Sunday, November 29, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 86 - Pentridge Prison

Moment in Oddity - Sheep Farts Down Plane

Pilots flying a plane from Australia to Malaysia that was full of 2,186 sheep got quite the start when their fire warning went off. The smoke warning indicated that the cargo hold was full of smoke. They made an emergency landing that kept the plane on the ground for 2.5 hours while the fire warning was investigated. No fire was found anywhere. As a matter of fact, there was no indication of any burning or any smoke at all. But there was a lot of sheep manure. And there seemed to be a lot of gas...from the sheep. Apparently, there was so much farting going on by the sheep that it set off the smoke warning. I've heard of a green haze, but this takes the cake. The plane was cleaned and the sheep were loaded up again and the flight continued to its destination. The fact that sheep farts could bring a plane down for an emergency landing is not only hilarious, its downright odd!

This Day in History - Thomas Edison Invents the Phonograph
by Jessica Bell

On this day, November 29th, in 1877, US inventor Thomas Edison demonstrates his hand cranked phonograph for the first time. Edison was trying to improve the telegraph transmitter when he noticed that the movement of the paper tape through the machine produced a noise resembling spoken words when played at a high speed. His original phonograph was a machine that had two needles, one for playback and one for recording. When Edison spoke into the mouthpiece, the vibrations of his voice would be indented onto a tinfoil sheet coated cylinder via the recording needle. The first words recorded by Edison were “Mary had a little lamb." In 1878, Edison established the Edison Speaking Phonograph company to sell the new machine. Edison suggested many uses for the phonograph; such as letter writing and dictation, phonographic books for blind people, music boxes and toys, just to name a few. In 1917, when the US became involved in World War I, the Edison Company created a special model of the phonograph for the US army so that soldiers could take music off to war with them.

Pentridge Prison

Coburg, Victoria, Australia didn't always have that name. It was originally known as Pentridge and it was infamous for being home to the Pentridge Prison. This prison was one of the most notorious in Australia, housing some of the worst of the worst and was open for 146 years. Today, it is the setting for fashion shows, parties, conferences and even weddings. As is the case with many old jails, this one is restless behind the scenes...or should we say, behind the veil. Spirits roam the cell blocks. Come with us as we explore the history and hauntings of Australia's Pentridge Prison!

Coburg, Victoria was originally occupied by the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. This tribe was spiritually connected to the land upon which they lived and they conducted sacred ceremonies and corroborees there near Merri Creek. Corroboree is the Anglicized version of the Aboriginal word "Caribberie," which is the name given to the singing and dancing ceremonies practiced by the Aboriginies. Not all of these were specifically sacred. Designs were painted on the body that represented the particular ceremony taking place and special costumes and instruments were made. All members of a tribe took part in Corroborees.

Europeans arrived in 1837 to survey the land and the first effort was led by Robert Hoddle. Hoddle marked out a 327 acre area to set up a village. A surveyor named Henry Foot came through in 1840 and he named the village Pentridge after the place where his wife was born: Pentridge, Dorset, England. By 1849, twenty-one farms had been established. It would be the Victorian Gold Rush in the 1850s that would cause the population of Pentridge to really grow. The Victorian Gold Rush followed on the heels of the California Gold Rush. Gold was first discovered in a place known now as Specimen Gully and soon thereafter in Bendigo and Ballarat in Victoria.The gold rush drew men keen to strike it rich, around 500,000 of them. A few claimed getting as much as 96 ounces in one pan, which equals out to about $100,000 today. *Fun fact: 2% of the UK population moved to Victoria in the 1850s.

Some of the prospectors were rough and prone to violence and drink. The population increase led to an increase in crime and the Melbourne Gaol was the closest place to put these characters, but it soon became overcrowded. A spot for a new jail was found in Pentridge about five miles from Melbourne. This gaol was originally known as the Pentridge stockade. It was built in 1851 and officially declared a prison in 1852. The original structure of Pentridge was informal with wooden structures for prisoners to be caged inside. These cages were wheeled so they could be easily transported for labor purposes. Prisoners worked in chain gangs. After deposits of bluestone were found, it became unnecessary to transport the convicts because they could be employed mining the stone right near the jail.

