The breakwater

Trial Bay had been recognised as a safe shipping refuge from southerlies ever since its naming after the wreck of the Brig Trial in 1817. In the 19th century, coastal shipping was the main means of transport. Between 1863 and 1866 some 90 ships and 243 lives were lost, forcing the NSW Colonial government to act. In 1870 Parliament voted 10,000 pounds towards the construction of a breakwater to form a “harbour of safe refuge” at Trial Bay.

The gaol

The Trial Bay Gaol was established in 1876 as an experimental Public Works Gaol where the inmates would construct the breakwater. Although work started in 1877, it was not completed until 1886 due to difficulties in working the hard stone, inconsistent funding and contractual problems.

When the second (southern) wing of the gaol was completed in 1900, electric lights, a new kitchen, scullery, bakehouse, toilets, wash house and weather shed were installed in the complex, strongly indicating NSW Government support for the Public Works Gaol experiment. Yet only three years later work was abandoned and the gaol was closed in July 1903. Severe storms and increasing costs had seen only some 300 metres of the planned 1500 metre break wall completed. External buildings were auctioned in 1904, and after 17 years of use, the abandoned gaol remained as testimony to an experiment with humane prison reform. With the onset of World War 1, the old gaol was given a new lease of life as a German internment camp (19151918). After the war, a caretaker was installed and, with no foreseeable future, the gaol was stripped of all movable buildings and materials in 1922, leaving the heritage listed ruin that you see today.

Continue »


return to Migration Heritage Centre site

click to enlarge

The Gentle Art of Photography, c. 1900s, NPWS Collection