Just a year after the first four ships arrived, it came apparent that Canterbury needed a gaol! What was to be a perfect new colony soon was tainted by the nature of man. So Lyttelton Gaol was opened in 1851, designed by Benjamin Woolfield Mountford and built by the prisoners themselves. Prisoners also made the staff uniforms, even the boots.
Lyttelton Gaol, situated on Oxford Street, could house a maximum of 300 prisoners; such as murderers, lunatics, debtors and thieves. Seven men were hanged inside the walls between 1868 and 1918. There were even 29 cells for female inmates. At the time it was the largest jail in the country.
It was closed and demolished in 1922 when Paparoa Prison opened. Only 3 cells remain along with an over-bearing prison wall. Today the old gaol houses a garden, a memorial clock for Dr. Upham and Lyttelton Main School. Standing inside, you feel the depressing shadow of the place but yet, you can view the harbour in all its glory – it’s hard to imagine a gaol in such a place.
*image courtesy of Victoria – University of Wellington – http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/