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J Ward, Asylum for the Criminally Insane

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Girdlestone Street, Ararat VIC 3377

Explore other locations around this area using our interactive map


  • Ararat's historic gaol and lunatic asylum
  • Museum
  • Daily guided tours
  • Ghost tours
  • Souvenirs and books
  • Venue hire
  • Beautiful building and grounds
  • Picnic tables
  • Rubbish bins
  • Alongside the beautiful Alexandra Gardens
Now a museum and tour complex, J Ward started out as a goldfields prison in the year 1861. 

When the gold rush faded in the 1880's, the buildings were transferred to the Ararat Lunatic Asylum and the gaol was converted into a ward for the criminally insane. 

Some of the most dangerous and deranged men in the state were housed here in horrific conditions!

Tours at J Ward

Today you can book daylight tours of J Ward and learn about the early history of the goldfields era and the later incarceration of the criminally insane. 

Daily tours are run by the Friends of J Ward Volunteers. Click here for bookings/information for daylight tours.

You can also take night time tours of J Ward, where you can be incarcerated in the lunatic asylum, take a ghost tour, or become a ghost hunter for the night on a group paranormal investigation. 

Location of J Ward

J Ward is located up on a hill on Girdlestone Street in Ararat.

J Ward is located right across the road from the gorgeous Alexandra Gardens which offers excellent facilities such as parklands, walk-in fernery, playground, lake, walking track and barbecue area. 

If visiting J Ward, complement your trip with a stroll or picnic in this impressive park.

History of J Ward

The Victorian Heritage Database offers the follow brief account of J Ward's history: 

J Ward was built between 1860 and 63 as the Ararat Gaol, to a design based on the Pentonville concept by the Public Works Department.

It was run as a Gaol until 1886. In 1887, after alterations, the building was transferred the Lunacy Department and used as a special ward of the Ararat Asylum for the criminal insane. J Ward, as it became known, was decommissioned in 1989. 
(source: VHD)

The following text regarding the conversion of the Ararat Gaol into a ward of the Lunatic Asylum was published in the Leader (Melbourne, Vic: 1862 - 1918) on Saturday 1st January, 1887:

The overcrowded condition of the lunatic asylums of the colony has forced upon the Government the necessity of providing extra accommodation. Some months ago tenders were let for erecting two cottages for idiot children in connection with the Kew Lunatic Asylum. These cottages will provide accommodation for 40 inmates and will be taken possession of early this month. The alterations to the Ararat Gaol, which is to be utilised in future as an asylum for the insane, are also progressing satisfactorily. Large additions are also being made to the Ararat Lunatic Asylum, and it is proposed when all this additional accommodation is available to reclassify the inmates of the different asylums.

Notable patients of J Ward
  • Charles Fossard - admitted in 1903 at age 21 and died in custody in 1974 at age 92, he was the longest serving patient at the facility (he was incarcerated for 71 years)
  • Garry David  - also known as Garry Webb, said to have served more time in prison than any other person in the history of the State of Victoria. David spent a total of 33 years in various institutions.
  • Bill Wallace - admitted in 1926 at age 43 remaining in custody until his death in 1989 at age 107, he was the oldest patient at the facility (he was incarcerated for 64 years).
  • Mark "Chopper" Read  - was transferred from Pentridge Prison in late 1978 after arranging for a fellow inmate to cut off both his ears. Read only remained in J Ward for a few months before being transferred back to Pentridge.
    (source: wikipedia)
Executions at J Ward

Three executions occurred at the site: 
  • 15 August 1870: Andrew Vere 
  • 25 September 1883: Robert Francis Burns 
  • 6 June 1884: Henry Morgan 
All three executed prisoners were buried within the walls of the prison in accordance to the Criminal Law and Practice Statute 1864.


  • There are several places in the Goldfields where you can take guided tours of underground gold mines - Central Deborah in Bendigo, Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, and Carman's Tunnel in Maldon.


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