1870. (second session) Victroia.



Presented to both houses of Parliament by his Excellency’s Command.

By Authority: John Ferres, Government Printer, Melbourne.


To His Excellency the Right Honourable JOHN HENRY THOMAS VISCOUNT CANTERBURY, K. C. B., Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of Victoria.


We, the undersigned Commissioners, appointed under Letters Patent from the Crown, bearing date the 8th day of August 1870, to enquire into and report upon the condition of the Penal and Prison Establishments and Penal Discipline in Victoria, have the honour to submit to your excellency the following Progress Report:-

1. The Commissioners met frequently for deliberation, and have made visits of inspection to the Penal establishment at Pentridge, the hulk Sacramento, and the gaols at Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat, Sandhurst, and Castlemaine. They have also taken the evidence of the several witnesses referred to in the Appendix. The inspection and enquiry have impressed them with the expediency of presenting a Progress Report, suggesting certain practical alterations in the establishment at Pentridge which, if carried into effect, will tend, in their opinion, to diminish crime throughout the country, and lessen the cost of that establishment.

2. The Commissioners have had the honour to receive a communication from the Honourable the Chief Secretary, stating the desire of the Government to apply prison labour to the construction of the proposed works for national defence, and in reply they recommend the employment, as an experiment and under certain specified conditions, of a limited number of prisoners whose term of confinement had nearly expired.

3. On visiting Pentridge the Commissioners found that it contained within its walls 738 prisoners, of whom 643 were males and 95 females. Of the male prisoners 18 were under age. The number of able-bodied males was 553, and 90 were reported as sick, disabled, decrepit, or lunatic.

4. The male prisoners were distributed into three divisions, designated respectively A, B, and C. The A division is constructed on what is known as the panopticon principle, and, with the addition of the offices, the wall surrounding the prison, and one set of cells in the B division, was built by contract; the remainder of the B division, the whole of the C division, the hospital, and some other requisite buildings, were erected by prison labour. The C division is built upon the site if the original Pentridge Stockade. The reserve on which the establishment stands contains 130 acres, of which about 20 are occupied by the buildings, and the remaining 110 acres are used as a grazing paddock, vegetable garden, piggery, &c. There is also a stone quarry on the reserve, at which a number of prisoners are constantly employed. The whole of the workshops are in the C division.

5. The building occupied by female prisoners contains 136 separate cells. There is a complete division between this section and other parts of the prison. The female prisoners are each confined in a separate cell at night, but are associated at their various employments by day. Of the 95 prisoners, 68 were engaged in useful labour, 23 were engaged in attendance, and 4 were reported as sick and disabled. The Commissioners were gratified to find that there is a school in operation in this division, and that female prisoners are permitted to retain charge of their infant children; two regulations which have a beneficial moral effect.

6. A male prisoner on entering Pentridge is received into the A division. He is confined in a separate cell for a period of as many months (not exceeding twelve) as there are years in his sentence. He is allowed one hour’s exercise daily in the open air, but receives a smaller ration than that given to prisoners engaged at active occupations. He is employed in plaiting straw for hats, or such other light work as can be carried on by a single person in a cell.

7. At the end of his term of separate confinement the prisoner is transferred to the B division. In this division the prisoners occupy separate cells, but they work and take their meals in company. They are forbidden to hold communication with each other at meals or at work, except on the subject of their work. At four o’clock in the afternoon labour ceases for the day, and the prisoners are marched to supper. They are afterwards locked up in their cells, with the exception of those who attend school which is held every evening for some hours in the mess-room.

8. When a certain portion of a prisoner’s sentence has expired, he is removed to the C division. The prisoners in this division are associated at work, at meals, and during their hours of recreation. They sleep in dormitories containing about fifty beds each, one warder keeping guard over every two dormitories, which a lighted with gas throughout the night. Except during certain hours whilst in the dormitories, the prisoners have the liberty of unrestrained communication with each other.

