The history, heritage, and restoration
of Pentridge.

Established in 1851, Pentridge is a
state significant, heritage listed former
prison site.

Over almost 150 years, the word ‘Pentridge’ became eponymous with prison. Following the closure of the Melbourne Gaol in the 1920s, Pentridge became the main remand and reception prison for the Melbourne metropolitan area.

Pentridge has housed some of Australia’s most infamous criminals and forms an emotional and dark place in many hearts and minds.

Pentridge is now at the beginning of
a new chapter, undergoing a revival as a destination and meeting place.

The prison finally closed in 1997. At its end, the conditions within were outdated and not up to any modern standard.

The Victorian Government sold the prison in 1999 and since then the prison has seen several different owners.

Purchased by the Shayher Group in 2013, in a derelict state, the depth of the site’s cultural significance has guided its redevelopment.

By changing the perspective from a derelict site to one of Melbourne’s cultural assets, the iconic bluestone walls of Pentridge live on to see a new era.

There are many stories to be shared, there is much to learn and reflect on, as we acknowledge the history entrenched at Pentridge.

Preserving the past

Pentridge’s past is riddled with suffering, of which we remain respectful. Areas of historical significance remain protected and heritage elements are being retained to serve as a humbling reminder of the past. We seek to create a place that recognises the importance of Pentridge’s past, whilst welcoming a new community of residents, locals, and visitors.

The Conservation Management Plan sets out the basis for the preservation of the physical environment at Pentridge. The Heritage Interpretation Masterplan sets out our approach to showcasing and interpreting the history and heritage of Pentridge.

Pentridge Prison Tours launched in 2023, giving all a chance to look inside the walls of one of Australia’s most infamous prisons.


The history of Pentridge

The Stockade, Pentridge, Melbourne (1849). Source: State Library of Victoria

Pentridge Stockade

In December, 16 prisoners are marched by armed warders from the Melbourne Gaol to The Stockade, Pentridge. This action sees the commencement of what is to become Pentridge Prison.

The prison begins as a stockade made of moveable log hulks surrounded by inadequate fencing. Local residents are outraged by the lack of security.
Plan of Pentridge Prison C1859. Source: From Pentonville to Pentridge (1996)

The gold rush and population boom

Driven by the discovery of gold in Victoria, the local population surges to over 600,000 due to immigrants arriving. The increase in population leads to a rise in crime and the need for more established prison facilities.

Between 1857 and 1864, the second phase of Pentridge Prison construction is undertaken. The perimeter walls, the administration building, A, B and the later named C and F Divisions and the Warders’ Residence are built during this period.

Separate and silent

Within Pentridge, prison philosophy revolves around the idea that silence and solitude are the best methods of reforming prisoners. The 'separate and silent' system was continued for almost 50 years at Pentridge. Under this system, prisoners are housed in cells for 23 hours a day. One hour a day is set aside for inmates to be ‘aired’. This is carried out in wedge-shaped exercise yards called ‘airing yards’. The circular-shaped yard features a central observation tower from which the gaoler can observe the prisoners.

Also known as Panopticons, there are only eight known airing yards of this style in the world. Three of these were found at Pentridge.
A Division. Source: State Library of Victoria

A new main prison for women

The construction of a new cell block building is completed in the northern part of the prison grounds, and used as a female prison. Later known as A Division, the cell block was then used as a male prison.
Monsignor Charles O’Hea Photograph: Benard Fox

From Pentridge to Coburg

Charles O’Hea, an Irish-Australian local priest, calls a public meeting to change the name of Pentridge village as residents are tired of the embarrassment of being associated with Pentridge Stockade and the prison (locally known as Pentridge also). The prison depreciated property values in the area.

A petition is signed by 191 residents and landowners and submitted to the Board of Land and Works. The government consents to the change and in March 1870, Pentridge (the district) is officially renamed Coburg. Coburg has royalist associations and proved a popular choice. Other names included Merrivale (due to Merri Creek), Tipperary, Donegal and Limerick which were suggested by Irish-born residents at the behest of local Protestants.

The prison philosophy of silence and solitude continues to reign

Within the walls of Pentridge, prisoners continue to live a life of silence and solitude. Talking is forbidden and the prisoners are addressed only by their cell numbers. Even at dinner, silence is observed, post which they are immediately sent back to their cells.

The Stawell Royal Commission

As a result of the Stawell Royal Commission, an extensive work program is implemented with a number of industries established at Pentridge including a woollen mill, tailors shop, blacksmith, carpenters workshop and timber yard.
Pentridge – J.T. Collins Collection. Source: La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria

Another female prison within Pentridge

A newly constructed cell block division at the southern end of the prison is opened as the main Female Prison at Pentridge.

Completely segregated from the male prison, the division has a female Governor and female prison guards.
Entrance F Division, Pentridge. Photographer Alan K Jordan (Copyright). Source: State Library of Victoria

The growth of Pentridge

The Melbourne Gaol closes and Pentridge supersedes it as the main remand and reception prison for the metropolitan area.
Bunk Beds, F Division, Pentridge. Photographer Alan K Jordan (Copyright). Source: State Library of Victoria

The end of Pentridge’s women’s prison

The purpose-built women’s prison, H.M. Prison Fairlea is constructed. The opening of Fairlea brings to an end, the use of Pentridge as a permanent women’s prison.

The cell block building previously used to hold female prisoners becomes the Metropolitan Gaol for prisoners on remand, and now known as D Division.
H Division (1959). Source: Herald Sun.

