Mackay’s curious history of jailhouse murder and plague
MANY Mackay residents would be unaware of the fact that the city once had its own jail and it was here that the first police officer was to die in the line of duty.
In 1863, the Port of Mackay was declared and a customs office and a police magistrate were appointed.
According to the Daily Mercury's Mackay Centenary 1862 - 1962, the first two police officers arrived in 1863.
Before the first detention building was built, prisoners were chained to logs on the riverbank with those on trial being sent to Rockhampton.
Mr Frank Scheinder and his wife Annie were appointed jailer and matron on July 23, 1883.
Overcrowding of the lockup in Brisbane St was a real problem by the early 1870s.
In a board of inquiry into Queensland jails in 1887 it was noted: "The (Mackay) Gaol Premises are enclosed by a palisade 9 feet high. The fence, besides being almost rotten, has so warped as to leave wide spaces between the boards. In order to prevent the public from seeing into the yard old blankets have been nailed on the inner side of the fence. The site is a most objectionable one for a gaol, the yards and prisoners are overlooked by the balconies of adjacent dwellings, houses and on the occasion of a flogging being administered to a refractory prisoner, the punishment was witnessed by children." (Mackay Revisited Page 102)
The 1868 census showed the European population at 340 and by the 1901 census, the population had grown to 11,144.
By 1903, Mackay was being derided by the southern newspapers, as being 'lawless'. It had a very bad reputation for the number and variety of crimes committed from drunkenness, to rape and murder.
In 1893, Mackay saw the lockup proclaimed a prison with an office and two other buildings for a kitchen and bathing facilities within the stockade.
In 1888, a jail containing five cells was built on the northside between Vines and Barnes creeks. The compound was between what is now Knobel and Martin streets, opposite the Kooyong Hotel on Harbour Road.
Each cell was able to hold a dozen prisoners for sleeping purposes. Prisoners were separated by race and gender. It was a L-shaped timber building raised on stumps with two large chimneys made of convict bricks.
Two kilns used by the prisoners to make limestone for the bricks were once visible on the banks of Vines Creek.
Tragically, in 1902 Acting Sergeant David Johnston lost his life at the Mackay jail when a prisoner awaiting sentencing for the murder of a 12-year-old girl attacked another prisoner with an unattended axe left at the wood pile behind the laundry.
Sergeant Johnston, ran to intervene and was then himself killed. Sergeant Moore was also attacked but survived.
The rampaging prisoner was finally stopped when a policeman named Ferguson climbed a mango tree outside the compound and shot the prisoner in the hip with a revolver.
A barbed wire fence surrounded the property and bars were on many of the windows. Soon the termites were attacking.
The jail closed in 1908 and the buildings were later converted to a plague station and finally as an isolation centre for infectious diseases.
In 1922, the derelict jail buildings were demolished and purchased by Mr Charles Porter who used the materials in his joinery factory construction in Gordon St.
Court records for the Mackay district 1867 - 1907 show prisoners sentenced for longer than a month, were sent to the larger prisons at Rockhampton or Townsville.
Those sentenced to death were hanged in Brisbane, so therefore any local stories of hangings in Mackay are incorrect.
Discover Mackay Museum, and learn about Mackay's past through displays of written history, photographs, films and artefacts. The museum is open each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday between 10am till 2pm at 4 Casey Ave, South Mackay (Opposite BB Print Stadium). FREE admission, New volunteers always welcome. For more information search and like the 'Mackay Museum' Facebook Page or ring 49530002 during opening hours.