BOGGO S2 E9 – Workshops 90th Anniversary

BOGGO S2 E9 – PRISON WORKSHOPS – The 90th Anniversary

With the closure of St Helena Island as a prison in Queensland came the shift of long service men to Boggo Road Gaol.  What would now be the new number two division, the former prison for females would be moved elsewhere. The workshops for women were converted into the workshops for men.  Soon however the need for the transfer of workshops from St Helena would necessitate the construction of an all new workshops at Boggo Road Gaol. 2019 marks the 90th Anniversary of these workshops.

Massive changes came to Queensland’s prison system in late 1921.  The new system was ‘formed on the principle of reformation and not a vindictive desire to punish’.  The object of the new system was to better classify and separate prisoners and keep short term prisoners and minor offenders from long term offenders.

After more than 50 years of operation, HM Prison St Helena would become a prison farm. Male prisoners classified as long term were transferred to the mainland to Boggo Road.  Increasing costs to transport prisoners and supplies across Moreton Bay, and growing public resentment of a perceived “island paradise” being utilised by convicted felons, were behind the decision to wind down St Helena.

H.M Gaol Brisbane became H.M Prison Brisbane, more commonly called Brisbane Prison.  To accommodate the changes on 21st September, Brisbane Prison was re-organised into three separate sections – No.1 Division, No. 2 Division and a Female Division.

Carpenters Shop – Boggo Road Gaol

No. 1 Division

The 1883 Men’s Gaol was renamed No.1 Division. The wording “BRISBANE PRISON NO. 1” was added to the parapet. Inside its walls there were few other changes. In practise it continued to be the section used to hold short-term sentenced male prisoners, and those on remand awaiting trial or sentence, just as it had for decades. The yards were used to separate prisoners according to their classification.


Female Division

In September 1921 the few female prisoners were transferred from their purpose built prison into two wooden communal wards surrounded by a tall timber stockade. The ward buildings – the former V.D. hospital from Brisbane General Hospital had been moved from the Brisbane Hospital and erected to the south of the former Women’s Prison on Annerley Road. Ironically, not even 20 years after the prison designed to prevent the evils of association opened, women were again housed communally. This would remain the women’s prison for the next 30 years.


No. 2 Division

The former Women’s Prison was empties of its occupants as prisoners from the Men’s Gaol set about making alterations in preparations for the arrival of new occupants – long term sentenced men from St. Helena including, murderers, killers and other dangerous offenders.

Officially renamed No. 2 Division, the words on the parapet were amended from “H.M. PRISON FOR WOMEN” to “H.M. PRISON FOR MEN” the letters “WO” neatly covered to indicate the new use.  This alteration can still be seen today. Beneath these words “No.2” was painted. Inside the gatehouse, on the rear wall prisoners painted “B.P” for Brisbane Prison on the left hand side and “No.2” on the right.

The two female wards were reused as cell blocks for men with 40 cells available in each block, No.2 Division could hold up to 80 male prisoners.

The design of No. 2 Division – permitting single cell accommodation and prisoners and having yards to separate prisoners, would allow the separation of male prisoners according to their classification, which had proved difficult to administer on St. Helena.  There, some men were kept in associated wards “herded” together; minor offenders missed with experienced criminal; Promiscuous association” – sexual predation and homosexuality – were serious offences at the time. At St. Helena, communal accommodation had led to sexual assaults. Authorities hoped that sexual liaisons and crime could be limited in No.2 Division by walls, iron bars and doors.


The Workshop for Men (1921 – 1929)

Central to the new prison system was providing prisoners with meaningful work.

Tailoring and boot making were transferred in 1921 from St Helena to the former female workshop in No. 2 Division; the facilities were upgraded.  In April 1924, Tin-smithing was also transferred to No. 2 Division. As had been the case for decades, tailoring, boot-making and tin-smithing would be carried out under the supervision of trade instructors – warders with skills in these areas.  Long-term prisoners would be well-suited to learn a trade as they had the time to become proficient and would leave with a usable skill. Short-term prisoners carried out work that required less skill- brush-making, mat-weaving and basket-making.



Until early 1929, male prisoners continued to be employed in the former women’s prison workshop in No.2 Division.  On the 26th March a vast new saw-tooth roofed industrial complex opened, behind the eastern wall of the division. Encircling the “workshops” was a six metre high brick wall. A significant security feature was a central security tower – D Tower- manned by an armed officer. Mirrors high on the walls allowed the officer to see into every shop at all times. An underground tunnel – connecting No. 1 Division and No. 2 Division was built, allowing prisoners to be moved to and from the new workshop complex.

The workshops included a tailor shop – producing staff and prisoner uniform; boot shop – making boots worn by prisoners, mat-shop – making mats, mattresses ad hammocks; brush-shop – brushes and brooms; hat shop – hats worn by prisoners; bookbinding.

A new carpenter’s shop was dedicated to woodwork – to manufacture articles needed in government institutions such as schools.  In May 1930 a new warder- carpenter was employed to teach that trade to prisoners.

After the opening of the new workshops the old female workshops was converted into an additional cell block to cope with the expected increase in prison population.


In this episode of BOGGO, Gaol Director Jack Sim and Research Coordinator discuss the Workshops, the cost of their construction and some of their interesting features as well as their crucial role in everyday prison life.  Tune in to BOGGO the official podcast of Boggo Road Gaol to hear more.

You can stand in the former female workshops now D Wing cell block every day on our History Tour for tour times and prices visit

Boggo Road Gaol
Boggo Road Gaol