Take a tour through J Ward, the infamous maximum security housing for Victoria’s criminally insane
The spot where murderers breathed their last, where their bodies are buried in unconsecrated ground, the unmarked graves of killers. The Ward is full of stories of gruesome crimes of yore.
The Ward started its life as a goldfields prison in 1859, but when the gold ran out in the mid 1880s the prison buildings were acquired by the Lunacy Department as a temporary housing for the Criminally Insane. The County Gaol then became a ward (J Ward) of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum where the most depraved and most dangerous men in Victoria were housed in horrific conditions under the highest security.
The Ward was closed in 1991, but J Ward is now a museum complex within the original prison structure dedicated to recording and preserving the history of the criminals imprisoned and hanged here during the life of the goldfields gaol and later as the infamous maximum security housing for Victoria’s Criminally Insane men in a ward (J Ward) of the Ararat Mental Hospital.
It has become the premier tourist venue in the Victorian town of Ararat, visited by more than 10,000 people annually (greater than Ararat’s population).
If you want to relive the days in prison, you can join one of the regularly conducted guided tours, conducted by the Friends of J Ward volunteers, who are passionate about its heritage. Hours can be spent in the Museum reading early case histories and gazing in wonder at the equipment of the early days of the hospital and the arts and crafts of the patients.
Explore the governor’s bathroom, hangman’s gallows, original kitchen, showerblock, grave sites, West Wing, J Ward Block, exercise yards and grounds in search of the souls that still linger. End the night sleeping in the original, unrenovated gaol cells.
J Ward is Girdlestone Street, Ararat 3377, a 2.5 hour drive from Melbourne.