Old Melbourne Gaol

The Old Melbourne Gaol is a 19th century prison, where you can step back into the draconian days of law and punishment.

You can put on ‘Ned Kelly’ armour, walk to the gallows, be arrested and put yourself on trial in court.

While this may not sound like the most inspiring day out, the Melbourne Gaol is one of Melbourne’s most interesting historical places.

It was built in imposing bluestone between 1840 and 1860, and is one of Victoria’s oldest surviving buildings.

Australia’s infamous bushranger, Ned Kelly, and notorious gangsters, such as Squizzy Taylor and Ronald Ryan, spent time in the Melbourne Goal - alongside murderers, baby farmers, petty offenders, lunatics, vagrants and bankrupts. 135 people, including Ned Kelly, were hanged in there.

Not a place for the fainthearted! You learn about prisoners’ lives and crimes, their trials and treatment, experience the prison conditions, and even get to step into the shoes of a hangman…

Ned Kelly

The notorious Ned Kelly is Australia’s most controversial character. For some, he has become a folk hero and symbol of resistance against oppression. But for others, he is merely a cold-blooded killer.

He was the son of an Irish convict, who had frequently brushed the law. After he killed three British police in 1878, he had become a fugitive. The police pursuit culminated in a shootout at Glenrowan, where Kelly – wearing his famous home-made plate metal amour - was captured and the rest of his gang killed.

Until he was hanged in 1880, the wounded Kelly spent his days in the Melbourne Gaol -while his mother was serving a sentence in the women’s wing. You can still see his death mask on display.There are live performances about Ned Kelly’s life, every Saturday at 12:30pm and 2pm.

19th Century Prison Realities

The Old Melbourne Gaol was considered a model prison. Its systems were based on the latest 19th century prison reforms. Yet, in spite being rebuild and extended over 20 years, it was consistently overcrowded. From the 1850s, it also housed female offenders.

The first building, a sandstone complex, has since been demolished and replaced by the Magistrate’s Court. The current and remaining structure has its own heavy bluestone perimeter wall. It was design after a London Model Prison.

As early as 1870, in a review of the penal system, it was recommended that the gaol be closed and the prisoners be moved to a more 'suitable' location. That led to it being slowly rundown and partially demolished, until 1929, when it finally closed.

It reopened briefly during the Second World War as a military prison for Australian soldiers who were ‘absent without leave’. It is now managed by the National Trust of Australia and became a Melbourne tourist attraction.

Melbourne Gaol Experiences

Get arrested at the 1990s City Watch House

The Watch House Experience is a forty minute interactive experience like no other. With a Charge Sergeant as guide, visitors are ‘arrested’ and encounter what it is like to be locked up.

Be on trial in the Old Magistrate’s Court

Stand on trial in the dock, sit in the Judge’s chair, or join in the crowd in the public gallery. Feel the tension and drama that played out during thousands of hearings in the old Magistrate’s court.

Court number one was the place Ned Kelly where was sentenced to death. Many of Victoria’s most notorious criminals were taken for committal and bail hearings there.

Hangman’s Night Tours

Michael Gateley was Melbourne’s most prolific and brutal hangman. You get to join him and experience Australia’s most haunted building by candlelight …if you dare!

This tour is generally held 4 times a week at 8.30pm (7.30pm in winter). Bookings are essential!

Ghostseekers and those that ‘go plonk in the night’

Explore and examine the Old Melbourne Gaol with Ghostseekers at night, investigate paranormal activity and see what you discover!

You can follow a warder by candlelight as he makes his way through the Gaol, giving an account of its history and telling stories about those who were hanged there. Bookings are essential.

The Old Melbourne Gaol is in Russell Street, between La Trobe and Victoria Streets. You can get there with the free City Circle Tram, or just walk from the city.

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