26 September 2012

The Boggo Road Shit-Tubs

The No.2 Division cellblocks at Boggo Road were built in 1903 and the cells had no toilets in them. This meant that prisoners (and to start off with for nearly 20 years that was female prisoners) had to use metal tubs with lids and carrying handles in the corner of their cells. These were affectionately known as the 'shit tubs'. Prisoners in Boggo Road’s No.2 Division endured these 19th-century toilet arrangements until the late 1980s. As you might imagine this could be a bit disconcerting and humiliating for new inmates, some of whom determinedly held off going to the toilet until the morning and then used the facilities in the exercise yards. Some prisoners were in the habit of squatting to urinate in the tub, because missing the narrow rim left a permanent foul smell from the floor, even worse than the tub itself.

D Wing toilet tubs in the sanitary yard, Boggo Road, 1989 (BRGHS)

The tubs were originally made decades ago in the old tin workshop at the prison. They were 26cm in diameter and 27cm high. The cell numbers were painted on top of the lids, and every morning they would be carried to 3A, the special ‘sanitary yard’ behind F Wing, for emptying and washing. An experienced worker could carry six tubs in each hand. As you can see from the photos below, taken in 2005, the sanitary yard in No. 2 Division is still largely intact. It contains a concrete trough for emptying the tubs out, a water boiler (below), and several shower heads.

No.2 Division sanitary yard (3A), circa 1960s. The water  tower and awning can be seen on the right. (BRGHS)
No.2 Division sanitary yard (3A), circa 1960s. The water tower and awning can be seen on the right. (BRGHS)

Sanitary yard, 2 Division, Boggo Road Gaol

Sanitary yard, 2 Division, Boggo Road Gaol

The prisoner in charge of 3A yard was known as the prison sanitary managers, or more commonly the ‘turd-tosser’. This was a job that had its perks. While new inmates thought of it as foul work, the old timers knew that it gave a prisoner some freedom as some officers were reluctant to hand search a prisoner smelling of excrement and urine. Another perk was the sanitary yard showers, under the corrugated awning at the back of F Wing and next to a high water tower. There was a small boiler at ground level and sanitary workers were known to enjoy the luxury of rare hot showers there, using scrubbing brushes to remove the ingrained dirt that cold showers could not. As former officer Steve Gage recalled in his book Boggo Road Prison: Riots to Ruin;
'It should be noted in particular that the shit tub yards of 2 Division was a popular place to bathe, as prisoners in this area would block the sewer outlet in the bath sized disposal point and fill it with water for bathing; this was a sight to behold."
The sanitary procedure was spelled out clearly on this sign painted on a Boggo Road Gaol yard wall. (BRGHS)
The sanitary procedure was spelled out clearly on this sign
painted on the yard wall. (BRGHS)

Of course there was always more than one use for a metal tub in a prison. The (clean) tubs could be used to hide and transport contraband, or provide endless target practice for bored inmates as they spat into it from their beds. During prisoner protests the lids could be banged in noisy solidarity on cell doors. There were also times when the tubs were used in fights between prisoners, and some of the less-trusted inmates were given rubber tubs for fear that they might use a steel-hardened can as a weapon. Some particularly unruly inmates were known to throw the contents of their tub over unsuspecting officers when their cells were being opened in the mornings.

The toilet tub system was in place until No.2 Division closed in 1989, although the newer No.1 Division cellblocks that were built during the 1970s had toilets in the cells. A true luxury for the inmates in No.1 Division! Still, as the 1980s photo on the right shows, this luxury was not always appreciated and the toilets were among the first things to go when prisoners smashed up their cells during riots.

Toilets damaged in riot damage at Boggo Road Gaol

After years of being used in their particular way, the tubs were then used as ash trays and waste bins by some unthinking visitors on the cellblock sleepovers when the gaol opened as a museum. This kind of disrespectful cell damage led to the sleepovers being stopped. The tubs then became part of the Boggo Road Gaol Museum collection, and are today stored away in a warehouse somewhere in Brisbane under the curatorship of the Queensland Museum.

20 September 2012

Unnaturally Offensive: Queensland Zoophilia

Given that a Federal senator recently lost his job as a parliamentary secretary after suggesting that allowing equal marriage rights could lead to calls for the sanctioning of bestiality, it is perhaps timely to briefly reflect on some of the history regarding the law and bestiality here in Queensland, where it was classed together with homosexuality as an "unnatural offence" well into the 20th century.

A grown adult who sees this as a logical sequence gets to be an actual Federal Senator.

As a kid growing up in Lancashire, there were two kinds of people that were taunted for being ‘sheep shaggers’ – Yorkshiremen and Australians. After arriving in Queensland I soon learned that New Zealanders get pretty much the same treatment here. And just like in Lancashire, you can soon work out the level of a person’s sense of humour by how funny they think it is and how endlessly they refer to it.

