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Inside Wellington Prison

Until very recently, Wellington had three main correctional facilities: Rimutaka Prison for men, one of the largest in the country; Arohata Prison for women; and the oldest, Wellington Prison, also for men.

We live near Wellington Prison. For about 85 years, this facility (aka Mt Crawford Prison) has sat on what is now one of the most desirable hill-top parcels of land in the city. As well as it being a familiar – if tucked out of sight – local landmark now that I live in Wellington, I had an awareness of it on account of my ex-husband, who may have gotten to know the place quite well before I met him.

It was built in the 1920s to replace an inner city ‘gaol’. At the time its construction reflected evolved thinking around more humane applications of penal policy. However, this thinking has marched on further still and the focus within prisons now on rehabilitation and reduced re-offending meant that Wellington Prison was no longer a viable facility. The buildings were also not earthquake strengthened – a factor which is receiving a lot of focus across Wellington.

So the prison had to close. It actually closed for the first time in 2008 because of the ageing buildings, only to reopen the following year because of a rise in prisoner numbers nationally. But on 30 November 2012 it closed permanently.

Before this happened, the Department of Corrections did a brilliant thing and ran an open day, within a few days of the last prisoners being transferred out. Mike and I were keen to go. We rolled up around opening time and for the price of a gold coin (proceeds to local charities) we joined throngs of other visitors.

Armed with a pamphlet, we began our self-guided tour.

The prison can't have seen many days where crowds of people were chomping at the bit to get inside

The prison can’t have seen many days where crowds of people were chomping at the bit to get in

Smi-ile!

Smi-ile!

Wellington Prison

Razor wire

Razor wire was installed in 2009 after the prison re-opened

Razor wire was installed in 2009 after the prison re-opened

Wellington Prison

Four executions by hanging took place here in the 1930s. The small door was used to remove the bodies

Four executions by hanging took place here in the 1930s. The small door was used to remove the bodies

Reading graffiti in one of the rooms where prisoners were assessed upon arrival

Reading graffiti in one of the processing rooms

Prison graffiti

Prison graffiti

A convincing reenactment by Mike

A convincing reenactment by Mike

Prison window

Unit One, where higher security prisoners were kept

Unit One, where higher security prisoners were kept

Horrible damp walls - this cell was next to the shower block

Horrible damp walls – this cell was next to the shower block

Trying out a cell for size (this was in Unit Two but the cells were very similar)

Trying out a cell for size (this was in Unit Two but the cells were very similar)

On a noticeboard

On a noticeboard

In one of the large rooms a few displays included a table of old criminal records. These two chaps were 'gaoled' in 1907 in Auckland, one for forgery & altering, the other for vagrancy

In one of the large rooms a few displays included a table of old criminal records. These two chaps were ‘gaoled’ in 1907 in Auckland, one for forgery & altering, the other for vagrancy

Wellington Prison padlock

A four-bed cell in Unit Two where lower security prisoners were held

A four-bed cell in Unit Two where lower security prisoners were held

Boots left behind

Left behind

One of the last menus before the remaining prisoners were relocated

One of the last menus before the remaining prisoners were relocated

Wellington Prison

The laundry walls were one big mural

The laundry walls were one big mural

Wellington Prison Issue

Before 1984, when the chapel was established, this had been a shower block

Before 1984, when the chapel was established, this had been a shower block

Toilets in one of the outside yards - and, delicious, a drinking fountain nearby

Toilets in one of the outside yards – and, delicious, a drinking fountain nearby

mike

One of the all-weather exercise yards

One of the all-weather exercise yards

In another covered exercise yard the walls were covered in murals. I chuckled at this one

In another covered exercise yard the walls were covered in murals. I chuckled at this one

Reference to Mt Crawford, the hill on which the prison is located

Reference to Mt Crawford, the hill on which the prison is located

Wellington harbour and CBD

Wellington harbour and CBD

We could hear music and eventually we found the Salvation Army Band in one of the yards

We could hear music and eventually we found the Salvation Army Band in one of the yards

Wellington Prison open day

When we left there was still a steady stream of people heading in. I heard that later on some had to be turned away and the money collection boxes had been filled to capacity, proof that thousands of people were intrigued to get a rare glimpse into not only a jail but a significant part of Miramar Peninsula’s history.

And what is the land to be used for? That hasn’t yet been confirmed.

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17 Comments Post a comment
  1. It’s daunting how they lived – Dartmoor prison in the UK as you probably know has been around for years and even featured in the “Hound of the Baskervilles” novel so it would be interesting to see how they compared

    10 December 2012
    • We drove by Dartmoor on our trip – I imagine it would have been more austere but that is probably my perception from works of fiction and the general moor environment.

      10 December 2012
  2. great write up and photos, I feel like I’ve been there myself!

    10 December 2012
    • Thanks Olivia, much appreciated.

      11 December 2012
  3. Wow…fascinating post — it’s so interesting to see the graffitti and the various warning signs! Thanks for posting, Hayley. Steph

    12 December 2012
  4. This surely isn’t home-sweet-home!

    10 August 2013
    • Close to home, but no, not home!

      10 August 2013
  5. i was in mt crawford 1975, was working in the garden, bloody great job, home away from home, good screws, meals those days was not on the menu, what you got you ate, dont get me wrong the scoff was good, pudding every nite, what more could you ask for.it was do your lag ,stop being a sook, mummy wont help you.visits were every week if you had one,so marks out of 10? full monty 10 plus.

    21 January 2015
    • Unique perspective! Really interesting, thanks for your comment, it adds great colour and context. I visited what’s left of the gardens, it’s hard to visualise now how it must’ve been back in the day.

      21 January 2015
  6. Are they still running tours?. Lovely post

    30 May 2015
    • Thanks :). No it was a one-off thing. The prison is still just sitting there closed waiting for a decision to be made about the land.

      31 May 2015
  7. Have you heard what will happen to the jail, will it sell?

    13 December 2015
    • No short answer – here are some excerpts from a news article Sept 2015: “Talks are going on about a major development that could include a cable car up to the old prison, where a new housing development has been discussed…
      The Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust has first rights to buy the disused prison… In September last year a memorandum of understanding was signed by representatives of the Crown, Wellington City Council and the Port Nicholson trust, outlining guiding principles for the development of land on the Miramar Peninsula. It was reported the land was set to become a national heritage destination but may include new housing or other developments to help make the area financially self-sufficient. Government ministers are yet to decide how the land will be used. If the heritage area goes ahead, it will incorporate 76.38 hectares of Defence Force land, the 12.5-hectare Wellington Prison site, the Maupuia/Centennial and Scorching Bay reserves, council-owned land in Shelly Bay and the Massey Memorial, owned by Ministry for Culture and Heritage.”

      13 December 2015
  8. joseph william orr #

    hey guys, i was there 1974, was working in the veggie gardens, great job, good screw our boss, can name him but wont do that,all i can say it was a home away from home,good bunch of screws, have not been back since 74. good memories.

    19 December 2015
    • Hi Mr Orr, thanks for your comment – I think you left another one on this article a few months ago! I wonder what it would be like for you to visit now after 40 years, so much up there has changed.

      23 December 2015

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