Richmond Gaol: Everything You Need To Know Before You Go

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The town of Richmond is one of my favourite places in Tasmania. Nowhere feels quite as historic to me as the streets of this town founded in 1803.

The best place to learn more about the darker side of this history is at the Richmond Gaol – the oldest original gaol in Australia. Built in 1825 and a gaol to 1928, there is much to explore here with punishment cells, solitary confinement cells, women’s areas and more.

Outside the Richmond Gaol Tasmania
Outside Richmond Gaol

Below, I give you a brief history lesson of this gaol before describing exactly what you can expect from a visit to Richmond Gaol.

Richmond Gaol’s History

After being founded in 1803, agricultural development of the Richmond area came fast and by the mid 1820s, Richmond had the third largest population in Tasmania. The development was due to the supply of convict labour and this convict population meant that a local gaol was needed for the convicts that offended while working in the area.

Richmond Gaol Tasmania main courtyard
Main courtyard

Convicts started building the gaol in 1825. Initially, it was just one building with timber fencing. It was soon overflowing with the gaoler, his family and the guards all living in the one building with the convicts.

As a result of this situation, the gaoler’s residence was built to house the gaoler, his family and the guards. By 1835, side buildings were added with solitary cells and more to house more convicts.

For 30 years the gaol was full with convicts who had committed various offences or were on their way to one of the gaols in Hobart Town.

Reading sign in courtyard of Richmond Gaol Tasmania
In the main courtyard

Women were also housed at Richmond Gaol for short periods on their way elsewhere. Richmond Gaol is home to some of the best preserved structures in Tasmania for female convicts.

After convict transportation from England finished in 1853, control of the gaol passed to the police and became a watch-house. From 1898 when the Tasmania Police was formed, use of the gaol decreased until it closed in 1928.

The Richmond Gaol Hobart was registered as a historic site in 1971.

Richmond Gaol Review

Today, you can visit on a self guided tour. At the time of publishing, there aren’t any Richmond Gaol tours. There also isn’t a Richmond Gaol ghost tour.

You are given a pamphlet on entry to explore the gaol with an introduction to each room. There are more informational boards and additional information (like lists of convicts who were here) as you walk around the site.

There is a good level of information – enough to give you the history of the place and a sense of what it was like to be imprisoned here without being overwhelming especially if visiting with kids like us. The pamphlet gives you information about which order to visit the site basically starting from the newest parts to the oldest.

Richmond Gaol Tasmania scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunt

Kids are given a scavenger hunt sheet – basically they need to find the pictured items somewhere in the gaol to win. One page is easy, one is hard. We found most but not all.

Richmond Gaol Tasmania exhibits
Some exhibits including convict clothes

We started in the original building where we saw the crazy small room where over 40 men would sleep. We also learned about activities they would do during the day, what they wore and about some of the escape attempts. There is also a punishment cell here with leg irons. The kids enjoyed giving them a try and spending a few moments alone in the cell with the door shut.

Next up was the exercise yard where they believe floggings may have taken place. There is audio playing as though this is taking place as well as some privies (toilets) which were installed in 1835.

toilst and flogging
Possible flogging yard

We then visited the gaoler’s residence, built in 1833. There is more information here on the various gaolers and on the guards (known as javelin men).

After this we visited the side buildings where the solitary confinement cells are located – one side is men’s and the other women’s. You can stand in the cells and shut the door to get an idea what it may have been like. Not nice!

Richmond Gaol Tasmania women solitary confinement cells
Women solitary confinement cells

There are also some other rooms like the women’s room and the cook house where all cooking was performed.

Everything is well maintained and interesting. The site is small and you don’t need more than an hour or two to explore everything. It’s a very easy introduction to convict imprisonment in Tasmania which makes this especially good for kids (and adults!) with short attention spans.

Richmond Gaol Tasmania Location

Richmond Gaol is located in the centre of Richmond, a town about 25 minutes and 27 kilometres from the centre of Hobart. Take the Tasman Highway out of the city and take the turn off to Richmond just before the airport. The B31 will take you the rest of the way to Richmond.

Richmond Gaol is at 31 Bathurst Street. It is surrounded by a park and next to the Coal River where you’ll find the famous Richmond Bridge. A visit here goes perfect with a picnic before or after.

Richmond Gaol Entry Fee

At the time of publishing, the entry fee is $10 for adults, $5 for kids and $25 for a family.

Richmond Gaol Tasmania trying out some chains
Trying out some leg irons

Final Words

Richmond Gaol is a great place to visit for anyone interested in Tasmania’s convict past. Its size makes it very accessible to anyone and its interesting history is well conveyed.

Our kids were aged 4-10 at the time of our visit. While the site was lost on our 4 year old, there was enough for him to look at to not become totally bored. Our 8 and 10 year olds found it very interesting and now want to see more convict sites.

I highly recommend a visit here to anyone.

You can find more information about visiting Richmond Gaol on their site here. Find all the best Richmond accommodation Tasmania options here or read more fun things to do in Richmond and nearby Hobart here.

By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon grew up in Tasmania, moved away and then came back with her family twenty years later. She loves re-discovering her home state and sharing it with you here.