The old Darlinghurst gaol is one of Sydney's oldest and best preserved examples of colonial sandstone architecture, which over the last two centuries has transformed from a place of abject misery to one of Australia's premier arts institutes.
According to legend, the building is haunted by the restless ghosts of some of the 76 people who were executed at the gaol’s gallows. Among those who met their demise at the end of a rope were bushranger Andrew George Scott, better known as Captain Moonlite, in 1880, and the last woman to be hanged in NSW, Louisa Collins, in 1889.
The massive exterior walls were built between 1822-1824 using convict labour with sandstone quarried from the nearby Barcom Glen. The completed walls became known as the Woolloomooloo Stockade and were used to house convict work gangs. Due to lack of funding, work did not commence on the gaol buildings themselves until 1836. Along with royal engineer George Barney, the Colonial Architect Mortimer Lewis completed the plans for the gaol and based it on the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.
In June 1841, 119 male and 50 female manacled and chained prisoners were marched from the old George St gaol through the Domain escorted by 50 guards. They were jeered and pelted with rotten fruit along the way. The first execution at Darlinghurst Gaol, a hanging on the scaffold inside the Forbes St Gate, took place on the 29 October 1841 and the last one took place on the same date in 1907. 76 prisoners were hanged at Darlinghurst during this time.
The conditions in the gaol were constantly criticised by the end of the 19th Century. Originally built to house 420 prisoners and staff, by 1900 there were 732 prisoners, air circulation was poor, there was little drainage and suburbs were by then surrounding the gaol. In 1912 Long Bay Correctional Centre was established and by 1914 all prisoners moved there from Darlinghurst.
During the First World War, the site was used as a military detention camp. A lot of the original carvings and woodwork were destroyed during this time, including the chanticleer weather vane on top of the Chapel, which was replaced during the 1970s.
In 1921-22 the gaol was converted to a Technical College. Most of the cells were removed, the windows enlarged and some of the exercise yards removed to allow for landscaping. The National Art School was moved from Sydney Technical College at Ultimo and has remained at the Darlinghurst site since then.
We offer Gaol tours twice a month see here for more details
The National Art School is committed to the responsible management and conservation of the historic Darlinghurst Gaol site while the buildings are maintained and adapted.
Download the Conservation Management Plan