After more than four decades behind bars, the ‘prisoners’ from Old Dubbo Gaol (ODG) are set to be pardoned by Mayor of the Dubbo Region, Councillor Ben Shields, in a special ceremony later this month. The prisoners have been held in the cells for various crimes, including murder, stealing, and assault, and now some of them are being pardoned, while others are just being transferred to a new facility.

“As part of the redevelopment at Old Dubbo Gaol, I think it’s about time these prisoners receive a pardon,” said Councillor Shields. “Of those being pardoned, is one of the most prolific prisoners, Thomas Moore, who was originally held in the Gaol for murder.”

“The ‘real’ Thomas Moore was likely involved in a number of other murders, and had acted as a Victorian hangman in exchange for a reprieve from a life sentence. When hanged in ODG in 1897, he lost his head on the way down,” said Old Dubbo Gaol Visitor Experience Officer Chris Anemaat. 

Initially installed as an animatronic in 1988, Thomas Moore received a $25,000 facelift in 2002, to receive more realistic features and better movement. Like many of the animatronics, his long service in the Gaol is coming to an end, though his fate will be much kinder than a visit to the gallows.

“I’m pleased to say that the Thomas Moore animatronic will be donated to the Western Plains Cultural Centre’s collection to live on for posterity. He has been a feature of ODG for so long, and his resemblance to the real and original Thomas Moore is uncanny,” said Councillor Shields.

Also up for release later this month are woodcutters Harry Patch and Jimmy Ninefingers, who have been sawing away at the same piece of log since 2002, but the lazy sods haven’t made much progress in the last 18 years! This set of animatronics was officially unveiled in 1996. The figures were upgraded for $110,000 in 2002 to have more realistic features.

“Their song ‘heave ho, put you backs into it!’ is one that quickly works its way into your brain and is hard to forget once heard. They have reached the end of their sentence as new exhibits replace them, just as they replaced other exhibits in the past. The two wood cutters will have another life in Dubbo though, with ODG staff planning to donate them to the National Trust,” said Councillor Shields.

While some of the prisoners are receiving a pardon and being set free, other familiar faces are heading off on retirement.

“The last gaoler was Eric Gosper, and he served up until the closure of the Gaol in 1966, with his second-in-command John McTaggart, and warders Ernie Allen, Bill Bailey and Ben Stokes. This mannequin, though aged, is very special as the voice of the animatronic is in fact the real Eric Gosper. Because of his importance and that he is based on the actual Eric Gosper, he will also be donated to the Western Plains Cultural Centre,” said Councillor Shields.

“We’ve already started the process of digitising the voices of all our animatronics, including Eric Gosper, converting their voices from old cassette tapes and CDs to a cleaned up digital format, where we’ll create a publically accessible playlist, so their voices can live on forever,” said Chris Anemaat.

The prisoners will officially receive their pardons in two weeks’ time, when redevelopments commence at the ODG. The public is encouraged to pay a visit to the prisoners and guards in the lead-up to their release, and grab some photos, as we recognise how significant these mannequins and animatronics might be for members of the public.

Image caption: Eric Gosper was the last gaoler at Old Dubbo Gaol

Eric Gosper

Last Edited: 07 Aug 2020

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