Friday, May 15, 2020

Barricading the gaol

’There is a great deal of excitement in the Town, and the Gaol Authorities fearing violence have barricaded and strengthened the Entrance, as well as made a door as close to the Court as possible by which to take the prisoners too [sic] and from Trial. I remarked that people might break doors to get out, but that I hardly thought they would break them to get into the prison.’ This is from the personal diaries of John Buckley Castieau, a colonial prison official born 190 years ago today. The edited diaries are freely available online thanks to the National Library of Australia, and are considered a ‘vital record of daily life in Melbourne during its years as one of the Empire’s leading cities’.

Very little is known about Castieau’s background. He was born on 15 May 1830 in Gosport, Hampshire, England, the son of John B. Castieau of Portsmouth and Emma née Whitcombe. With a reasonable education behind him, he emigrated to Australia in 1852, accompanied by two sisters, their parents having, perhaps, separated. Soon after arriving, he secured a position as turnkey at Melbourne Gaol. Almost immediately, he was promoted to senior turnkey then, within two years, promoted again to gaoler at the Eastern Gaol; another two years later he was governor of Beechworth Gaol (some 200km northeast of Melbourne). While at Beechworth, he was an official witness to the hanging of Ned Kelly - see Wikipedia. He married Mary Moore (who he called Polly) in 1858, and they had six children. After more than a decade, Castieau returned to Melbourne, in 1869, to serve as governor of the Melbourne Gaol; and, in 1881, he was appointed Inspector-General of Penal Establishments. He retired in 1884, partly because the authorities were dissatisfied with his performance, and partly because of ill-health. He died in 1885.

Throughout his career in the colonial prison service, Castieau kept a detailed diary. This was edited by Mark Finnane and published by the National Library of Australia (which holds the Castieau manuscripts) in 2004 as The Difficulties of My Position: The diaries of Prison Governor John Buckley Castieau, 1855-1884. The full work is freely available online at the Library’s website (and is the only online source I can find with biographical information on Castieau). A review of the book is available here.

In his introduction, Finnane says: ‘What makes Castieau exceptional in the historical record is what he left behind him - a collection of diaries that cover (intermittently) three decades of his life as prison warder, governor and inspector-general; his years as a young lad in the wild early days of the newly-separated colony; his hypochondria; his feelings as a Victorian husband and father with a capacity for ironic reflection on the relations of the sexes; and his experiences as an urban clubman who read and conversed with some of the leading figures in Victorian cultural life of the 1870s. The diaries are, above all, a vital record of daily life in Melbourne during its years as one of the Empire’s leading cities. As a rich domestic and professional daily record, they demand attention beside other personal insights into colonial life, such as those of the police functionary and clubman Frederick Standish, or even of the more literary Annie Baxter Dawbin.’ 

Here are several examples from Castieau’s diaries as found in Finanne’s book.

16 January 1855
‘Purchased this Diary for which I paid 10/- and considered reasonable, it being but 50 per cent over the Home cost.

Went to the Main Gaol to hear tidings of the State Prisoners, charged with Treason in taking up arms against the Government at Balaarat. The Judge remanded them for 10 days, stating that being charged with High Treason, they were entitled to that term of clear notice with copies of their indictments from the opening of the Sessions. Mr Ireland the Counsel for the Defence, stated he was prepared to proceed at once, but the Chief Justice preferred granting the priviledge allowed by the Law.

This conduct seems evidently to betray an inclination on the part of the Governt. to let the matter gradually drop, and in my opinion the men will not be tried at all.

There is a great deal of excitement in the Town, and the Gaol Authorities fearing violence have barricaded and strengthened the Entrance, as well as made a door as close to the Court as possible by which to take the prisoners too [sic] and from Trial. I remarked that people might break doors to get out, but that I hardly thought they would break them to get into the prison.

The Visiting Magistrate inspected the Gaol today. I wrote a letter to my sister at Geelong, enclosing one from our Father to her.’

17 March 1855
‘This was the last day of the Races, and I began early in the morning to feel much inclined to go. At length after preparing for contingencies, I tossed a Coin in the air declaring it it tell Head uppermost I would go if Tail I’d stay at home. It came down head so away I went to the Bull and Mouth, jumped into an omnibus that was about starting, and found myself on the course before the first advertised race came off. Mr Sub Inspector Smith kindly passed me on to the Grand Stand, where I of course got a good view, and although the horses were not the fastest, yet the riders evidently rode to win, and consequently made the matches somewhat exciting. Mr G.V. Brooke & Miss Cathcart with some of the Town Company were quietly starring in a corner of the Stand. I bet a sovereign during the day, but fortune frowned and I had to pay it.

Coming home I met a girl who I saw once at Dr Stillman’s. I made an appointment to go with her to the Concert Room in the evening. I met her at eight o clock. To our disgust we met the doctor at the Concert. He had come into town along with Newby, though very much against his ordinary custom. Made the best of a bad job and eventually I saw the damsel part of the way home, made another appointment. Felt very excited last evening, and chatted away to several women till I believe the Doctor thought me a great rake. However I got him and Newby to come home with me and take a nobbler or two before they made way for Richmond.’

