Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An 'istorical investigation of crime, gaols, and the seaside

I have been exercising some of my archaeological investigative skills acquired by reading the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian. From a mention in one of Jayne's daily posts, I learnt of a bluestone beach wall in St Kilda constructed by bluestone from Pentridge Prison Old Melbourne Gaol after some demolition work. The bluestone blocks were removed from Old Melbourne Gaol in late 1920s and using depression time Sustenance Workers in the early thirties, Sussos, the bluestone was used to construct these seaside walls.

When someone was sentenced to hang after being convicted of a terrible crime, they were often also sentenced to be buried within the prison and their initials and the date of their hanging was carved into the bluestone walls above where they were buried. So guess where some of these bluestone blocks ended up? Yep, in one of the sea walls.

Now, I was going to St Kilda for some shopping and thought I might just have a look to see if I could find any. Jayne had found a little more information, such as they are where people sit on grass and lean against a wall. I searched fruitlessly but it was a pleasant walk.

Yesterday Jayne came across a couple of pictures at Picture Victoria of two of the actual bluestone blocks, including the info that they were at the end of Wellington Street where it meets the beach. I should have read a bit more closely what was written (a terrible fault of mine, skim reading) at Picture Victoria. I could not think of a Wellington Street in St Kilda that ran to the beach. Turn to the online street directory and no other Wellington Street apart from the one I already knew which is nowhere near the beach. Taking a stab in the dark, I entered Wellington Street with just the street name and no suburb. Of course there were many, but one in Brighton sounded like a possibility and sure enough, and later confirmed by this at Picture Victoria. (OK, timelines are getting confused, you have my apology but no explanation, coz I am confused)

Speaking of confusion, St Kilda covered a much larger area in the olden days, extending down to what is now know as Brighton, hence the St Kilda slash Brighton confusion.

So, we have at the foot of Wellington Street, Brighton, some bluestone blocks in the sea wall that originally came from Old Melbourne Gaol with initials and dates carved into them.

While I am not saying they are not there, yesterday I slowly walked a couple of hundred metres in either direction of the foot of Wellington Street, thrice, as there are three different walls, and I could not find them. I suppose I looked a bit odd as I looked down at the walls as I walked when everyone else was looking up at the wonderful views.

Have the stones been removed? I think they may well have and a call to the Brighton Historical Society might be in order.

In a direct line to Wellington Street, I came across these newer blocks, the colour is different, the mortar more recent and there is possibly some machine marks on them.

In case you think this is just as nerdy as using a gold detector, thank you MD, it probably is, but it was combined with photo taking of an old sign for the project (just as nerdy, I know), washing the car at a new car wash (more on that later), filling the car with petrol and a visit to the sanity retention office, Dan Murphy of Brighton.

Thanks to Jayne for her help with this. Pity it came to nothing.


  1. Anonymous12:27 pm

    Have you been to pentridge? It's a very fine gaol...to fine perhaps, for a gaol.

    I like blue-stone too...I'd wish today's contemporary architects would work some wonders with bricks and blue stone more than glass and concrete.

  2. Bugger, that's a damn shame, Andrew!
    I was looking forward to seeing your photos of your find, after all this time.
    Bugger, I'll give 'em a call to see what the price of fish is in China ;)

  3. This is lengthy, but might be interesting. It's taken from: MELBOURNE'S PARKS & GARDENS.

    Produced By The Melbourne City Council, Parks & Gardens Division, 1984.

    -That's what it says on the cover, and it's an unglossy, stapled collection of 89 typed pages, with drawings, which I found among some books at Savers.

    "Stanford Fountain.
    Last century a Pentridge prisoner carved the lovely bluestone fountain in Gordon Reserve adjacent to the Treasury buildings. William Stanford began his working life apprenticed to a stone mason in London but immigrated to Victoria in 1852 to try his luck on the Bendigo gold fields. However in 1854 he was found guilty of horse stealing and sentenced to ten years jail. He was to spend the next 16 years of his life in and out of jail including two years hard labour in irons for escaping from the supposedly "escape-proof" prison in 1861.
    While in prison his talent for drawing and carving (he used left over stew bones) was noted and the governor of the prison gave permission for Stanford to try his hand at stone carving. Charles Summers - sculptor of the "Burke and Wills" statue in the city Square - gave Stanford some lessons in modelling and lent him some art books. He began carving his fountain in 1867 from the only material freely available to him - bluestone from the prison quarry. He used a stuffed eaglehawk to model his bird adornments and the warder's son to pose for the boy on top of the fountain.
    While Stanford was working on his fountain, his friends were appealing for his release, and in October 1870 he stepped out of prison a free man. The fountain was duly installed with eight carved seats placed octagonally around the fountain in Gordon Reserve for which Stanford received no payment. In the ensuing years Stanford became a respected citizen, worked at his new trade and won quite a reputation for fine headstones. He died ten years after his release, partly as a result of inhaling the dust as he toiled on his best known work."

