Colonial Gaol

Ten years after Guildford was settled in 1830, it became apparent that the town needed a Gaol.

The establishment of three public houses “pubs” in Guildford led to many locals charged with drunken behaviour. But there was nowhere to put them.

(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)

So, late in 1840, jack-of-all-trades John Welbourne was given £80 to build the goal – with two small cells, a constable’s room and stocks.

Welbourne had arrived in the Swan Colony in 1829. After building the gaol, he became a police constable, the local postmaster and subsequently, a member of the Guildford Town Trust. Later he built and owned the Stirling Arms Hotel and operated an undertakers business from his home at 43 Market Street.

Guildford Gaol in the 1940s

Guildford Gaol in the 1940s

The Gaol “opened for business” in April, 1841.

A police married quarters, small justice room and seven cells were added in 1851 utilising convict labour, creating an L-shaped building. A larger magistrate’s (justice) room was added in 1853 and the 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 4 new cells were added to the north and a day room to the south. A large exercise yard was built the following year.

In 1869, the Gaol hosted its most famous inmate. Bushranger Moondyne Joe had escaped from Fremantle Prison and, nearly two years later, was caught at the Houghton Winery in the Swan Valley. He was temporarily locked up at the Guildford Gaol, awaiting his return to Fremantle.

Guildford Colonial Gaol

Guildford Colonial Gaol

In 1948, most of the exercise yard and original stables were demolished and the day room was converted into a garage.

The Gaol closed on November 16, 1969.

In the 1970s, with the Gaol building unused and in poor condition, its demolition was considered. But 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 and the Courthouse are both on the following 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

A talk by Dr Pamela Statham Drew given at the relaunch of the Gaol on April 4th 2017 can be found here.