9. On the expiration of his sentence, the prisoner is allowed to option of remaining at Pentridge for a week, and is given employment at daily wages, by which means he is enabled to earn a small sum of money for temporary support upon his discharge. He is then sent to the office in Melbourne, where hi identification is registered and he is released.

10. The number of prisoners at present confined in the A division is 104; in B, 320; and in C, 182. There are, besides, 37 prisoners in the hospital, which is common to all the divisions. Of the sick, 12 belong to A, 19 to B, and 6 to C division. It may be added, that the time spent by a prisoner in hospital, or whilst undergoing punishment for misconduct, is not counted in calculating the remission of his sentence according to the regulations.

11. The prisoners in B and C division are employed in the workshops, in stone-cutting, as labourers in the garden, and in various occupations connected with the establishment. The following table exhibits the number engaged at each occupation. Of the 553 men specified as able-bodied labourers, 504 are reported as being actually employed, 49 were temporarily unemployed, and 91 were in attendance in their fellow prisoners or on the officers of the establishment.

Number of males Employed at various occupations.

Hard Labour  
Blacksmiths, Moulders, Fitters, and Labourers 20
Carpenters 9
Carpenters' Labourers 2
Wheelwright 1
Sawyers 2
Basket-makers 2
Tinsmith and Plumbers 11
Painters 3
Masons 2
Masons' Labourers 2
Stone-cutters 8
No. 2 Gang, Labourers 90
No. 3 Gang, Shoemakers 51
No. 4 Gang, Tailors 44
No. 5 Gang, Wool Factory 37
No. 6 Gang, Labourers 54
No. 7 Gang, Ditto 63
Panopticon 97
Hammock-maker 1
Bookbinders 4
Total 503
Gatekeepers 2
Washermen 5
Barbers 2
Cooks 12
Groom 1
Servants 16
Store-labourers 5
Wardsmen 35
Writers 8
Scool-assistants 3
Messengers 2
Total 91
Sick 32
Solitary 1
Awaiting trial 6
On station 10
Total 49
Hard labour 503
Station Duties 91
Unemployed 49
Total 643

Number of females employed at various occupations

Needlewomen, making 16
Knitting 20
Washerwomen, on requisition 1
Washing and repairing 9
Weeding 2
Picking Wool 20
Nurses - Wet 2
Nurses - Day 1
Nurses - Hospital 2
Wardswomen 5
Store-labourers 3
Servants 9
School-assistant 1
Sick 3
Exempt 1
Total 95

12. The A and B divisions, as previously described, are in all main particulars adequate for present requirements and suitable for the general objects of a Penal establishment. The case, however, is precisely the opposite with respect to the C division. This division did not originally for part of the plan of the establishment, and it was intended to abolish it altogether, so soon as opportunity should allow; but various causes prevented the carrying out of that intention. All competent testimony goes to show that its existence gives rise to evils of the most serious character. The unrestrained companionship as at present enjoyed by these prisoners tends directly to destroy any moral effect that may have been produced by the disciplinary process undergone in the two other divisions. Criminal associations that had been suspended by the separate confinement of the previous stages are renewed, fresh combinations of a like evil kind are formed, and new schemes of crime to be executed after the release of the reunited accomplices are devised and elaborated. Moreover, the association of criminals of any grade in open sleeping apartments is manifestly subversive of moral discipline, and acts as an incentive to crime. It is further shown that the majority of the offences committed in the prison occur in this division, especially breaches of the regulations forbidding communication with persons outside and the introduction of tobacco or other prohibited articles. There is every reason to believe that confinement in the C division is not considered by the class of habitual criminals as a severe punishment, and it has apparently but slight effect in deterring them from persistence in crime.

13. The evils pointed out may be avoided, and at the same time the advantages of a more uniform system of discipline may be secured, by a comparatively small expenditure of labour or the erection of some additional buildings, as subsequently detailed in this Report.