In 1854, "The Crystal Palace" was built over two acres and made of thick hardwood. The walls rose twelve feet high and was considered more secure. Platforms provided a way for guards to keep an eye on all the comings and goings from the prison. It was painted black and food and bedding were sparse for both the guards and the prisoners. Prisoners were kept chained at all times and were forced to sleep in overcrowded  and deplorable conditions. Though this new structure was more challenging to escape from, it did not stop prisoners from plotting and planning escape plans.

A local paper reported of the prison, "Upon inquiry as to the condition of the Stockade we found everything just about as complete as could be expected. A man of ordinary strength could push out the weatherboards with a single thrust of his arm. The shingles may be poked off the roof with a stick from the inside. If the flooring boards are lifted, the whole gang could walk out, for the building in on piles some feet from the ground and below the floor is not enclosed...every opportunity is offered to them to run away."

More permanent structures were then built between 1857 and 1864 and bluestone was used to build walls around the property. Colonel William Champ arrived in 1857 and established order in the prison. Champ was a big believer in silence and solitude. This is something we have discussed about other prisons that were run during this same time in previous episodes. Prisoners saw no one except the guards and they were referred to by a number rather than by their name. The prison was broken into different divisions and many of those still stand today. In the early years, panopticons were used to exercise the prisoners. Panopticons were circular and broken up into areas similar to a wagon wheel with a center structure and then stone walled spokes radiating outward. Prisoners were given one hour in one of these wedges in order to exercise. Prisoners were punished with flogging or solitary confinement with only bread and water. Some of the more violent offenders were confined on hulks, which were floating prison boats in a harbor near Williamstown.

Women had their own division, A, until 1871. The three story D Division was built and it housed female prisoners until 1956 when Fairlea Female Prison was opened. Several industries were established in the prison that included a tailors’ shop, blacksmith, woolen mill, carpentry and a timber yard. Moving into more modern times it was known as a place of extreme brutality by the guards. New inmates were subjected to a ritual called the ‘liquorice mile’ where they were beaten naked. Killings amongst the inmates were common with the guard’s only enforcing punishment if the inmates touched one of their own. H ward was reserved for the most brutal, high-risk offenders. But it wouldn't be until the 1950s that the jail became a more humane place.

The jail was open for 146 years and had 3,165 prisoners pass through the doors, with eleven of them being executed. One of those prisoners was Jean Lee and she was the last woman executed in Australia. She had been part of a trio that played something called the Badger Game. It consisted of her enticing a man into meeting her for a rendevouz and once they were in the room, one of her accomplices would come in and pretend to be her outraged husband. They would then blackmail the man. One of these men fought back. They tied him up, tortured him and stabbed him. Jean confessed to the crime, but some thought she was covering for one of her accomplices who was also her lover. On the day of her execution, she completely lost it. She became hysterical and had to be sedated. She fainted when the executioner came in and they had to strap her to a chair to carry her so that she could be hanged.

Other prisoners included Garry David who was a self-mutilator that was incarcerated longer than anyone in the history of the Victorian prison system. He used his time in prison to write threatening letters and cutting off pieces of his body. He cut off 74 of his own body parts including his penis. He died after ingesting razor blades. There were two members of the Pettingill family incarcerated here. They were Denis ‘Mr Death’ Allen, for the rape and murder of 15 people, including the dismembering of a Hells Angel biker with a chainsaw, and his younger brother Victor George Pierce, for drug trafficking. And finally Edward Joseph Leonski who was an American soldier. He served during World War II and killed women during the ‘brownout’ periods of low lighting enforced on the city. People called him the ‘Brownout Strangler’ for this reason. He was hanged at Pentridge in 1942.