H Division

Following a series of escapes which placed the spotlight on a lack of security at Pentridge, the eastern section of A Division and the labour yards were sealed off to create a new, maximum security section known as H Division. This division then held Victoria’s most troublesome, violent and dangerous prisoners.
D Division Gallows. Source: Coburg Historical Society

The last hanging

Ronald Ryan is hanged at D Division Pentridge and becomes the last person to be legally hanged in Australia. Sentenced to death, Ryan was found guilty of shooting and killing prison warder George Hodson during an escape from Pentridge.

In 1985, the death penalty is abolished in all states of Australia.
C Division Cells (1968) Source: State Library of Victoria

Inhumane prison cell conditions

Conditions in the C Division prison cells are grossly outdated — harsh and inhumane with prisoners provided only a blanket, horsehair sleeping mat and bucket. There are no lavatories.
F Division quadrangle, Pentridge. Photographer Alan K Jordan (Copyright). Source: State Library of Victoria

Pentridge under scrutiny

A time of unrest, the year witnessed much political and social radicalism. Scrutiny on the treatment of criminals highlighted their rights, bringing the concept of prison reform to the fore.
C Division Cell Block prior to demolition, c1970. Source: Picture Victoria

Scrutiny leads to demolition

C Division (prison cell block) is demolished. The structure was deemed inhumane long before; prisoners used buckets as toilets, and for years there was no electricity.
Jika Jika, K Division, Pentridge. Source: Coburg Historical Society.

A new maximum-security division

Jika Jika, later to be known as K Division, opens as a new maximum-security division, designed to house the more troublesome prisoners formerly held in H Division.
Main entrance, H.M. Prison Pentridge. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A deathly fire

A fire in K Division is started by inmates and results in the death of five prisoners. The maximum-security division is closed immediately, a mere eight years after opening.
Pentridge Square and former mustering yard, c1992. Source: Picture Victoria

The official closure of Pentridge

Pentridge officially closed on 1 May 1997, ceasing all operations as a prison. Most prisoners are relocated to H.M. Prison Barwon.

In 1999, the State Government of Victoria sells Pentridge to developers Crema and Barbon in partnership with the Chiavaroli’s.

Development and Restoration

The sale of Pentridge

Following the sale by the Victorian Government, Pentridge is split into two sites, Pentridge Coburg and Pentridge Village.

In 2007, Pentridge Coburg changed hands. During this time, the old Pentridge Stockade area to the east of what is now Stockade Avenue is developed into housing, leaving the Pentridge Piazza (old mustering yard) and all the bluestone heritage buildings in need of maintenance, restoration and reactivation.

A new vision for Pentridge

Shayher Group purchases Pentridge Coburg, with the vision and intent to reactivate the site and open up Pentridge and its heritage buildings to the local community.

Work in progress at Pentridge

Establishment of a safe worksite is completed, including the removal of over 6,000 cubic metres of stockpiles and rubbish left behind from the development of Pentridge Village and previous works surrounding the precinct.

The state of the prison and its heritage buildings is one of disrepair. The grounds are overgrown, heritage building roofs have collapsed and flood damage is prevalent.

The end of J Division

J Division, a modern addition to the prison and once home to juvenile offenders and long-term prisoners with good behaviour records, is demolished.

Archaeology work underway

DIG International commence archaeology work onsite, focusing on the buried foundations of C Division and the exercise yards of A and B Divisions.

Infrastructure work begins

Road and infrastructure works begin, including installation of a 600,000-litre underground water tank to service the Pentridge precinct.

Non-original parts of the Rock Breaking Yards are partially demolished in preparation for restoration.
The Murray Road northern perimeter bluestone heritage wall is reinforced and saved from collapse.

Rock Breaking Yard restoration

Rock Breaking Yard restoration commences.

Construction of the Horizon apartments begins, road and infrastructure work continues.

Pentridge opens its doors

The Pentridge Open Day is held with an estimated 8,000 locals visiting Pentridge, the first time many have seen the prison since its closure.

A new beginning at Pentridge

Road and infrastructure work is completed.

Restoration of the A Division roof, completion of the Rock Breaking Yards restoration (restored to their condition of the early 1900s) and restoration of the Guard Towers are carried out in 2016.

The Horizon Apartments build is completed, marking the beginning of a new community of residents at Pentridge.

Restoration continues

The Former Warders’ Residence, E Division and Administration Buildings are stripped and prepared for restoration.

The strip-outs remove modern changes to the buildings, expose their heritage fabric including original room sizes and ceiling heights.

Community Pavilion design competition

The Piazza Pavilion design competition is held, seeking a cutting-edge architectural design for the master planned community pavilion. Peer reviewed by industry stakeholders, Ola Architecture Studios submit the winning entry, with OSK Architects and BoardGrove Architects receiving high commendations.

The permit application is subsequently refused at Heritage Victoria and the project does not proceed.

Heritage facade restorations and Shopping Centre excavation

The façade restorations of the Former Warders’ Residence, E Division and the Administration Building are completed.

Piazza landscaping works commence.

Excavation of the Pentridge Shopping Centre basement car park begins.

Building of Pentridge Shopping Centre commences

Construction of Pentridge Shopping Centre and Cinema commence.

Apartment construction

Construction of Victoria Tower and The Rook begins in June 2019.

Completion of Piazza and heritage restoration

Pentridge Piazza and heritage interpretation works are completed, including the façade restoration of B Division.

A new era at Pentridge begins

Pentridge opens to the public, beginning a new chapter for the former prison site.

Heritage restoration work

Pentridge Prison Tours

This is an invitation for curious minds to learn about a past that is confronting to discover, yet crucial to not forget.