14 November 1855
‘Went to the main Gaol with some ordinary business papers. Dr Youl called at my Gaol while I was absent. Went to the Railway Station to see Fox, arranged with him for rehearsal at the Station in the evening.

Received a lunatic from Sandhurst. Went with Neild to look over a collection of old books that had been purchased by one of his friends, bought two volumes of Elegant Extracts, a French Dictionary, Bacon’s Essays & two odd volumes tor 7/6.

Attended Rehearsal in the evening made a great deal of noise, but read the Play throughout. Got home about a quarter to eleven o clock.

Dr Webster paid ordinary visit to the Gaol. The lunatics have been very troublesome during the day.’

8 December 1856
‘Nethercott my Head Turnkey complained to me of having been annoyed by an ex-prisoner on Sunday. Nethercott had been to the Woolshed & was returning home when he called at the Alliance Hotel for a drink. Healey a man who some time since was in Gaol for 14 days, there accused him of tyranny & bullied him before several other people, inviting him to fight & daring him to come again down the Creek.
Nethercott is a very respectable man and one who simply complies with the Orders he receives from me. He is very sober & would not I am sure molest or say a disrespectful word to any person unless first insulted. I therefore advised him to summon Healey & he accordingly did so.

Tis a most annoying thing for a Government Officer to have to receive insult when he knows he has merely performed his duty. The cry of ‘Joe’ seems puerile and beyond being cared for by a man of sense but yet as it is intended to insult & annoy, none but the most callous can hear it without getting out of temper or feeling humiliated.’

20 May 1857
‘Somewhere about this time I dined at the Star with Martin, Hall, one or two others and Truwhitt a solicitor.

An argument arose relative to the power of constables & the necessity of individuals yielding themselves without resistance to their Authority when acting upon Warrant.

Truwhitt maintained that if a man were innocent he need not yield to any Warrant and that if in resisting being taken into custody such person were to Kill the Constable the law would hold him not accountable for the Constable’s death.

I said under such circumstances the person resisting a Warrant would if he killed the Constable be guilty of Murder as every man is bound to yield himself to the laws of his Country and that if a Warrant were granted the Constable would be simply performing his duty when executing it and therefore his person would be protected by the law, the question of Innocence or Guilt of the Crime charged in the Warrant having nothing to do with the Case.

The Argument produced a Bet. Truwhitt backed his opinion by betting £5 he was right. I accepted the Bet and the subject was to be decided by Mr Mayne the Barrister. I won and after considerable quibbling was paid.’

1 January 1859
‘The Beechworth Races took place. I attended two of the days and made several bets all of which I lost; one evening I played at Loo and with that Game and the Races together expended eleven pounds.

Patrick Hamilton, Coulen and a Comic Singer of the name of Pierce have been giving Concerts at the Eldorado. I went to several of them.

The Wesleyans gave a Fancy Bazaar in aid of the funds for building their chapel. I went and met a rather nice girl who was acting as Post-Mistress. She is now engaged to Le Mair and I have been introduced to her by him.

I get along very well with most people but find it a very difficult matter to save any money. I however intend to try in future to do so.

The Beechworth Garrick Club is established. I am Vice President, we find however great difficulty in getting the Members to take sufficient personal interest to keep it together.

Yesterday December 30th 1858, I took an important step in my life’s journey, that step was getting married. I was attracted at the Church of England Bazaar held about six weeks since by the many charms and eminent business capabilities of Miss Moore. We kept a Lottery together, & flirted to an extent that brought us into notoriety. Polly got very much talked about & her name severely handled, however we continued to be very much together & when the Bazaar was over, took plenty of walks, had the usual sweets lovers indulge in & innumerable quarrels. At length however we made up our minds to be man & wife. This was on Sunday December 26th; that same night we agreed to be married on the 30th.’

15 May 1870
‘Weather fine this morning though wet under foot. This is my Birthday I am forty years old now & must begin to think myself fast sliding into the middle aged man & losing the right to be considered a young one. As soon as I awoke Polly wished me many Happy Returns & sealed her wish with what I am sure was a good honest kiss, as soon as I got down stairs the youngsters all rushed & overpowered me with their congratulations. Took Harry Sissy & Dotty to church. In the afternoon Polly was about taking the children to see Mrs Smith, the girls however insisted on my taking them out as it was my Birthday so thinking to give them a treat I consented to go with Polly & Five of the youngsters to Sandridge. Godfrey was very rowdy & it was with difficulty he could be kept at all right, he shouted the whole way to Sandridge. When we got there, the Fare was 2/3. The Cabman rather a cheeky fellow said ‘I’ll toss you 2/6 or 2/-’. I laughing said ‘all right’. This raised the dander of Mrs C & she got very much out of temper & the pleasure of the afternoon was lost. I got sulky & so we dragged along disgusted with ourselves & everything around.’

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