Melbourne Gaol was closed in 1929 and its prisoners were relocated to Pentridge. The living prisoners were not the only ones transferred. Unbelievably, 33 prisoners who had been executed at Melbourne were re-interred at Pentridge. One of those bodies belonged to the infamous bushranger Ned Kelly. These 33 bodies joined the bodies of the eleven executed at Pentridge, meaning 44 bodies were buried here at one time. The last prisoner executed at Pentridge was Ronald Ryan in 1967 via hanging. He had shot a police officer during a prison escape. The 1980s saw much unrest within the prison with rioting and drug use running rampant. In May 1997, the northern part of the prison was closed. The southern part was closed in November of that year. In 1999, the jail was sold and developed into housing, parkland and a business precinct. Tours are offered of the prison.

As is the case with so many prisons, the spirits are at unrest at Pentridge Prison. Karen, who was a governor at the prison, relates the following experience:
"I worked in the Victorian Prison Service, Australia for 16 years. I began my career at HM Pentridge Prison, Coburg Victoria. The site, now partially torn down, was home to 1,200 male and female prisoners at any one time. This encounter took place in "D" Division, originally constructed for female prisoners in 1880 but was currently the remand facility for 320 maximum security male prisoners.

One night, a young male prisoner had slashed his wrists and arms in a suicide attempt. He had lost a life threatening amount of blood and six of us were desperately trying to stem the flow while waiting for the mobile intesive care ambulance to arrive. At one point, the Senior Prison Officer requested that I run out of the infirmary, up a shot landing to call 000 ( your eqivalent of 911) to get an ETA on the ambulance.

As I ran up the stairs I hit what felt like an ice wall and was momentarily stopped in my tracks. The air around me became instantly chilled, and although this was in the middle of summer, I was cold and could see my breath. I was then able to get up the last six steps, but when I turned around, I saw an opalescent fog crystalise into the form of a woman. She wore long skirts, a cap on her head, and when she turned her face towards me, I got the impression of a woman old before her time, with uncountable horrors and sorrows written in the depth of her staling blue eyes. She then vanished and the air around me returned to its warm and humid state.

I have never forgotten her face, and that 5-10 second interlude meant that I hadn't called and annoyed the Ambulance service, as the sound of the siren was heard as the image vanished.

I went in search of files and possible photographs to try and find this restless soul. I now have it narrowed down to three possible women, all transported from England, all of Irish extraction, all for 7 to 14 years hard labour for crimes such as stealing 1 shilling's worth of bread.

She saved me from annoying an already busy emergency service, and made me accutely aware of how much of us we leave behind for other people to learn from."
The ghost of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read is said to have started haunting the jail after his death in 2013 from liver failure. Mark Read was an underworld hitman and participated in a number of violent crimes leading him to be imprisoned for most of his adult life. He also wrote a number of books based on his life as a criminal. He has been seen near his old block in D Division and has been heard cussing at those participating in ghost tours. He sometimes leans against a wall with his arms crossed and other times he is standing and smoking a cigarette. The Lantern Tour Group was hosting a tour one night when something incredible happened. A spine-chilling shout echoed down the bluestone walls. It was the voice of a male screaming, “GET OUT!” The tour counted its number to make sure one of them hadn't broken off to play a prank. Another scream echoed down the corridor and this time it bellowed, GET THE F--- OUT!” The yell came from near cell 16, which had been Chopper's cell. The Lantern Ghost Tours group were hurried outside and the managers called police.

There is a fog shape that looks like a woman that wonders the prison and dogs react badly to being within the prison after dark. There are also strange sounds which no one can find the source of. Disembodied footsteps are heard as well. No one likes walking around there alone in the dark.

Do the spirits of former prisoners still walk the cell blocks? Is the dark energy that must have permeated these prison walls bringing something from beyond the veil? Is Pentridge Prison haunted? That is for you to decide!

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