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.
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.
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
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.
great write up and photos, I feel like I’ve been there myself!
Thanks Olivia, much appreciated.
Wow…fascinating post — it’s so interesting to see the graffitti and the various warning signs! Thanks for posting, Hayley. Steph
Much appreciated Steph!
This surely isn’t home-sweet-home!
Close to home, but no, not home!
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.
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.
Hello Joseph. I know it’s been a while since your post, but would you be keen to meet up with the Miramar Prison Community Garden to talk about your work in the garden back in 75?
As you might know, our site is in jeopardy and we are trying very hard to gather as much historical info about it as possible. We would love to hear your story, it is always so fascinating to learn about the garden. I hope this message will find you 🙂 Thanks, Elsa
Are they still running tours?. Lovely post
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.
Have you heard what will happen to the jail, will it sell?
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.”
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.
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.
This is really interesting I would so love to see this myself and furthermore they should keep the doors open and keep the money flowing for the homeless people so they can find them homes.
Hi there, I worked at Crawford 1978 tp 1982. It has changed somewhat, all the yards were open air then and there was no chapel. I was relatively young, a lot of the officers there were WW2 Veterans. We had a great crew and a more than useful rugby side when joined by the officers from Wi Tako, Trentham. Had some memorable annual rugby tournaments with everyone being accommodated at the old Officers School, which I believe Peter Jackson is working out of. All our games were played at Fort Dorsett Army Camp, again its long gone. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I now live in Retirement in Taiwan. P.S. I lived in a rental house on site, I used to pay $1.75 a week for a three bedroom brick house with a million dollar view. It had a garage, if it didn’t it was $1.50. We were on good money in those days as Justice Dept Officers, pre Corrections. Thanks for posting.
Thanks for your comment Pete, that was really interesting! I go by the prison every couple of months or so on one of my walks, I’m personally not sorry that there’s still no decision on what to do with the land. Such a premium location though! It’s incredible the amount of rent you used to pay – I’m not sure if there used to be more houses up there or if you lived in the brick house just before Nevay Rd? I had a quick walk-through the Fort Dorset observation bunkers just last weekend; I see they demo’d the base in 1998. Thanks for sharing some memories, hope life is treating you well in Taiwan.
No I was on the Mt Vic side of the Peninsula I was in House Number Two, I had a panic line in my house which I used to have to respond to every week or so. I was living there when Qantas landed a jet at Wellington airport Im thinking 1981 I had the most amazing view and the rent was oh so great
The building you are referring to the brick one was the SOQ Single Officers Quarters
Ah right-oh, thanks for that.
Could you please help me in my search to find pictures and information about Mount Crawford prison ?
I live in Manchester UK. I’m currently writing my autobiography. When I was around 18-19 year’s of age, I was in Wellington after traveling down from Auckland where I missed my ship when I was in the British Merchant Navy.
I was picked-up in a bar in Wellington. My research tells the name was Bristro bar located inside the Royal Oak Hotel. (i think its on Cuba St) I was very young at the time. I was picked-up for underage drinking.I would like to have some pictures (©copyright free) so that I can use them in my book. I have looked online but there is only stock photos for sale.
I hope to have my book published when its finished and will probably make it available to the public. I’m not sure if it is something that you would be able to help me with? I appreciate any help that you could give me? I have fond memories of those times in New Zealand.
Thank you so much.
Hi – thanks for your enquiry, very interesting. I’ll try to help and will email you at the end of the week.
whats your book called? has it been published? love to read it
Bistro Bar. You could do some research on that!
I have read a little about that, following an earlier comment on this post I think. The Royal Oak was an interesting sounding place!
I was brought up in the prison community and lived in 220 Nevay Road. My dad Jack Gavan, was the Welfare Officer there for years. I remember the Superintendent was Mr Gorman and there was Jack Lowrens, prison nurse Mr Hoddinot, Mr Lund, Wilf Eisner, prison psychologist who survived Auschwitz and worse, Buna.
The staff were all well motivated and I remember the guys too like Frank Rickett and John Coca. It was like family and both officers and inmates were friends.
That’s so interesting. I see on Google Maps that there were many sections on Nevay Rd that are no longer there (including where you lived) – I didn’t know that and have walked that road many times. As with others who have left memories here, you have helped enhance the value of this page, so thank you.
thanks peter i remember your dad he was a marvelously kind man
also painting instructor Mr Bill Edmonds a real life gentleman.
My late dad worked at the prison roughly 1965-1968. He was a tradesman printer and I think his job was printing in house material (no photocopiers) and teaching the printing trade (now long gone). I remember he talked about everyone having to do yard patrols and hating it!
We lived in a prison services provided house on Nevay Road and a few years ago I was stunned to find they have removed/demolished every such house. Ironic given the current housing shortage.
Do you know if there are any archives of staff photos/records? I couldn’t find any in Googleland. I did find some great arial views of the site and staff houses, enough to know the houses were removed in the nineties.
I really appreciate you leaving this comment Richard! Every bit of experience and knowledge contributed here is helping to create a valuable resource. Not sure if you saw the other most recent comment but it was from someone who also lived on Nevay Rd; that prompted me to search online and see how many sections there used to be which you’d have next to no idea about how. (It did help answer a pondering I’ve had for many years about a short sealed road leading to nowhere that I’ve walked past a lot.) Great to now get a rough timeframe on the removal of those houses.
On the open day I remember going to the printing services area of the prison.
No I don’t know of any staff archives – but if someone else comments regarding this in future I will let you know. The prison land area is back under focus because of a proposed housing development so that may prompt a resurgence of interest.