adventuring – Hobart penitentiary chapel

While I’m on leave, Monday is my day for adventures.

I take Juniordwarf to school and then I have the whole day in Hobart to explore while I wait to pick him up at the end of the day.

The first week I went to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Last week I went on a short excursion with Juniordwarf’s class in the morning. In the afternoon I decided to do a tour of the Penitentiary Chapel in Brisbane Street.

This is a building I’ve been past countless times, and I vaguely remember having been on a tour in my childhood. I didn’t remember much at all about it, so it was all very new to me.

ImageIt turns out that the building was originally built as a chapel for convicts who were housed at the Penitentiary, which spanned pretty much the entire Campbell Street block from Brisbane Street down to Bathurst Street, and (up to Melville Street) is now the headquarters of the Tasmanian Ambulance Service.

There is a low stone wall along the block that used to be 20 feet high, but the only suggestion the wall was ever this big is these stones at the back of the chapel building in Campbell Street.


The reason a chapel was built on the gaol site was that the convicts who were housed there were attending church at St David’s, in Murray Street, and not all of them made it there every week, so it was decided to build a chapel on-site.

The chapel was designed by the architect John Lee Archer, who designed several public buildings in Hobart, including Parliament House (which was originally the Customs House). One of the features was the tiered seating, which allowed for the construction of solitary confinement cells underneath.

ImageThe convicts entered from within the gaol complex.

ImageThis is what it looks like today:

ImageVery soon after the chapel was built it was decided that there was a need for somewhere for overflow members of St David’s to go to church, so members of the public were allocated to the North wing and a tower providing a street entrance off Brisbane Street was added. Because of the design of the tiered seating, the people had to climb several flights of stairs to get into the chapel. The clock tower is still standing.

ImageThis is what is looked like from Brisbane Street:

ImageIn total, 1500 people were accommodated – 500 in each wing.

Since its construction the complex has undergone many changes. The chapel no longer exists, having been converted into courtrooms in the 1850s.

ImageThese courtrooms were used until 1983 and the prisoners were moved to Risdon Prison in the 1960s.

ImageThe tour was fascinating and I was disappointed to have to miss the end of it because of some unexpected events. Barry the tour guide was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the site, and it was great to explore somewhere almost in my own backyard that I might never have thought to visit if I hadn’t been at a loose end that day.

ImageIf you’re interested in Hobart’s history, the Penitentiary Chapel is definitely worth a visit.

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