Historic Berrima Gaol  

8 September 1942 Narrandera Argus and Riverina Advertiser 

Convict Days Recalled

Berrima Gaol, one of the most historic structures in the Commonwealth and through whose portals there passed many of Australia's mast daring bushrangers and murderers, was recently completely gutted by a fire which broke out in the sentry tower. 

The structure was already housing some valuable Commonwealth and State property, and had just under gone further renovation to prepare it for the reception of additional valuable documents and treasures from Canberra and Sydney.

This work, it is believed, ran into some hundreds of pounds. 

The men in occupation when the fire broke out had time only to throw their belongings clear before the whole of the interior of the building was ablaze, and they then turned their attention to a great deal of valuable material which was stored on the ground floor.

Some of the men experienced narrow escapes, as molten lead and displaced slates showered down from the top floor. 

They were struck by pieces of falling masonry, but kept to their task and saved the whole of the Government property on the premises.

Its Grim History 

The gaol was commenced in 1834 and completed by convict labour in 1839 from sandstone quarried by convicts who worked in iron chains.

The stone structure and portion of the roof are the only sections that now remain to remind the visitor of disciplinary standards in the early penal settlement days, and later, of the gang of bushrangers and murderers who marched to the gallows. 

Once Busy Town 

Berrima in those days was one of the busiest towns in the State, and one of the most important marketing and posting stages that dotted the great southern road from Sydney, with its dozens of roadside Inns and hotels to welcome the traveller.

The First Trial 

The first trial of note to take place in the court house, adjoining the gaol premises, was that of Parry Curran, who came before the Chief Justice, Sir James Dowling, in October, 1841, and was sentenced to death. 

The second man executed at the gaol was Lynch, who on being led to the gallows, admitted to 15 murders, his final act before capture being the wiping out of a whole family of five persons.

Lucretia Dunkly was executed for the murder of a wealthy guest in a small roadside hotel she owned on the Goulburn road, which is better known as "The Three Legs o' Man." 

Dunkly's skull is preserved in the Australian Museum.

Others to meet, their end at the hand of the hangman were Martin Beech and Henry Atkins, the last on the record. 

Escaped Through Drainpipe 

During the history of the gaol only two men ever escaped from custody once they had passed through the iron grille, guarding the entrance. 

Their names are Cummins and Southgate, both men planning to make their escape together.

Taking a desperate chance, they lifted the huge stone that gave them access to the drainage system that had its outlet in the bank of the Berrima River four hundred yards distant.

They crawled through the pipe, and made a clear getaway, but were recaptured at Bathurst two weeks later.

Walls Still Stands Firm 

From the outside, the visitor will not notice much amiss about the old relic, which many people living in Berrima and the surrounding district would like to see demolished, excepting that the familiar slate roof has disappeared from two of the wings and partly from the third.

The gaol walls stand cold and lifeless, the perfectly squared sandstone standing as firm and solid as the day the flags were shaped from the nearby quarries.

Down below, the solitary confinement cells, and the dark cell, almost tell their own story to the visitor, whose curiosity takes him there, so he might gain some knowledge of the treatment meted out to outlaws in the early penal settlement days of the colony