It is estimated that almost 40 escape attempts were made during the 150 years of operation, however most of them failed.
Escapes from Gaol have long fascinated those of us on the outside and for Maitland they cover a vast period of the Gaol's history.
The motivation for escape varies from prisoner to prisoner. For some it was love, others their criminal reputation and ensuring their 'patch' wasn't taken. For escapees like Ray Denning and Darcy Dugan they simply saw it as a challange, committing their life to making work harder for prison officers and to bringing down government reputations. Whatever the motive, or the outcome, escape seems to be part of the human psyche. Whether it is from prison, work, responsibility or indeed the ultimate escape - from life itself.
The selection below is just a snapshot of the estimated 40 escapes that occurred over the Gaols 150 years of operation. Research into the escapes that took place from Maitland Gaol is ongoing.
On 19 September 1849 after being returned to A Wing yard following the sentencing hearing the prisoners waiting until the lone warder was distracted and made their way over the yard wall, dropping into the general yard. From here they climbed to the top of a temporary building and hoisted each other over the wall, jumping to freedom. Once out they disappeared into bushland surrounding the prison. James Davidson was recaptured on the 25 September 1849. Subsequent to the escape the Gaoler and principle turnkey were sacked for neglect of duty. Davidson was transferred to Darlinghurst Gaol, due to an injury, on 12 October 1849.
On 5 May 1850 Fallon was part of a group of men responsible for helping clear the inside of the prison of rubble and rubbish left behind during construction and subsequent use of the buildings. To prevent the requirement for opening and closing the gate each time rubbish was to be removed the Gaoler had wisely set up an incline plane, which dropped the rubbish to outside the wall where it was removed by a contractor. Whilst returning from his working party one afternoon Fallon saw his opportunity, and being a fit young stonemason he ran up the incline plane to the top of the wall. From here he lowered himself to freedom. Due to a misunderstanding at the gate the principal turnkey was not immediately informed, allowing enough time for Fallon to disappear into surrounding bushland. Fallon was recaptured on May 7 1850 and was later transferred to the Newcastle Brickworks to serve out the rest of his sentence. Fallon would go on to join the Victoria Mounted Police and was tragically killed as a serving officer in 1856.
On 7 August 1851 McNamara and Walsh effected their escape after gaining a saw and cold chisel from another prisoner. They used these tools to break the lock on the inner cell door and used the sounds of wet and windy night to mask the sound of them sawing through the solid timber door. Once free the two men attempted to free a third prisoner, but were disturbed when the turnkey opened the wing to let out a prisoner to cook breakfast at about 5am. The two prisoners overpowered the warder, tied him up and took his keys. They gained access to the open yard and to the store where they used two ladders to climb over the wall. Once free the two men separated and disappeared into the night. It would be over 30 minutes before the alarm was raised, as the warder frantically tried to free himself. McNamara was recaptured on 4 December 1851 and was eventually tried for his initial crime of murder, he was sentenced to death and executed on 29 March 1852.
After two months of imprisonment in Maitland Gaol William Bishop, aged 17, had enough and on the 30 August 1889 affected his escape. Whilst working in the garden reserve one morning the prisoner took off, running in the direction of bushland. Despite being called to halt and shots being fired Bishop disappeared into the bushland near the brickworks. Despite extensive searching at the time Bishop could not be located. He wasn't recaptured until 15 June 1891 when he was convicted of escaping and sentenced to serve an additional 3 months at the completion of his first sentence.
On 29 July 1922, after spending months removing the mortar from around the sandstone near the window in his cell, Steiner slipped out into the night and wasn't noticed missing until the following morning. Once out of his cell he stole some clothing items from the store and got over the wall. He boarded a series of trains to assist in his getaway and managed to make it as far as the Central Coast. He was recaptured on 30 July 1922 and was returned to Maitland Gaol, he was transferred to Bathurst Gaol in 1928.
Following a coincidental meeting on arrival at Maitland Gaol Burney and Jones became good friends. It was through this friendship, and others made whilst in gaol that they managed to escape in broad daylight on 7 November 1940. The two men went up and over the wall to a parked car waiting for them. The car was driven to Sydney, a known stomping ground for both prisoners. Little is known about their movements after this point until their recapture which for Burney was about 20 days later. Jones remained on the run from authorities for over 400 days, his recapture and subsequent suicide not occurring until January 1942.