Australian law has generally taken a tough stance on bestiality (or, to use a new word I just learned, 'zoophilia'). Until the mid-19th-century it was considered illegal enough to warrant the death penalty, although I’m pretty sure nobody was ever hanged for the offence here. It remained a capital crime in Queensland until 1865, when the Offences against the Person Act changed the maximum sentence to penal servitude for life with a minimum of ten years. In the Unnatural Offences section of that Act, bestiality was dealt with in the same sentence as sodomy, both being referred to as “the abominable crime of buggery committed with mankind or with any animal", and also as "an infamous crime”. Maybe this is where Senator Bernardi gets his ideas from.
The vast majority of "unnatural offence' court cases in the historical records relate to homosexual acts, especially against children. Even men who engaged in anal sex with their wife could face the death penalty, as Lawrence Maher of Maryborough found out in 1864. The death sentence was recorded but not carried out in his case. Trials for bestiality were few and far between in early Queensland, and these all involved male defendants because "unnatural offence" laws about bestiality and homosexuality did not apply to women.

One of the earliest trials involved a Chinese immigrant named Tee Ang. In 1852 he was living in a camp in South Brisbane, where he was arrested for committing the crime on a dog there. The newspaper articles did not go into many details in these matters, but in this case it was reported that the dog was so badly injured by the act that it had to be put down. At this time such "unnatural offences" were still a capital crime and Tee Ang was sentenced to death, although his sentence was later commuted to 12 months hard labour working on the Newcastle breakwater. Two more Brisbane cases during that decade involved attempted bestiality and attracted two-year sentences. The first was 60-year-old John Moore in 1857, and then Benjamin Jackson during the following year for his attack on a dog, the details of which were described in the Moreton Bay Courier as "horrible and disgusting".

Another case involved William Sunnington (or Sturmington or Simmington), an English immigrant working as a farrier (with horses hooves and shoes) in Maryborough. In 1875 a man and woman witnessed him committing bestiality, although the species of animal was not referred to in reports. Sunnington received ten years imprisonment. He was initially sent to the penal establishment at Saint Helena Island, where he worked as a farrier, before being sent to the old gaol on Petrie Terrace where he died of heart disease in 1878 at the age of 58. He was buried in Toowong Cemetery.

William Sunnington, 1875  (Qld State Archives)
William Sunnington, 1875. (Qld State Archives)
It seems the minimum ten-year sentence was not always applied. In 1886 one old Brisbane man received 12 months for the crime, but in 1894 George Gayton of Bundaberg got ten years (although he was released after two on remittance). One Blackall man also received ten years for the crime in 1900, but in 1909 another Blackall man only got three years. In 1919 the unfortunate William Webster received a two-year sentence in Cairns for attempted bestiality. Apparently he was too drunk to succeed in his attempt.

George Gayton, 1894  (Qld State Archives)
George Gayton, 1894. (Qld State Archives)

So there you have a quick run-through of some Queensland cases. They were relatively rare, but we have to assume that the prosecuted cases were only the tip of the iceberg as far as the extent of the practice goes. It is one of the more unfortunate details of Australian legal history that homosexuality (which was widespread in the colonies) was treated under the same laws as bestiality, paedophilia and incest. Perhaps the parliamentary speech that cost Senator Bernardi his job shows that there is still some cultural hangover about this issue. 

Under current Queensland laws bestiality carries a maximum seven-year sentence although, as is the case with most things, the situation differs in other Australian states and territories.
  • New South Wales - maximum 14 years 
  • Northern Territory - maximum 3 years 
  • South Australia - maximum 10 years 
  • Tasmania - maximum 21 years 
  • Victoria - maximum 5 years 
  • Western Australia - maximum 7 years 
  • Australian Capital Territory - maximum 10 years (although between 1988 and 2011 it was not a crime here) 
  • (DID YOU KNOW? Bestiality is still technically legal in 15 states of the U.S.A., and is permitted in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Russia.)

09 September 2012

You Reeker, Eureka! Getting Rid of Brisbane's Poo

Wooden outhouse, Rathdowney  ( John Oxley Library)
Wooden outhouse, Rathdowney
( John Oxley Library)
The Boggo Road prison had many neighbours over the years, but none caused as much of a stink as the Eureka Sanitary Company. From 1889 onwards the Company had a contract with the South Brisbane council for the removal and disposal of 'night soil' collected from the outhouses of the local area. Their sanitary works, located between the prison, the railway line, and the animal pound near what is now the junction of Annerley and Gladstone roads, was the final destination for all the poop in South Brisbane. In modern times when flushing a toilet is about as much thought as most of us have to give to waste disposal, it is easy to forget that once upon a time it was somebody's job to actually come and cart that stuff away from your house.

