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Moonambel Lock Up

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Corner of Humffray Street and Church Street, Moonambel VIC 3478

Explore other locations around this area using our interactive map


  • Historical Lock Up
  • Information signs
  • Playground
  • Undercover area
  • Picnic tables
  • Bench seating
  • Electric barbecue
  • Toilets
  • Rubbish bins
This restored portable lock up stands in the Moonambel Common, where visitors can learn about the building's fascinating history through a series of beautifully presented information signs. 

The lock up is constructed of timber with steel bars running through its walls, ceiling and floor. 

Portable lock ups such as this one were designed to be dismantled and reassembled at new locations, following populations of people who moved from place to place with the gold rushes. 

While early records have been lost, a charge book covering the period 1883 - 1914 provides details of 53 people who were detained in the lock up, including name, age, date of detainment, country of origin, calling, charge, and remarks. 

These details have been reproduced on the series of information signs alongside the lock up, and are very interesting to read through. 

The children in the lock up

Three of the people who were detained in the lockup were a trio of siblings, ages 10, 8 and 1. 

The children were "found wandering, no settled place of abode" in 1896, and were committed for trial at Ballarat before being committed to the Department For Neglected Children. 

These three children are remembered through an art installation which stands within the lock up itself. 

Created by Clunes artist Tom Ripon, the colourful wire representation of the three children replaces an earlier installation which was created by Merri Hogan and Barry Fox (which had unfortunately become dilapidated over time). 

Moonambel Common playground and picnic area

The Moonambel Common provides a playground, undercover picnic area, free electric barbecue, bench seating, toilets and rubbish bins.

Gold discovery monument

A plaque set in a large quartz rock stands alongside the lock up and commemorates the James and John Thomas' discovery of gold at Mountain Creek / Moonambel in 1860. 

More information and history

One of the signs displays the following text regarding the lock up and charge book:


At the time of this Charge Book (1883 - 1914) Moonambel boasted a police station (c1860), a courthouse, 2 Lock ups and a storage shed. The courthouse was moved in the 1950s and the Moonambel Police Station ceased operations in 1914. However, this Lock up remains in its original location adjacent to the Common. Earlier Charge Books have been lost. The Police Quarters remains in situ adjacent to the Common and is a private residence. 

THE LOCK UP - This is one of two Lock ups brought to Moonambel during the 1860's Gold Rush. It is an 'Early Portable' and there are only five known examples of this type of structure extant in Victoria. They were designed to follow the moving population chasing the discovery of gold. People were 'locked up' for a short time and were provided with shelter and rations. 

THE CHARGE BOOK - This information comes from the Moonambel Watch House Charge Book 1883 - 1914 held within the Police Historical Archives at Police Headquarters in Melbourne. It records 53 people with the date, name, age, country of origin, their calling, the charge, the offence along with remarks. 

We see the decline in numbers illuminating how harsh circumstances were for the old, the homeless, the abandoned, the sick, the poor and mentally ill. We can compare our lives today and how dramatically Australian society has changed. 

Reproduced with permission from the collection of Victoria Police

During this period...
  • 1880s - A time of economic boom.
  • 1885 - Population: Australian - 2,694,518, Victoria - 959,838.
  • 1888 - Chinese Immigration virtually banned. The phrase, 'White Australia Policy' appears.
  • 1890s - Economic Depression.
  • 1901 - Federation of Australia 1901.
    Population: Australia - 3,773,248, Victoria - 1,201,070 (The Census excluded Aboriginals until 1971.)
  • 1902 - Old Age Pensions in Victoria were granted and started.
  • 1902 - Maryborough Gaol closed.
The three children who were detained for their own safety are represented through a set of wire sculptures within the lockup itself. A small sign just inside the door displays the following text:


This sculptural Installation was created by Clunes artist Tom Ripon. It was funded by the Pyrenees Shire and Moonambel Arts & History Group Inc.

On 29th January 1896 ten year old Octive Edith Dean, eight year old Alice Louisa Dean and one year old Constance Palmerston (Halvorstone) spent the night in the Moonambel Lock-Up.

The charge was: 'Found wandering and not having any settled place of abode.'

They were committed for trial at the Ballarat Supreme Court and on 4th February were committed to the Department for Neglected Children. 

Installation opened on 20th May 2021 by Eileen Ryan (descendant) and Tom Ripon (artist)

An information sign standing alongside the lock up displays the following text:


The Moonambel Lock Up is a heritage listed building described 'as a place of local significance'. It is an 'Early Portable Lock Up c 1860s/1870s, one of only five of its type in xistence.

It was recorded on 10th December 1860 that two police stations, one at Moonambel and the other at Redbank were established 'in consequence of an extensive goldfield with a population of about 30,000 having been opened and two townships having been established at those places.'

The Early Portable Lock Up was free standing and could be dismantled to follow the moving population of miners. 

Early Moonambel Records describe the first police quarters, two Lock Ups and a shed as being located at the Police Camp. 

In December 1863 tenders were advertised for the provision of rations for prisoners.

The Lock Up was an essential adjunct to every police station, its role was to confine those arrested by the police until they could be transferred to the nearest gaol. Securing prisoners was difficult. Before timber Lock Ups became popular on the Gold Fields, prisoners could be either manacled to trees, handcuffed to another prisoner or Lock Up keeper or kept in a small tent. 

The weathering of the Moonambel Lock Up offers an opportunity to see how an Early Portable Lock Up was constructed they were effective prisons. At the rear of the building you can see the containment system of an iron cage with metal rods going through the wood cladding covering the ceiling, walls, floor and door.

Between 1883 and 1914, 53 people were recorded in the only remaining Moonambel Watch House Charge Book. The panels in situ show clearly the diminishing entries listed over the years. 

In February 1915, after only seven arrests in 14 years the Police Station was closed. Constable Dunn stated in his report, "Now that the collections of the agricultural statistics is (sic) finished I have absolutely whatever nothing to do at Moonambel and find it a hard job to fill in my time as the place itself is positively dead. A man in Moonambel for any length of time would be graduating for a lunatic asylum."

The Victorian Heritage Database describes the Moonambel Lock Up as follows:

The lockup is typical of the portable lockups which were frequently used on the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s and 1860s, reflecting the highly mobile nature of the gold mining population. It has architectural interest for its solid timber construction with steel bars running through the walls, ceiling and floor. The design of the former police residence is characteristic of police buildings in the 1880s, and it contributes to the nineteenth century character of the Moonambel streetscape. Together the lockup and the police station/residence are important material reminder of the role played by the police in enforcing law and order in the mining towns of the nineteenth century. (Adapted from Pyrenees Shire citation)


  • There are so many excellent playgrounds tucked away in little-known places. Take a look through this great list of playgrounds throughout the Victorian Goldfields.
  • There are hundreds of fantastic barbecue areas throughout the Victorian Goldfields. Some are in parks/playgrounds, others are scattered throughout the bush. Many barbecue areas are located alongside amazing attractions and walks, so go out for a barbecue and get exploring!


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