14. It appears that the estimated pecuniary returns accruing from cultivating the land within the reserve, either as a vegetable garden or as a farm, are insignificant when set against the cost of maintenance and supervision of the criminals so employed. It is also shown that the cost of mere supervision for the prisoners employed at quarrying and cutting stone greatly exceeds the estimated value of the labour performed by them. The overseer of the latter department testifies that the average value of the labour of the seventy men under his charge cannot fairly be reckoned at more than £30 per week, whilst no less than fifteen warders, whose services might otherwise be dispensed with, are occupied in guarding them when at work. The wages paid in money to those fifteen warders’ amount to exactly £40 per week. The abandonment of the reserve for purposes of cultivation by the prisoners is therefore recommended by the Commissioners. But they are strongly of opinion that, in order to secure the complete isolation of the prison and its inmates, the Government ought to retain exclusive possession and control of the land, and that in no case should it be settled on or alienated. The public road passing through the reserve being no longer needed, it should be closed up, and the boundary wall finished. The officers of the establishment should be strictly prohibited from making use of the land for their own purposes in any way whatsoever.

15. The distance of the workshops from the main building entails an additional expenditure for supervision, and much loss of time in searching the prisoners. By placing the workshops adjoining the main building so that prisoners could pass into them from their cells without leaving the prison yard, a large proportion of the existing staff of warders might be safely dispensed with. The distance of the workshops, moreover, from B division, where the long-sentenced prisoners are confined, prevents many of that class from ever being employed in them. The result is, that such prisoners are kept occupied at profitless labour in their own yard, although all experience in penal discipline proves that they are the very class for whom continuous employment at useful trades is best adapted, and whose labour can be rendered most profitable. Prisoners are mush more susceptive of moral improvement when they know that they are usefully employed than when they are set to some merely penal and result-less labour. In any case, however, the present workshops are wholly unsuitable, both as regard size and general arrangements. They were built rather for temporary convenience than for permanent use, and formed no part of the original plan, as detailed in Reports to the Government in 1857 and 1859.

16. The Commissioners therefore recommend that the female prisoners shall for the present be removed to the Melbourne gaol, and the prisoners in C division transferred to the vacated building, where they can be employed in such a manner as the period of their sentence may warrant. By this arrangement all the male prisoners will be concentrated within the quadrangle shown on the plan. A portion of the buildings in C division should then be divided by partitions, so as to provide sufficient cell accommodation for the females. This alteration effected, the females should be sent back, and the C division be made a general female penitentiary for the colony.

17. The change recommended will entail the abandonment of the existing workshops. New workshops should then be erected by prison labour in the most suitable position. The plan of these workshops should include ample means and appliances for carrying on all the industrial occupations in operation in the establishment. 


The building is octagonal, each side 40 feet external measurement, with a centre compartment for the overseers of 10 feet on each face; the floor thereof to be raised 2 feet above the level of the floor of the prisoners' workshops, which will enable the overseeers to command a full view of the workshops, even should two or three men congregate in one part for the purposes of obstructing the view.

The foundation and bearing walls to be of bluestone rubble.

The external walls to be of bluestone rubble, 18 inches thick by 10 feet in height above the floor.

The partition walls to be of 9-inch brickwork.

The foundations and bearing walls are shown 3 feet deep, but the depth is of course dependant upon the site; if level, probably the depth would not exceed 18 inches.

The centre compartment to be carried up in wood 5 feet above the level of the brick walls.

The floors to be of wood.

The roof to be covered with corrugated iron; the underside of the joists lined with tongue and grooved lining boards; the spaces between the joists under eves and at centre compartment left open to allow current of air to pass through between lining and iron.

The windows of the prisoners' workrooms to in two sashes, the lower one fixed, the upper one hung with weightsand pullies.

The windows of the centre compartment to be hung in centre on pivots, to open and close by means of lines.

The iron gratings to the inner face of the prisoners' workrooms to have doors framed therein to admit one man at a time.

