Deadly Force

How Maitland Gaol Guards Honed Their Gun Skills

How do you face bank robbers, sex-offenders, drug traffickers, and murderers every day at work? Tasked with confining and rehabilitating some of the toughest criminals Australia has ever seen, the guards of Maitland Gaol needed to maintain their self-defence skills throughout the prison’s 150 years of operation (1848-1998).

In a shooting range along the perimeter wall, Maitland’s staff practiced their aim against a target mounted on a far wall. They measured their distance from the target against the marker carved into the sandstone, indicating 26-yards (23.8 metres). And the guards left clues of their regular use of the range, since the sandstone around the target is scarred and pitted from all the musket balls that missed the target.

For the staff and prisoners alike, Maitland Gaol was a tough environment. Guards needed to be stern and fit for the challenging, intimidating work of patrolling the prison. Good gun skills could mean the difference between returning to their families each evening or being fatally wounded by a violent prisoner.

And while many Maitland prisoners were no strangers to guns, just hearing the practice shots, perhaps smelling the gunpowder, and simply knowing that the guards were training and stationed in the prison’s observation towers, was likely sufficient deterrent to prevent most escape attempts, incidental violence, and riots.