    Well as an 'old boy' myself from that bluestone college I find it outrageous that these facts are so obscure. Thousands pass that fountain every day knowing nothing about it. Meanwhile any old boy knows that there are decent crims and downright crim bastards. Amongst the ten loveliest people I've met in my life three were at the remand yard in Pentridge. Crime put them there, but art is what they were: grace and charity.

  4. Wow, Robert, I'm ashamed to say I didn't know that but thank you very much for sharing it :)

  5. Jayne your deep interest and scholarship in Australiana is astonishing, but it's
    your sweet personality which makes it such good reading.

  6. I haven't Reuben, I was never caught. I am sure it would be interesting. Surrounded by housing now isn't it? Much as I love Melbourne, I like Sydney sandstone better than bluestone.

    Ta Jayne. I am sure you know how to talk to them in the best way. BHS sounds quite impressive, by their website. Seriously, it is important that they are in care somewhere. If they are still in the wall and I missed them, there should be a plaque.

    Knew nothing of that Robert, so I thank you. It is interesting. I better get out and take some pics and you have already supplied the colour. Honestly, it is not an area I am very familiar with and although I may have heard of the Stanford Fountain, I have never seen it.

  7. I first heard of it about fifteen years ago and went to see it. It is indeed near the government buildings but not in a 'park', it's a sort of forecourt. Anyway it's quite a large thing and people who live away from Melbourne would be interested in seeing it if you could snap a photo sometime. Thanks.

  8. There was nothing fine about Pentridge, it was designed to break people. We were locked in single cells from four in the afternoon until seven next morning. The signature meal was a plate of rice with two scoops of mince in the centre, eaten at tables beneath the gallows (D Division). It was monotony, depression, misery, blue sky through thick panes high in the cell wall. On my last few nights they put me in the crumbling old C Division ('The Stockade') with a stub of candle and a bucket to shit in. The idea was to deter young blokes like me from ever going back. But I did go back. And I went back again when they closed the place, letting the public in to view it. Thirty years had passed and nothing had changed, only the yards were empty, that's all. And it was stunning to see kids being wheeled about in pushers, family groups, all over the place. Then I saw a little girl in the D Division block with her hands on a cell door, and almost broke down.

  9. Anonymous10:22 am

    "I have been exercising some of my archaeological investigative skills acquired by reading the Fylde and Wyre Antiquarian."

    'Appy to be of 'elp, squire.

  10. I will take a snap next time I am up that way Robert. Bad memories.

    One thing I have learnt Anon, is to take time.

  11. Could part of the walls be buried underground, shifting sands if you like, cause we are at the beach, and said initials could be below ground level?

  12. Well done Ian. I will update soon.

  13. A poet needs to expose himself (ha ha) and what's shown must be interesting. That's right, because contentment is not interesting. The rosy-cheek magistrate -with his shopkeeper JP each side, who sent me down for vag as a seventeen year-old, made me interesting. Pentridge made me interesting. So now I will perform, take out my cock, say here -grab this!
    I'll root them: their daughters, grandaughters -the whole of Brunswick Street!
    Yes well what can I say, vagrancy was a terrible thing, I got a month but you could get two years. But look now, society has improved: people begging everywhere and sleeping out in the streets. Vagrancy is a lifestyle, not a crime anymore.
    I get sentimental. But of course. I'm most sentimental about a gold watch I have, presented to a Judge many years ago. He lost it. Goodness me. It came into my possession.
    It's nice; a conversation piece, plenty for people to talk about. It has provenance, that's what I'm trying to say, but needs it's own little case.
    I'm getting one made, terribly appropriate, of a material often looked down upon but important to me. It's called bluestone.

  14. Everyone was polite enough to not ask Robert, but interesting all the same. Relieved that you did not murder anyone.

  15. Damn right! And I've been in a shootout!