The iron grating in lobby to have like door therein.

The iron gratings to windows to be fixed outside.

Each of the prisoners' workrooms to have a watercloset and washing bowl; the screen of the watercloset is so placed that whilst the occupant is thoroughlt screened from the prisoners he is under inspection, without being unnecessarily exposed.

A watercloset and lavatory are provided for the overseers.

Each workroom will allow 4 feet in length for 25 men, ranged around the walls, giving a total of 175 men.

18. From observation and evidence the Commissioners are led to the conclusion, that in proportion as prisoners are kept constantly and profitably employed the cost of guarding them diminishes. They require less supervision when busily engaged at remunerative occupations than when idle, or kept at unprofitable employment. The direct profit accruing from their labour, under a judicious system or organisation, is thus enhanced by the saving in the cost of supervision.

19. If the foregoing recommendations be adopted, the effective labour force of the prisoners will, in the first instance, be applied to the erection of the proposed new workshops. But, as the erection of these buildings is essential to the adoption of an organised system, and as the results accruing will be of a directly profitable kind, the labour employed on that work may reasonably be considered to be itself of a reproductive nature.

20. The industrial occupations which, as the Commissioners think, can be most advantageously promoted in the establishment are those in the table (at point 11, above), with such others as experience may suggest, skilled artisans being engaged as foreman in the place of unskilled overseers. In order, however, to their successful prosecution, and as a means of making the industry of the prisoners available to cover the cost of their own maintenance, it will be necessary:- That every prisoner shall be compelled to adopt such a handicraft as he may appear to be best fitted for. That the various Government departments shall be required to procure from the Penal establishment, at a fair valuation, supplies of such articles as can be manufactured there in sufficient quantity to meet the requirements. And that no contracts shall be taken by the Government departments for articles which can be supplied by the establishment.

21. It has been shown in evidence that the lunatic asylums, the reformatory and industrial schools, the police, naval, and military departments, might all be supplied from the workshops with boots and shoes and various other articles of clothing, blankets, ironwork, tinware, and the like. And it is manifestly a waste of the public resources to spend large sums annually in the purchase of articles required in the public service which might be produced by means of labour always at the disposal of the Government. This available labour, moreover, when not usefully employed, is worse than wasted; for, as has already been shown, enforced idleness or employment at some useless occupation is demoralizing to prisoners at the same time that it is exceedingly costly to the State. The uniform testimony of the witnesses, confirmed by the statements of the prisoners themselves, shows that skilled artisans form but a trifling proportion of the criminal population; and that, of the discharged prisoners who had been employed in useful trades in this establishment only a small number return to it again.

22. From the statement given, it appears that the actual cost of the establishment for the year 1869, all charges included, was £30,356 17s. 10d., whilst the total estimated value of the labour of the prisoners was only £8,241 18s. 8 3/4d. The establishment was thus maintained by the State, for that year, at an expense in money of more than £22,000. It may be assumed that the equivalent amount of moral reform produced in the prisoners during the same period is represented, rather by the smaller sum which expresses the value of the industrial labour performed than by the larger sum which expresses the cost of penal supervision. If the position of the numbers were changed, so that £22,000 represented the value of the labour, and £8,000the cost of penal supervision, there cannot be any reasonable doubt that the indirectly repressive force exercised upon crime would be much greater than it is at present. Nor can it be too earnestly repeated, that by far the most effectual means of diminishing crime in any community, especially in our own, is by enforcing on criminal habits of systematic and unremitting industry which they will afterwards retain. There is no valid reason why, within a comparative short period after the erection of the proposed new workshops, the two items of annual expenditure and aggregate earnings should not be made more nearly to approximate to each other.

23. The inconvenience attending the existing method of procuring all raw materials by contract, for manufacture and use in the workshops, has been forcibly pointed out to the Commissioners. In such contracts the advantage is generally on the side of the contractor, rather than on that of the Government. The Commissioners have learnt that an alteration has recently been made in the mode of obtaining supplies of articles requires by the Railway Department, and they venture to suggest that l like method shall be carried out in the Penal Department.

