Colonial Gaol


Ten years after Guildford was settled in 1830, it was apparent the town needed a Gaol.  Three public houses or  “pubs” in the town meant many locals were charged with drunken behaviour.  But there was nowhere to put them.

A newspaper article at the time stated “(Guildford has) found a very serious inconvenience in having no lock up Cell or Stocks in a place which is the focus of communications to all parts of the Colony, and containing three public houses as riotous behaviour was causing concern.” (Perth Gazette newspaper, September 9, 1840)

In 1840, jack-of-all-trades John Welbourne was given £80 to build the goal – consisting of two small cells, a constable’s room and stocks.  He completed the task in 1841.  Welbourne had arrived in the Swan Colony in 1829.  Besides building the Gaol, he was the local police constable, postmaster and a member of the Guildford Town Trust.  He also conducted an undertakers business from his home at 43 Market Street.  Later he built and owned the Stirling Arms Hotel.  This meant patrons could drink at Welbourne’s hotel, be arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, and then taken to the Gaol he had built to sleep it off!

Guildford Gaol in the 1940s

Guildford Gaol in the 1940s

In 1851 extensions including a  police married quarters, small justice room and seven more cells were added, using convict labour.   This created an L-shaped building.  A larger magistrate’s (justice) room was added in 1853, and horse stables were built in 1857.

Further changes occurred in 1867 when the walls of the magistrate’s room and the adjoining cell were incorporated into the building and four new cells were added to the north and a day room to the south.  A large exercise yard was built the following year.

The Gaol hosted its most famous inmate, Bushranger Moondyne Joe in 1869.  He had escaped from Fremantle Gaol, and was captured nearly two years later in the wine cellar at Houghton’s Winery in the Swan Valley.  He spent a brief time at Guildford Gaol before being escorted back to Fremantle.

Guildford Colonial Gaol

Guildford Colonial Gaol

By 1948 much of the Gaol, exercise yard and horse stables had been demolished.  The building continued to be used by the police until November 16, 1969.  (By this time no prisoners were held here).  The building deteriorated in the 1970’s, and demolition was considered.  Luckily it was saved by the then Shire of Swan, renovated and handed over the Swan-Guildford Historical Society to be used as a museum.

It remains a significant building, one of the few examples of public buildings that date back to the early decades of colonial settlement in WA.

The Gaol is on these Heritage Listings:

  • Register of Heritage Places: Interim Entry 25/11/1994
  • National Trust Classification: 21/03/1978
                • Guildford Conservation Policy: 22/09/1992
                • Register of National Estate: 21/03/1978