Cells

The cells were used as a place of short-term confinement for both men and women. Stays were short – three to four days normally – and while many left sooner some were subjected to longer periods of detainment.

The cells were used as a place of short-term confinement for both men and women. Stays were short – three to four days normally – and while many left sooner some were subjected to longer periods of detainment. Many were brought in for minor disturbances and often no charges were laid; people were simply held overnight to sober up or calm down. Depending on the sentence handed down by the Magistrate at the local Court House (originally located where the former Post Office stands today at Hunter & Bolton Sts and then later on Church Street) detainees would be released or moved to gaol at either Maitland, Cessnock or St Helliers.

The Lock-Up’s cell block includes rare examples of cell types from the mid 1800’s. Measuring 2.3 x 1.26m the first cell in the block is the final remaining unchanged cell from the original 1861 building and is a significant example of Colonial penal design introduced by Governor Gipps an economic measure. Although planned for widespread use by Colonial Architect A. Dawson in 1859, this type of cell was rejected due to its cramped size. The original Lock-Up building had six cells this size.

Believed to be the best preserved padded cell from the Colonial era in Australia, the Lock Up’s padded cell was added in 1893. Measuring 8’x5’6” its leather walls were filled with horse hair to prevent prisoners believed to be uncontrollable or insane from harming themselves.