Pukeahu Anthology

Saw the prisoners again...

Pat Lawlor was a journalist, editor, author and poet. He was born in 1893, grew up on Cuba Street and went to Mount Cook school. His memories of growing up in the area were shaped by seeing prisoners marching through the area which he notes in his diary in 1901. ‘February 3…Saw the prisoners again…’

In the early part of the century the prisoners from the Terrace Gaol marched daily to the site of the Mount Cook Prison (also known then as “The Barracks”) to make bricks for building construction in the city. They would be grouped into twos and fours and guarded by warders who were mounted and armed. As the sad, drab procession walked from the Terrace, sometimes via Webb Street and occasionally down Ingestre (now Vivian) Street, many curious spectators would line the pavement.

Sometimes there would be an exchange of salutations between friends or relations. I was not allowed to stand and stare. It was just as well for these often desperate looking men terrified me. Also I feared that one of them might break away and kill me before the wardens could get busy with their guns. The prisoners were dressed in yellowish clothes ornamented with arrows, striped stockings, and each with a white cap something like a cricketer’s.

Even now I can picture one fearsome looking fellow, a “lifer”, so they said, who seemed to single me out with a villainous grin. Others would hang their heads, some would march almost gaily. Mostly they just plodded along listlessly — unseeing. I think of them now in terms of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”:

He walked among the Trial Men,
     In a suit of shabby grey:
A cricket cap was on his head,
     And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
     So wistfully at the day.

Some years later humanitarian counsels prevailed and the prisoners were taken to and from work in closed vans.