I could feel a chill run down my spine as I walked through the corridors of J-Ward, a former gaol (jail), later transformed to a lunatic asylum for the criminally insane. Nestled in the small town of Ararat in Victoria Australia, J-Ward closed in 1991, and many former employees and patients still live nearby. Our guide was John, a man who had grown up in Ararat and who has heard the stories first hand. As we walked, he pointed out details, paraphernalia, and unmarked graves, while he told stories that left me both mesmerised and horrified. It is these stories that make the tour so fascinating.
It opened in 1859 as a goldfield’s prison, but when the gold ran out, the miners moved on, and the building was acquired by the Lunacy Department of the nearby Aradale Asylum. It became the hospital’s ward (J-ward) for the worst and most dangerous men in the state of Victoria.
To be admitted to J-Ward one had to be:
- Convicted murderer
- Accused of murder
- Too violent to be in normal prison
- Sentenced in Victoria and became insane while in prison
- J-Ward is easy to find at the end of Girdlestone Street in Ararat, Victoria, Australia
- Daily tours are at 10, 11, 1, and 2 pm with additional tours at noon and 3 pm on Sundays and public holidays.
- Over 10, 000 people visit each year, that’s more than the population of Ararat.
- Read more about it on their official website.
- While in Ararat you might also want to visit Aradale (the asylum) and the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre.
- We used Lonely Planet – Australia to find unusual places while we travelled.
This is the fifth article in a series as we drove a loop from Melbourne, along the Great Ocean Road for two days and stayed in a former convent, then up to Halls Gap and the Grampians (blog post coming soon) before heading back to Melbourne.
Had you heard of J-Ward before today? Will you visit if you find yourself in Ararat?
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Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary tour of J-Ward for the purpose of this review. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
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