Working outside the Gaol walls and with only a short ime on his sentence remaining it was a surprise Farrell bothered to escape. On 18 January 1957 a cow Farrell was tending in the prison farm began wandering towards to edge of the fenced yard and the prisoner followed it. Once out of site he took the opportunity to run off. A short time later a bus employee informed local police that he thought a prisoner had boarded his bus near Maitland Gaol and has disembarked at Church St Maitland. The prisoner was quickly recaptured and ended up received an additional 3 months in prison for his trouble.
After convincing a prisoner officer to let him out of his cell late Lawson and his two accomplices bound and gagged the officer before locking him in the cell. Armed, and with officers keys, the three prisoners let themselves out of B Wing and into a general yard where they used rope made from sheets and dismantled beds to get up and over the wall. The three prisoners were quickly spotted by an officer in a tower trying to steal a parked car, he fired upon them and three prisoners fled towards the railway line. All three were captured in the vicinity of the Gaol and were sentenced to an additional five years imprisonment.
Waiting for darkness to fall really paid off for Hore on 20 January 1967. As he removed the louvres from the window in the cookhouse, where he worked, and effected his escape little was seen or heard by officers around the site. Hore used twine he'd been stealing to create a makeshift ladder which he used to get up and over the wall. He made it to Mayfield on the night of the escape and spent a series of days and nights searching for his wife and committing additional offences. Hore was captured a short time after his escape and was recommitted to Maitland Gaol.
After sustaining an injury in Maitland Gaol Cornwall found himself recuperating in the Maitland Gaol hospital. Whilst recovering he took an overdose of tablets and was rushed to Maitland Hospital for life saving surgery. on 20 February 1971 whilst retained in his hospital bed under armed guard a small window of opportunity presented itself and Cornwall jumped from his bed and began running through the hospital. He was shortly under pursuit and upon reaching the warm outside air shots rung out over his head. He quickly disappeared into neighbouring properties and was finally seen again in the early hours of the following morning by police at a roadblock. The car Cornwall was driving was chased and was finally stopped in Weston, some miles from the hospital and gaol. He was recaptured after being shot in the lower back and was again returned to Maitland Hospital for surgery. Once out of recovery he was quickly sent back to Maitland Gaol.
Locally known as the 'Magnificant Seven' this escape is the most remembered in the Maitland Community. On 1 September 1977 seven prisoners; Roy Anthony Pollitt, Terrance Humphries, Richard Lynott, Steven Shipley, William Sutton, Frederick Owens and Raymond Denning, escaped via a ventilation shaft in the Maitland Gaol Shower Block. Once gaining their freedom the group of seven split, with a group of three making their way to a house on Morpeth Rd, they were captured a short time later hiding under said house. The other four prisoners made it into Thompson st, East Maitland, where they acquired a car and drove to Duckenfield via Morpeth. Once stopped three of the prisoners swam across the Hunter River whilst the other disappeared along the river bank. The three prisoners stuck together and stole another vehicle before finally being stopped by a police car on Clarencetown Rd Raymond Terrace. A police search was already underway for the fourth and final prisoner still at large and he was captured 1.5 hours after his escape hiding in a grain shed.
A tunnel was discovered in C Wing on 25 January 1980. Prisoners had barricaded themselves into the cell block earlier that morning and prisoner officers cut their way into the wing to remove prisoners. One of the prisoners was discovered covered in dirt, so following the removal of all prisoners the cell block was thoroughly searched and eventually an entry to a tunnel was found in number 7 cell. Workmen where brought into the prison on the following Monday and discovered the tunnel was 5.5 metres in length. Over 90 bags of soil were removed from the tunnel, which has been an ingenious way the prisoners hid their activities. Following the discovery 8 prisoners from C Wing were transferred to prisons in Sydney.
The plot for the last escape from Maitland Gaol was thwarted before it even began. On 17 May 1997 George Savvas, Ivan Milat and two other prisoner had planned to overpower the prison officer in A Wing, steal his keys and use them to gain access to the general yard. From here they would get over the wall to a car waiting for them on the other side. With increased security regulations the plot was uncovered and on the day the escape was meant to occur the prisoners cells were raided and the prisoners moved either to other gaols or to the maximum security wing. George Savvas committed suicide that night and wasn't found until the following morning, Milat and the two other prisoners were transferred to Sydney gaols.