Escape! Ernest Albert Richards

Escape! – Ernest Albert Richards

New Years Eve 1931, Notorious habitual criminal Ernest Albert Richards, serving a ten year sentence in Yatala Prison, South Australia walked out of the prison somewhere between midnight and six am.  Richards was unknown in Queensland. But he was soon known to Brisbane,  more specifically the notorious Boggo Road Gaol.


Escape! Ernest Albert Richards

Notorious habitual criminal, Ernest Albert Richards was very well known in South Australia. Born there in 1903, he was in trouble from a young age; being a ward of the state and not ever wanting to do as he was told.  His crimes range from petty theft to robbery with violence.  He was unknown to the residents of Brisbane even after committing a sensational violent robbery of a Post Office in Adelaide, South Australia in 1930. For which, Richards gained himself a ten year sentence with hard labour in Yatala Prison. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1932 that anyone in Brisbane knew of Ernest Albert Richards.  You see, Ernest had no desire to remain in his solitary accommodations for a new year.

Around midnight on New Year’s Eve 1931, after making the appropriate arrangements, Ernest escaped from his cell, one of the strongest in the prison.   His cell was in an island of four cells in the main yard of the prison; used especially for the isolation of troublesome inmates.

The cells were surrounded by a caged yard twenty feet by ten feet in size. Richards was sentenced to four months in this solitary confinement, even doing his work in either his cell or in the attached yard.

Somehow, Richards gained a key and unlocked the four locks on the two outer doors of his cell, climbed up and bent the bars of the top of the caged yard open and using a rope made from his coir mat bedding scaled the outer wall of the prison and vanished into hush of the early morning.   

Ernest Albert Richards

Occupation prior to arrest:  Electrician and Mechanic.

Known alias :  Woolfington and Wilson

Height:  Five feet six inches

Build: Medium

Complexion:  Fair

Eyes: Blue

Hair: Light Brown

Remarks:  Pointed nose and scar on right thumb.

Last seen wearing:  White Moleskin trousers, Galatea Shirt and Rope Soled Slippers



Arrest in Brisbane

After weeks of searching in the southern states, word had reached Brisbane that the notorious Ernest Albert Richards could be on his way.  Indeed, He was already here.   Richards had arrived a day or two prior.   At 8pm on the 16th of February in Ann Street Brisbane,  A man fitting Richards description was arrested by plain clothes police officers for vagrancy.  He was taken back to Roma Street Station and questioned. He immediately admitted his identity and was placed in a cell to appear before the police magistrate the next morning.

Next day in court, the vagrancy charge was dropped and Richards was remanded in custody for seven days in order for the original arrest warrant to arrive from South Australia.

During the surrounding media circus, Richards sold his remarkable escape story to the Truth newspaper.  You can read the full story here   

To His Majesty’s Prison Brisbane

Richards was sent off to serve his seven days remand in His Majesty’s Prison Brisbane (Later known as Boggo Road Gaol)  Surely, the notorious Boggo Road could hold Ernest.

Well, four days later while exercising in the yard, Richards climbed a wooden fence and secured a piece of gas piping that ran along the yard near the wall. He hooked one end over the wall and clambered up it. He was immediately seen by a warder on the watch tower. 

Drawing his revolver the warder fired a fusillade of shots, some bullets grazing Richards.  Though he managed to make it over the wall and dropped down to the grass outside.  He darted on the roadway that runs beside the prison.


Richards was seen by Acting Superintendent Whitney from his balcony, who immediately alerted warders in the gatehouse who dashed out the front gates armed with rifles and revolvers firing shots and shouting for Richards to stop.

Richards scrambling down the railway cutting, fell, but quickly recovered; the warders’ followed. One falling heavily, but he recovered enough and fired his rifle. Richards meanwhile was climbing a fence opposite near the Park Road station.  The round struck Richards in the left calf.  He was wounded, but still managed to make it over a two more fences in Quarry Street.

The wound was slowing him down, it was bleeding badly, and the warders were gaining on him.  Richards found his way through some thick bushes into Rev. Atkins back yard and crashing through the netting into the chook run, he hid in a small shed out of sight.

Richards thought if he lay low, this would be a good place to hide. The warders would surely pass him by; but presently a rifle was thrust into his face and he was ordered to come out.  Richards was carried by stretcher to an awaiting motor car that swiftly returned him to prison with just nine short minutes of liberty.

Return to South Australia

Three days later, Richards further appeared in the police court Brisbane; the magistrate ruled “ I order that you be returned to Adelaide”.  The warrant and his escort had arrived, Richards departed on the Kyogle Train on Friday the 26th of February 1932.  On arrival in Adelaide, Richards appeared before the court on charges of escape.  He received an additional eighteen months on his original ten year sentence.

Want to see where Richards went over the wall?   You can!  Join us for our Escapes tour this Sunday! Hosted by Director Jack Sim, you will hear of some of the greatest escape stories from the history of Boggo Road Gaol.   To book click here

This article was contributed by Research Coordinator Sue Olsen as part of the ongoing research program for Boggo Road Gaol Pty Ltd. The aim of the program is to bring to light and share articles relating to Boggo Road for the purposes of review and study. Do you have a story to share or something you would like us to know about? You can contact the research team here

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