What remains of HM Pentridge Prison is just a shadow of its former self. The 170 year old jail has slowly been gentrified and turned into housing and commercial buildings.
The skeleton of the prison walls are mostly still intact and are woven into these new developments in a way that merges nostalgia and modernity.
But, some of the old divisions have been preserved and are the venue for the Pentridge Prison Ghost Tour.
This experience will give you goosebumps whether you are a believer or not.
Even if you don’t see any ghosts, the stories of those who occupied the prison will haunt you after walking in their footsteps.
In this post we will share our experience on the tour and then give some background on the prison itself.
But if you want a shortcut, just watch the first 20 minutes of the Australian movie Chopper. The subject of the film comes up regularly in the tour dialogue.
Are There Really Ghosts on the Tour?
We didn’t see any ghosts on the tour and we got the impression that no one else had actually seen one either.
What they did show was a sequence of photographs displayed on an iPad that were apparently submitted by other tour attendees.
Many of which were not discovered until the attendees started sifting through their photos in the days after the tour.
The photos shown had captured various shadowy figures that are spitting images of former prisoners in some cases, and in others just a shadow of a person in the distance.
When you first enter the prison and walk down the staircase and can see all the way along the division it is an eerie sight.
This is where they show you the first picture, and it is the clearest of them all.
I do not want to spoil this for you. But I will say that if you are on the tour, be the first one down the stairs and snap a picture before anyone else does.
You never know what you may capture in that undisturbed dark hallways.
The Format of the Tour
- Introduction – 5-10 min
- Walking Tour – 60 min
- Free time – 20 min
- Total – 90 minutes
After meeting your tour guide at the gate of D Division, you get a brief introduction to the site while outside. This gives you a high level overview of the history of the place and helps you get your bearings for wherein the old compound you are standing.
From there you go through the walking tour which takes approximately 60-80 minutes.
You then get 10-20 minutes of free time to walk around the prison as you wish.
One thing to take note of in the free time is that many of the cells have been repurposed as wine storage units. So you get an odd mix from cell to cell.
Three Grim Prison Features
Ghosts aside, the window you get into everyday life in the prison is worth the price of admission.
The guides are quick to point out that the nicely polished version that you see today is not what would have been the state of the venue when it was operational.
In fact, they often have former prison guards attend the tour who comment on how different it is. Their stories sounding almost inhumane for the prisoners and the guards.
I wanted to share three things that stood out to me that made Pentridge Prison different to other prisons that I have toured.
Some minor, and one not so minor.
1. Meals Eaten in the Hallway
As opposed to the setup in Alcatraz where there is a designated dining room, meal time took place just outside of the cells.
In the same fashion to what is portrayed in the Stanford Prison Experiment movie.
When thinking about the monotony of prison life (not that I would know this) something as small as a walk to another room, or dining hall, could be looked forward to as much as the food.
The prospect of staring at your cell door while you eat from three feet away sounds grim to me.
2. Gallows – also in the Hallway
This one was seriously confronting. I am sure most of you have heard the cry of Dead Man Walking… Green Mile anyone?
In my mind, this meant a long final walk down into the gallows in some dark dungeon or another wing of the prison designed for purpose.
Well, in HM Prison the walk is also about three feet.
The cell where a death row prisoner is held for their final night is adjacent to the gallows where the hangman’s noose awaits.
This is on the second floor, which allows sufficient space for a prisoner to fall as they are hung.
The rope dangles ominously from a beam centered in a gap in the middle of the two walkways that join up the parallel walking platforms that run past the row of cell doors.
A black sheet is placed in the rectangular gap on execution day and a narrow platform holds them up while the noose is secured in place.
The platform opens up like a trapdoor as the execution is carried out.
This was of course not there for the tour.
Instead, we could see the floor below and a single grate over a drain directly beneath the rope. No doubt there for easy cleanup of any blood resulting from the execution.
I hope that this has painted a picture of what execution day would look like.
Spare a thought for the other prisoners who have all of this happen right outside of their cell door.
Probably directly above where they then have to eat breakfast also…
This was our final stop on the tour before the free time to walk around. The whole tour group scurried off to different corners of the prison. I turned around and went straight back into that holding cell.
I stood there in silence, on my own in the darkness, and thought of all of those people who spent their final night in this cell.
What would go through your mind when you know what fate awaits you when the sun next rises?
It is a confronting question to reflect on – no matter what their crimes had been.
3. Outside Showers
The exercise yards were small and would have been crowded with up to 150 people at a time.
Not too unusual in prison design except for one thing…. Well, two things.
The showers and toilets were also outside at the end of the yard. Both were completely exposed, and even had a handful of cement tables & chairs outside of both.
I don’t know which one would be worse.
