Dunedin Prison becomes tourist trap

  • 10/11/2012

By Krissy Moreau

It has housed axe murderers and baby killers, but now Dunedin's old prison is being transformed into a world-class tourist attraction.

Dunedin Prison guard Ken Burt spent 28 years locking up criminals in the prison’s cells. Now he's locking up tourists.

“Back in 1966, this is the general area where Constable Donald Stokes was murdered by two prisoners trying to escape.”

Prison life from a bygone era is what's drawing tourists to the not-quite-finished attraction – how they lived, how they rebelled.

“In the drain outside, they used to put homebrew in milk containers, or hide in the toilets,” says Mr Burt.

The prison has housed some of the country's most high profile inmates – Winton's infamous baby killer, Minnie Dean, was held there in 1895 before she was hanged for her crimes in Invercargill.

And in more recent times, David Bain was held there on remand while on trial for his family's murder.

But in earlier times, some prisoners never came out.

“In the gold rush days people did bad things and got executed for it,” says Stewart Harvey of the Dunedin Prison Trust. “Hanging was the name of the game.”

Three convicted murderers were executed and buried on a site that used do be the Dunedin Prison 1800s and is right next door to the current one. But when the bodies were exhumed to make way for the courts, mysteriously one of the skulls went missing and the bodies were buried without it.

It's a morbid fascination the Dunedin Prison Trust is capitalising on.

The trust is hoping to raise an initial $2.5 million for upgrades, converting the exercise yard to a restaurant and hiring actors to bring the prison's stories to life.

“It will be a prison experience tour, so including the prison it will touch on the law courts and what was there before,” says Mr Harvey.

The trust is now waiting on conservation clearance for structural work on the heritage building to throw some light on a darker side of Otago's early settler history.

3 News

source: newshub archive