“To give a descriptive account of the whereabouts and outside appearance of the Wollongong Gaol would be unnecessary, as it is so well known”. These were the words written by Frank Warden in 1884, however today, 132 years later, the majority of Wollongong’s residents are unaware that a gaol ever existed in the region. To continue with Warden’s account, he wrote that “suffice to say that it is a small building situated in Harbour Street, facing Belmore Basin, and although it is small, it is gradually and slowly being enlarged”.
The foundations for the gaol were laid in June 1859 and it was expected to be finished in six months. By December, The Illawarra Mercury reported that the building was almost ready but fortunately there were no ‘tenants awaiting its completion’. It was seen as an ‘elegant’ building in one of the more desirable areas of town.
The construction was reported in numerous newspapers. The Australian Home Companion reported the gaol was now finished and that all the workmen were ‘levelling the ground and putting up the enclosing fence’. There were six cells, of 474 cubic feet each, holding small numbers of prisoners, however it was suggested that perhaps a larger space would be needed in the future. The Sydney Morning Herald relayed that the Sherriff, Mr. Brenan, had officially inspected the gaol and recommended ‘such alterations as will afford more room and greater facilities for carrying out hard labour punishments’. The fence was being made higher and a course of stonework was being laid to prevent escape. The ‘apartments’ inside were also fitted with newer, stronger doors. From 1861 through to 1899, the Gaol had many additions and alterations. By 1874, the gaol had 12 cells that could comfortably hold 36 prisoners.
Wollongong Gaol primarily housed short sentence prisoners. Charges of drunkenness, riotous behaviour, prostitution or theft, although serious, were considered low level offences. Serious crime such as rape, or murder saw prisoners sent to Darlinghurst. As a result of housing low level lawbreakers, closure was always imminent. In 1896, there were only 22 prisoners in the gaol, along with a day officer, one night officer, and the head warder and matron. It was decided the establishment would finally be reduced to a Police Gaol in January 1897. Once the gaol was reduced in capacity it would employ one constable, who would receive a ‘slight increase on pay’.
Wollongong Gaol was closed by proclamation on the 31 October 1915. Warder Mintorn and Constable Gibbons were transferred out of town to take up employment elsewhere. Demolition of the gaol building was reported in 1919, with the construction of cottages to be built under the ‘Government Housing Scheme’, with some remaining in Harbour Street today.
 Illawarra Mercury, 17 Apr. 1884, p.2
 Anne Sneddon, 1858 Wollongong Court House (Old Courthouse Management Committee: 2008), p.18.
 The Australian Home Companion and Band of Hope Journal, Sat. 19 Nov 1859 p.22.
 Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Nov. 1859, p.4.
 Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Dec. 1859, p.5.
 Illawarra Mercury, 6 Aug. 1896, p.2.
 SRNSW: NSW Government Gazette, 27 October 1915, p.6172.
 Illawarra Mercury, 16 Nov. 1915, p.2.
 Illawarra Mercury, 7 Nov. 1919, p.2.