- Showering outside in Melbourne weather, in front of 150 people who probably want to kill you (that last part are the tour guides words). Or;
- Using the toilet in front of 150 people… Also in Melbourne weather…. Who also want to kill you.
4. The On-site Graveyard
While the site is not part of the tour they do point to its location right at the start of the gathering outside.
An unusual part of this story is that the graveyard was relocated…. Not a fun process for anyone involved.
It was standard practice for those executed at Pentridge Prison to be buried here.
Some very famous names amongst its past occupants.
I say in the past because many of these names have since had their bodies exhumed and relocated at the request of family.
Stories that Will Haunt You
Eddie Leonskie – The Brownout Strangler
One cell has a not so subtle symbol carved into the floor that takes up most of the cell.
The guide requested a female volunteer to go into the cell and stay there for a few minutes, with the door closed, on her own.
There was a reason that it had to be female, but I do not recall exactly why.
The prisoner held there had murdered multiple women by strangulation, as part of a ritual where he would suck out their last dying breath.
Before his arrest, he was known for being a heavy drinker and when frequenting the local pubs he would just disappear for blocks of time.
On his return he would be talking in a perfect woman’s voice.
Not a husky, manly, imitation. But a perfectly toned woman’s voice. This was a party trick that he was known for that became very creepy after his arrest when the nature of his crimes became known.
I am not going to share what the lady said who was locked in there upon her release. What I will say is that the tour guide said that it was aligned with what almost everyone says who experiences the same thing.
I don’t want to be too much of a spoiler so I won’t share what those things are. If you are a woman reading this, please volunteer and get in touch to let us know if you experienced the same!!
The reason being, the lady who initially volunteered to go into the cell was deemed unsuitable to go in there.
The second volunteer was the same lady who volunteered to hold a lantern at the rear of the tour group to make sure no one wandered off.
Perhaps Anh and I are too cynical, but I got the impression she was an undercover staff member delivering a scripted message.
I hope not, but I didn’t buy the maneuvering of the first volunteer out of the experience.
The last man to be executed in Australia and the story shared is one that makes a case against capital punishment.
An escape attempt by Ryan left a prison guard dead. The source of the bullet remaining a contentious issue to this day.
If it was friendly fire from another prison guard then a man was put to death by the state for a crime he didn’t commit.
But he wasn’t exactly innocent in the whole matter regardless…
Without spoiling the story the tour guide’s version of events that led to his hanging is one for quiet reflection.
The story of Jean Lee seemed like little more than a series of poor decisions by a woman blinded by love that spiraled out of control before her eyes.
The crime started off as a robbery where she used her charms and sexual prowess as bait for an unsuspecting victim.
Between Jean and her two accomplices (one being her lover), someone choked their victim to death before they made their getaway.
When captured Jean confessed in an effort to save her man. But stories changed and an endless blame game ensued that all sounded like a twisted prisoners dilemma.
All three offenders turned on each other, but nothing could save any of them with all three sentenced to death.
Jean’s final moments proved very dramatic with her passing out on her final walk towards the gallows and having to be hoisted into the noose while limp.
A sad story, but one that originates from poor choices at the expense of others. So very little sympathy from me on that one.
Pre-Tour Characters to Look Up
Just a quick note for any history buffs who wanted to read up on some of the characters that will get a mention on the tour.
- Ned Kelly – Leader of the Kelly gang. Notorious for his final stand shootout with police wearing homemade body armor.
- Chopper Reed – Famous standover man from the Melbourne underworld. Went on to become a prolific writer, painter, and public speaker.
How to get to Pentridge Prison
From the CBD of Melbourne you have three options to get out there by public transport:
The number 19 tram will take you from Bourke St in the CBD to the corner of Bell St and Sydney Rd (Stop 34).
From there it is a five minute walk to the entrance for the tour.
Trams come frequently and the total cost of $4.40 each way.
Coburg train station is also walkable, but a few minutes further than the Tram.
Jump on the Upfield line from any major CBD station and you can be in Coburg in around 20 – 25 minutes.
The journey will also cost you $4.40.
By Taxi or Rideshare
We just jumped in an Uber from Chinatown in the CBD after dinner and were at the jail within 25 minutes.
This is the fastest option door to door, but obviously more expensive.
Cost was just under $30 on a Saturday night.
The return leg took us to Crown Casino which was a tick under $40.
This is a relatively cheap night out that gives you a great insight into some important pieces of history for both Melbourne and Australia as a whole.
If you catch the late session then you have plenty of time for a relaxing dinner and a few glasses of wine to ease any pre-ghost tour nerves you may feel.
Walking around the site before and afterward will give you an appreciation for the deep history of the place, and how well it has been woven into the gentrified surroundings.