24. The cost of supervision, and the large proportion of officers to prisoners, are points which strike the attention upon examining the details of the establishment. The following table shows that 91 male warders and 14 other officers, or 105 officers in all, are employed in the supervision of 643 male criminals. This gives an average of barely 6 criminals to every officer. Now, considering that there are 104 prisoners in A division, confined in separate cells, and beyond any reasonable possibility of escaping, and 320 other prisoners in B division, who, as they are separated at night, will when the new workshops have been erected be in a somewhat similar position, is it demonstrated that l large proportion of the staff employed in the supervision is rendered necessary solely by the existing arrangements. The abolition of C division and of labour on the reserve will make the services of several of the present staff of warders needless; and the general staff of officers may be still further reduced when the proposed plan of organised industry shall have been brought into full operation. The prisoners will the be concentrated within walls, busily employed by day, and will all occupy separate cells at night, so that the amount of supervision may be safely reduced to the lowest minimum compatible with the maintenance of discipline. It is, however, desirable that reductions on the supervising staff should be gradually and carefully carried out; and that the men on guard should be furnished with the best and most modern description of repeating or revolving arms.

The number of officers employed, distinguishing the various grades.

Superintendent 1
Chief Warder and Assistant Superintendent 1
Clerks 2
Schoolmaster 1
Inspector of Works 1
Overseers of Labour 8
Sergent Warders 4
Corporal Warders 10
Warders, Male 77
Matron 1
Female Overseer 1
Female Warders 6
Total 113

25. The Commissioners find that many of the warders have been allowed to enter the volunteer force, and this, from the absence of the usual guards, and the imposition of extra duty upon few warders who are not volunteers, has compelled the locking up the prisoners during the hours they ought to have been engaged in their labour occupations. Nor has any good reason been shown why this body should be distinguished from the police force by the exercise of the political franchise, a privilege the superior officers state to be inconsistent with the maintenance of that strict discipline which will be more essential as reductions are effected in the staff.

26. The establishment should be places under the immediate charge of a keeper or governor, instead of, as heretofore, under an Inspector-General, whose duty, as his title indicates, should be independent constant supervision and inspection of all prisons and reformatories, to which might be added the industrial schools. The Commissioners also think that considerable advantage would arise, both to this officer and those under his control, by the appointment of a carefully selected Board of honorary visitors, who by occasional person examination could judge how far the new system was producing the desired effect. This proposal would not in any wat interfere with the duties of visiting justices, whose attention should be confined to dealing with cases brought before them in the manner provided by law.

27. The Commissioners, as will have been obvious from this Report, have confined their attention to dealing with the Central Penal Establishment, and offered suggestions respecting it of a practical character only.

They desire to present at as early a period as possible the result of information acquired on topics which admit of being treated separately, and do not affect the free consideration of the general questions comprehended in the Royal Commission.

They postpone the expression of any opinion on these questions until they have decided on the system best adapted to the special circumstances of the community, and which, repressing crime, is calculated to reform the criminal.

They have collected some facts and statistics, and intend to pursue their investigations with all reasonable despatch.

28. The recommendations contained in the foregoing Report may be briefly summed up as follows:-

  1. The abolition of the C division at Pentridge as a male prison, and the concentration of the establishment within the limits of the main prison, to be known in future as The Penitentiary.
  2. The organisation of the prisoners’ labour at industrial occupations, and the disposal of their manufactures to the several Government departments, so that the establishment may, if possible, become self-supporting.
  3. The gradual reduction of the supervising staff.
  4. The formation of a Female Penitentiary in the C division.
  5. The appointment of a resident Keeper or Governor, and of a Board of Honorary Visitors for the general establishment.


Office of the Commission, 18th November 1870.











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