Sunday, 5 April 2015

Oatlands Gaol Archway

This nomadic old doorway has been moved twice in its long life. Once, when it was removed from the gaol and re-erected outside the school on the main road, and a second time when it was returned to its original place. The Oatlands Gaol was built in 1835 and was the largest regional gaol in Tasmania, capable of holding up to 200 prisoners and the only regional gaol attached to a Supreme Court House. The main entry was originally right next door to the gaoler’s residence in the wall facing Barrack St. The arch is 6m high and flanked by two columns, and originally had two heavy wooden doors. The Oatlands Gaol was closed in 1937 and a substantial amount of the building was demolished, despite objections from Oatlands residents who wanted it to remain intact.

In the end, some parts of the site were retained. The gaoler’s residence remained intact, along with the lower portion of the perimeter walls. The archway was taken down and re-erected in front of the Oatlands State School on High St in 1939. It was never quite the same, though. The small segments of prison wall on each side of the gate were reshaped to look more visually appealing at the new site, the wooden gates were lost completely and the bottom three courses of stone were removed to shorten the wall by nearly a metre. The inscribed stone at the top of the arch, which initially read “Erected AD 1836”, was re-inscribed with the details of its 1939 relocation.

While the arch became a prominent part of the Oatlands streetscape for more than 70 years, it steadily fell into a bad state of disrepair and became structurally quite dangerous. In 2011, a large capstone dislodged and fell on High St. Rising damp was further eroding the sandstone’s integrity and it was determined that extensive work would need to be done to ensure its survival. The gaol itself became a sorry site, with the gaoler’s residence derelict and decaying. The old prison yard was converted into the town’s swimming pool in the 1950s, with seeping chlorinated water slowly damaging the old sandstone walls surrounding it.

But in 2009, the Southern Midlands Council endorsed a master plan for restoring and preserving the historic site. Part of that plan involved moving the archway from the Main Rd back to its original position at the gaol. Ironically, this created a heritage debate of its own, over whether it was more important to restore the 1835 heritage of the gaol, or to preserve the 1939 heritage value of the arch in its new location. Eventually it was determined the arch should be returned to its original position at the gaol. It has now been rebuilt on its old foundations and to its original specifications.

Main Text & Information & Relocated Archway Photo – 

Historic Photo -
LINC Tasmania -  Oatlands Gaol Outside View