The waste from outhouses was removed in airtight pans, stacked on carts, taken to the sanitary works, and then incinerated. This process was a vast improvement on the conditions experienced in 1840s Melbourne, as described by the historian Michael Cannon:
"Deep bogs and stinking cesspools festered everywhere. There was no piped water supply, no sewerage, no heating or lighting except that provided by firewood, candles and whale oil lamps. The perfume of nearby abattoirs drifted on the wind. Typhoid and worse diseases ran rampant, especially in narrow streets where jerry built slum tenements jostled for light and air."
The earth closet and sanitary pan system was introduced shortly after this time, with the waste falling into pans under the seat and often covered with soil or ashes. These pans were emptied, supposedly washed, replaced, and the waste taken away on horse-drawn carts by 'night soil men'. The more-expensive 'double pan system' saw the dirty pans swapped for disinfectantly-clean pans each time. During the 1890s the Eureka sanitation workers poured a strong solution of carbolic acid into the pans before they were emptied, and also rinsed the new pans with the same acid.
There were many variations on the outhouse. The type above was used in Manchester circa 1884.
Galvanised sanitary pans
Sanitary cart, circa 1884
Sanitary cart, circa 1884

Of course a problem with this system is 'what happens next?' In some places during the 1860s the waste was sold off as fertiliser, but the incineration method used by companies like Eureka was more common by the 1880s.

The entrance to the Eureka sanitary works was across the road from the South Brisbane Cemetery. The works consisted of stables and a large two-storey building of timber and iron with a 23-metre-high smokestack. The night soil was received on the upper floor and pumped down a pipe into the incineration cylinder, and burned using complex gas-powered machinery. Our more mechanically-minded readers might appreciate this description of how the cylinder worked:
"...it is revolved by a 6-horse power engine, is 27ft. in length and 5ft. in diameter, and built of boiler plates lined with specially made fire bricks. The revolution occurs once in each minute, the contents being continually turned over. The bricks have webs in them, which lift the material as the cylinder revolves, and throw it through the flames. As the cylinder has to revolve many times before the material reaches the exit end the fire has every opportunity to take noxious material from it. Any gas from the refuse which may pass from the cylinder is then led into a furnace, which consists of a coke fire 6ft. in length, and fed from underneath with fresh air. On the other side of the fire are two "Hit and Miss" firebrick walls, against which any gas which could possibly have passed the fire is to heat bricks it is contended that all noxious gases must be consumed. The system seems a thoroughly good one, and at the time of the visit of our representative the work was in progress, and the whole process was easily followed from the time the nightsoil was fed into the furnace until the residue came out into the manure store in the lower part of the building." (Brisbane Courier, 19 November 1882)
An outhouse, or 'dunny', can be seen in the bottom right corner of this 1889 Highgate Hill photo. (John Oxley Library)
An outhouse, or 'dunny', can be seen in the bottom right corner
of this 1889 Highgate Hill photo. (John Oxley Library)

The resulting smoke could hang over the immediate area and led to many complaints from locals and even prisoners. Some prominent residents of Brisbane lived nearby in the grand houses on the high ridge of Gladstone Road, and they were none too impressed with their neighbour. In 1892 a deputation of local people, including future (1896-98) South Brisbane mayor Abraham Luya, petitioned the colonial secretary about the problem, claiming that the 'horrible stench' and pollution from the works was ‘a nuisance and injurious to the health of all the inhabitants of the district’.

The complaints resulted in the council prosecuting Eureka for ‘causing a nuisance’ and the company was forced to upgrade their works.

A 19th-century stoneware storage bottle found during the Dutton Park dig.  (UQ Archaeological Services Unit)
A 19th-century stoneware storage bottle
found during the Dutton Park dig.
(UQ Archaeological Services Unit)
The Eureka company also disposed of other household rubbish by burying it in the big recreation reserve across the road, in trenches dug by inmates of the prison. This practice, which was described as creating ‘eyesores in what would otherwise be spots of sylvan beauty’, was stopped in 1892 following complaints that ‘soakage’ from the trenches was percolating into the South Brisbane Cemetery. Many glass and ceramic objects including, crockery, clay pipes, storage jars and various glass bottles, were found here during an archaeological dig in preparation for the construction of the Schonell Bridge in 2005. The archaeologists found material from two time periods, the lower layer containing items from the later decades of the 1800s, and an upper layer containing 1940s artefacts.

In 1902 Eureka was bought out by the General Contracting Company, based in Milton, and a sanitary contractor named Henry Carr used the Boggo Road premises until they were demolished around 1907. The city sewerage system was developed over the following decades, although sanitary companies continued to offer their services until the late 1960s. This rather poignant Christmas card from one company to their customers in 1938 acknowledged that;
"Now my days are nearly over,
Room for sewers I must make,
So your secrets to the shadows -
Where good sewers go - I'll take."
(John Oxley Library)
Outhouses can be seen behind these rows of houses in Norman Park, 1950.  Places like this were still unsewered at the time (John Oxley Library)
Outhouses can be seen behind these rows of houses in Norman Park, 1950.
Places like this were still unsewered at the time (John Oxley Library)

For the residents (and prisoners) in Dutton Park, the demise of the sanitary works was more than welcome. There again, the inmates of Boggo Road's No.2 Division had to endure the indignity and discomfort of using tin buckets as toilets in their cells until the place closed in 1989.