Your chance to see Adelaide Gaol’s very first prisoner registers

Never-before-seen registers of prisoners from the 1800s are on display this History Day. Find out what’s in store.

You might have driven through the city and seen the imposing walls of the historic Adelaide Gaol as you come up North Terrace, but have you ever stopped in for a look around?

The gaol is one of the oldest remaining colonial public buildings in Adelaide. Open for business from 1841 to 1988, it was one of Australia's longest continuously operational prison facilities.

The site is open to visitors to explore, but in a special one-off event you can now get an even better glimpse into the gaol’s grisly past by scouring the record books to learn about the very first prisoners that were locked away.

Here’s what’s in store:

About the recovered records and how you can see them

History Day on Sunday 2 May is the perfect time for you to visit Adelaide Gaol, especially if you want to see the original copies of ‘Adelaide Gaol Registers A & B’.

These registers include prisoner details written by the first Governor of the gaol, William Ashton, and date from 1848 to 1857.

Previously in hiding, these registers have only recently been recovered – which means they’ve never been seen by members of the public.

They hold all the details about each prisoner, including their name, the offence, the sentence they received, and when they were discharged, along with any other remarks.

The registers are on show thanks to State Records of South Australia, and are just two of a series of four registers that document the prisoners that filed through the gaol in its 147-year history.

Interestingly the two registers covering 1955 to 1988 are still missing. It’s only when they are recovered that the full prisoner history of this iconic site can be pieced together, as they would complete the set of these unique and important historical documents.

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Event details

What: History Day at Adelaide Gaol

When: Sunday 2 May from 10 am to 4 pm

Cost: $5 entry fee. Children under four are free.

Book: Online bookings are encouraged, however entry tickets can be purchased on arrival. 

In addition to the exhibition, there will be lots of fun for the family, including a jumping castle and a sausage sizzle. For information about parking, public transport and other facilities at the Adelaide Gaol, visit the website.

Note: This special exhibition allows exclusive preview access to Registers A and B. For family history research, you can view the registers at the State Records Research Centre in Gepps Cross every Tuesday and Thursday (bookings essential).

What else to see and do

After you’ve checked out the records, explore further afield to learn more about this iconic site and the prisoners that were kept there.

Find out what landed them behind bars, the realities of prison life, and the ways they tried to escape.

Walk through the cells, around the exercise yard and into the hanging tower, or look at the official documents and artefacts of the prisoners and guards, such as mug shots and uniforms.

About the Adelaide Gaol

Built in 1841, Adelaide Gaol is one of the state’s two oldest public buildings, a title it shares with Old Parliament House on North Terrace.

The gaol finally closed its doors in 1988 when the last inmates were transferred to other institutions.

It had operated for 147 years, hosting more than 300,000 prisoners – and executing 45 of them.

Now the gaol is one of Adelaide’s most popular heritage attractions, with self-guided tours available seven days a week, as well as guided historical tours for groups and schools, and ghost tours.

Interested in South Australia’s rich history? Read our stories to learn about our naval history, River Murray shipwrecks, and built heritage captured in pictures.

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