the neighbour- hood. Inside the gaol one cannot help remarking from the general appearances that though prisoners may be made to feel that they are suffering punishment, there is not that cruel severity exercised which hardens even the least criminal of them and breaks down the constitutions of all.'

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