For many years after its construction in 1850, Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Prison Pentridge was a place of dread. Today, though it has a grim and violent history, Pentridge is an entirely different place.
Inmates inside the controversial housing facility have included some of Australia’s notorious criminals – among them Ned Kelly and Chopper Read – and others who were startlingly ordinary, such as John Eastwood – who was imprisoned in 1886 for ‘being idle and disorderly’ – and Thomas Bowen – also imprisoned in 1886, for ‘stealing a pipe.’
Since its closure in 1997, the site has undergone a dramatic change; a towering apartment complex now stands not far from where a panopticon once stood, tongue-in-cheek real estate advertisements boasting to potential buyers ‘You hold the key.’ Within the complex, you can even find a small laneway named ‘Success Lane’, the word startlingly at odds with the sentiments of those who were once housed within its imposing bluestone walls. While changes are hard to avoid at any historical site, the changes at Pentridge have prompted discussion about how history fares in the face of development, and how best to preserve such an integral, if bleak, part of Victoria’s history.
Tours of Pentridge that give visitors a chance to look inside the walls of this famous prison are scheduled to begin in 2022. Local historians are hoping that the dark side of Pentridge’s past is fully explored.
Read about the history of Pentridge in Edition 16 of Traces.