From the headlines Officer retires after 41 years

From the headlines… Officer retires after 41 years

Chief Warder Henry ‘Harry’ Victor Vanderwolf

‘Harry’ retired on the 25th of May 1953, just one day after his sixty-fifth birthday. He and his wife retired to 4th Avenue in Caloundra where they can be found into the 1970s. Indeed, it would have been a wonderful sea change for a man who worked inside brick walls and iron bars for most of his days.

Henry Victor Vanderwolf, known as Harry, was born in Maryborough to John Rowe Vanderwolf and Jane Ann Payne. His parents had emigrated with his older siblings from Cornwall in England on the Duke of Athol in 1881. The family set up home in Maryborough and proceeded to live there for over fifty years.  

Duke of Athole


Harry was one of a large family of ten children, eight of whom were sons. He had a large family already here in Queensland with his fifty plus cousins. Frustratingly for the researcher… they all had a Harry.

Harry joined the prison service shortly after his 22nd birthday, officially recognised as a probationary warder in the Queensland Government Gazette of 1912. It is unconfirmed where he spent his first few months in the service, although it is likely it would have been in the Brisbane lockup. By the time Harry completed his probation, he was transferred to the notorious St Helena Island. Known for its harsh conditions both on officers and prisoners alike, St Helena would have been no easy mark.  Certainly, St Helena would prove useful to Harry as his career was to progress.

In addition to relatives in Queensland, the Vanderwolf clan had made their way south of the border into the suburbs of Sydney, New South Wales. It was here, on summer vacation in 1917 he would find his sweetheart in Christina Ellen Mitchell; they were married a few months later in Marrickville, New South Wales.

At the end of the war, Harry had set the family up and had returned to his post at St Helena Island. It would not be long before a daughter would grace their little home. So onwards time went, Harry had seen his friends and family go off to war and come home greatly changed. It wasn’t long until his life would be profoundly changed too, in a good way!  

In the newspapers of the day, numerous entries can be found talking about the prison at St Helena Island. There had been murders, terrible assaults, formal complaints and disciplinary action; it truly was a hell hole for everyone. Succumbing to overwhelming pressure, it was clear something had to be done. St Helena would be closed as a maximum security prison, and the prisoners moved to the female division at HM Prison Brisbane (later known as Boggo Road Gaol). The female inmates were transferred to another section of the Gaol to make way for the men. For Harry, this was a most unexpected windfall.

HM Prison Brisbane 

Harry was moved to his new station at HM Prison Brisbane with one of the first loads of men to be transferred. It would prove to be a great move. Just ten years later, Harry climbed the ranks to be Chief Warder of Boggo Road Gaol, a position he would go on to hold for the next twenty years.

Just after Christmas in 1932, Harry was promoted to Chief Warder at Boggo Road. The family celebrated and moved into their new home, the quarters of the prison. This indeed was a step up socially and personally. Sadly though, things were to take a sad turn. His beloved wife passed away aged just 47 years. Christina Ellen Vanderwolf was laid to rest at the Lutwyche Cemetery.

Again, the years moved on, each day entering those gates at the prison and looking after some of society’s worst characters.

A few years later at a church social, he was to meet the future Mrs Vanderwolf. Eliza Linda Letty Uhllman, a spinster and a bit younger than Harry, caught his eye and the rest would be history. They were married in 1939, just at the beginning of yet another world war.

Indeed, his own daughter joined the service, it is not known what exactly she did as her records are not open for viewing.

Harry, however, had an eventful next year, becoming instrumental in the apprehension and conviction of Ernest Arthur Halliday or ‘Slim’ as he was known around the Gaol. In February of 1940, Slim would make the first of his two escapes. Harry was the officer that found a rope hanging from the prison wall. Halliday had escaped over it all right. The rest of this story you will hear on your tour, so I will leave it there for now. Harry would raise the alarm and would be involved in this story for years to come.

In 1948, with just a few years to go before compulsory retirement, Harry was again promoted to Chief Warder second class, which would certainly have been a pay increase and perhaps other long-term benefits as well. It is here we lose Harry for a few years before he reappears in the papers.

Casket Win

Remarkably, just shy of his retirement, Harry collected a handsome Casket win. Fifth prize of £300 to be exact. It would certainly be nice to add to the retirement fund. Harry remarked that it had been the most timely gift of his life. He had just finished building his retirement home at Caloundra where he intends on spending his time fishing.


Harry retired on the 25th of May 1953, just one day after his sixty-fifth birthday. He and his wife retired to 4th Avenue in Caloundra where they can be found into the 1970s. Indeed, it would have been a wonderful sea change for a man who worked inside brick walls and iron bars for most of his days. In all, Harry served 41 and a half years in the prison service, which by today’s standard, is an eternity. Harry lived at Caloundra until he died in 1976. He is buried with his wife at the Caloundra Cemetery.



Want to know what it was like to be an officer at Boggo Road Gaol? Come along this Sunday for our Officer tour and meet Former Officer Kevin Hayden! For more information 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.

Boggo Road Gaol
Boggo Road Gaol