Gaol celebrates 130 years
Wednesday, 6th November, 2019
By Emily McInerney
The Silverton Gaol is celebrating its 130th year on Sunday, but it almost didn’t make it after it was advertised for public auction in the 1960s.
The gaol was erected as a makeshift wood and iron structure in 1889. Prisoners were prevented from escaping at night with leg-irons, and when there were too many for the cells they would be chained up to a peppercorn tree.
When Broken Hill built its own gaol in 1892, the Silverton Gaol was mainly used for short-term prisoners such as such as overnight lock-ups. It fell out of use by the 1930s.
The gaol cost 10,070 pounds to build and was used for three years before the Broken Hill gaol and courthouse was built.
In the 1930s it was used as a boys’ home and it was also a police station.
It officially shut in 1943 and was believed to have been a residence for a number of families.
In December 1965 it was advertised in the Barrier Miner that there would be a public auction in January 1966.
It caused a flurry of activity because any purchase would have meant it being torn down.
The Broken Hill Historical Society’s president J.J Prendergast wrote to the then Member of Sturt asking for it to be retained as a historical and tourist attraction.
There was a stay of execution and the building was taken over by Crown Lands.
The Silverton Gaol became the Silverton Gaol Museum on September 15, 1968.
Ross Wecker, current coordinator of the Silverton Gaol Museum, has been a volunteer for about three years.
“I retired from TAFE and I was looking for something to do,” Mr Wecker said.
“I also wanted to give back. I spoke to Jim Daly and he encouraged me to go for it.”
Mr Wecker said when the co-ordinator passed away, he stepped into the role.
“We’ve been very busy with renovations, alterations and improvements.
“We’ve had a whole new roof put in, fixed a number of external cracks in the walls, downpipes and drains have been fixed and we removed dirt from the ceiling.
“We’re working on sealing the ceilings and painting everything, fixed the flooring and verandah, which had white ants.
“Eventually I want to go through the whole place.
“We have a very vast collection. We spend a lot of time on maintenance, cleaning and organising - it never ceases.”
Mr Wecker said they also receive a lot of donations to display in the museum.
“We have to keep on top of it. We’re running out of space - we might have to add another room.
“Then we will have 19 rooms on show.
“People often say there is too much to look at - we say it’s value for money.”
Mr Wecker said when it’s not busy with visitors, volunteers will clean or brush up on their history.
“We keep cleaning and reading - that’s the only way to learn.
“Broken Hill and Silverton have a fantastic and very interesting history.”
He said the latest big acquisition was a portrait of Charles Rasp which had been damaged.
It’s now in Melbourne being looked over to see what repairs can be done.
“It will cost quite a bit of money. We’re hoping to get BHP to come to the table. If not, we will sort something out.”
There are seven volunteers who work one a day a week each to keep the museum open.
“We’re always looking for volunteers, you don’t have to know the history; you can learn that.”
It’s been a really big two years for Silverton Gaol Museum.
Last year saw the 50th anniversary of Silverton Gaol’s opening as a local historical museum - a big achievement for Broken Hill Historical Society.
Mr Wecker said visitors were always in awe of the museum.
“People say it’s the best museum in Australia.
“They say it’s inspiring, interesting and very extensive.
“They often say it’s the most comprehensive collection they’ve seen in Australia.”
A favourite thing to do is find long-lost family members.
“We had a girl from Switzerland who found her great, great, grandfather, which was J P Flood (a trooper at Silverton Gaol), “ Mr Wecker said.
“The family had never had a photo of him, so we were able to get a copy to them.
“Another pair of ladies came in and spent three days in the Silverton room; they were able to fill most of their family tree.”
On Sunday, the Gaol Museum is inviting everyone to join in a day of fun and food and wander through the gaol and its exhibits.
The celebration will be held between 10am and 2pm and will include a historical treasure-hunt for kids and a jumping castle.
It will offer a barbecue lunch with tea and coffee.
There’ll also be the cutting of a special mammoth cake, at about 1pm, and a few speeches.
Entry fee is $2 and lunch is also $2.
WHAT: Silverton Gaol 130th Anniversary
WHEN: Sunday, 10am - 2pm