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Tasmania - Organisation

Launceston Gaol (1827 - 1917)

  • Launceston Gaol

    Launceston Gaol, courtesy of Tasmanian Images: Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Government-run, Home, Juvenile Justice Centre and Prison
Alternative Names
  • Launceston Prison (Also known as)

Launceston Gaol, run by the government, opened in 1827. Although the Gaol was for adults, it housed quite a few children, some as young as eight or nine. It closed in 1917.


Launceston Gaol, located in Patterson Street, opened in 1827. By 1900, it was mostly used as temporary accommodation for offenders waiting to go to court in North and North-West Tasmania. Launceston Gaol became the subject of a number of government inquiries, including Royal Commissions.

Children's presence in gaol was widely accepted by nineteenth century society because of the belief that they could be held responsible for their own actions. This accounts for the numbers of children placed in Launceston Gaol.

By the 1860s, the idea that children were responsible for their actions was changing. In 1867, the Training Schools Act provided for the establishment of training schools so that children were not sent to prison, although they might serve a 10 day sentence there first.

Despite the establishment of a Boys' Reformatory in 1869, which closed in 1879, and later, a Girls' Training School (1881) and a Boys' Training School (1884), children continued to be sent to Launceston Gaol for either the 10 day preliminary sentence or longer. For instance, in 1882, 36 boys under the age of 16 were there. Girls could also be sent to the Gaol but magistrates tended to dismiss charges against them to prevent that from happening.

Children were supposed to be kept apart from the other prisoners but because of the state of the buildings, the Superintendent was unable to enforce it.

In May 1913, the Launceston Examiner wrote about the plight of a girl kept in the prison overnight for larceny:

The wretched condition into which Launceston gaol has fallen was strongly in evidence in the Police Court yesterday when Mr. Shields made some scathing remarks on the accommodation provided for a girl who was arrested on a charge of larceny: There was a large ventilator in the small cell, and two out of the four panes of glass in the window were broken. Nothing in the shape of a bed stead seems to have been provided, but although blankets were forthcoming, the occupant had to lie on the floor. As the night was cold and frosty, the girl was almost in a state of collapse.

When Launceston Gaol closed in 1917, the Police Watch House took over its functions.


1827 - 1917
Location - Launceston Gaol was in Patterson Street, Launceston. Location: Launceston


 1827 - 1917 Launceston Gaol
       1917 - 1976 Launceston Police Watch House
             1976 - Launceston Reception Prison

Related Legislation

Related Organisations



  • Brown, Joan C., 'Poverty is not a crime': the development of social services in Tasmania, 1803-1900, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart, 1972, 192 pp. Details

Online Resources


Launceston Gaol
Launceston Gaol
Tasmanian Images: Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office


Sources used to compile this entry: 'The Launceston gaol', Examiner (Launceston), 15 May 1913, p. 4,; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 'Feature article - 100 years of prison service: Tasmania's history has a compelling link with prisons', in Tasmanian Year Book, 2004,!OpenDocument; Brown, Joan C., 'Poverty is not a crime': the development of social services in Tasmania, 1803-1900, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart, 1972, 192 pp; White, Rob, 'Prisons', in The companion to Tasmanian history, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, 2005,

Prepared by: Caroline Evans