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History Unlocked

Signage front of building, History unlocked Dunedin GAOL, former Dunedin prison, New Zealand


The Dunedin Gaol opened in 1898, and has a special and rare architectural value. It is the only Victorian-era courtyard design gaol in Australasia. The Gaol is largely unmodified, with its layout remaining intact and much original fabric and features retained.

The Dunedin GAOL formerly the Dunedin Prison opened in 1898 and closed in 2007 and is now run by an incorporated society called the Dunedin Prison Charitable Trust.

The Gaol is recognised internationally as a rare example of a purpose-built late-Victorian courtyard prison. The building was designed by John Campbell, Chief Government Architect, who also designed the Gaol’s neighbouring buildings, the Dunedin Police Station and the Dunedin Law Courts. Construction of the Gaol started in 1895 and was completed in 1898.

Campbell built the Gaol in the Queen Anne (revival) style. Echoing Richard Norman Shaw’s design for New Scotland Yard in London, the Gaol includes red brick elevations striped with white Oamaru limestone, cupolas, white mouldings on the gables, English Tudor-style windows, and dormer windows in the roof.

The Gaol also displays Campbell’s skills in exquisite detailing. Although the building has an international model, it is considered by many to be more delicate and refined than its London equivalent.

The Gaol also has a special and rare architectural value, in that it is one of the few Victorian prisons internationally that was built to a courtyard design. The Gaol is possibly the only extant Victorian-era courtyard style gaol in Australasia.


The GAOL is largely unmodified, its layout remaining intact and much original fabric and features having been retained.

The building’s grim interior presents us with an insight into the harsh late nineteenth century prison conditions and philosophies about crime deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation.

The Government’s national prison building programme, led by Colonel Arthur Hume, New Zealand’s first Inspector of Prisons from 1880, was designed to implement the English system of single cells, prisoner separation and classification. Hume believed that prisons needed to be a ‘reformative deterrent’ and that prisoners needed to experience harsher conditions inside prison than on the outside.

The grand exterior of the building creates a different picture altogether. Prominently positioned near Anzac Square in Dunedin, the Gaol is a central part of the picturesque and historically significant Anzac Square Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, the Dunedin Law Courts and Dunedin Railway Station urban heritage precinct. An architecturally distinguished urban space, the precinct provides us with a visual understanding of late nineteenth century Dunedin’s post-goldrush prosperity – at a time when the city was pre-eminent in national politics, university education, and medical and scientific research.