Marking Time

The Cookhouse Chimney at Maitland Gaol

With smoke billowing out throughout the day, the red brick chimney of the Maitland Gaol cookhouse towered over the perimeter walls, serving as a focal point for the people of East Maitland. This date stone installed on the chimney and marking the year it was built, is now all that survives of the cookhouse (demolished in the 1970s), and is on display at the Maitland Goal Museum.

Built in 1876, the cookhouse was enlarged in 1895 and a steam cooking plant installed. The chimney was also built to carry away smoke from the fire, which heated the water in the boilers.

Vegetables for meals were grown by prisoners and the cooks were prisoners too – but only those who could be trusted, since kitchen implements could be wielded as weapons. And the meat cooked might have provided sustenance, but it was fatty and monotonous. Mutton was served three times a week.

In the gaol, where time meant everything, the cookhouse chimney was the only structure formally marked with a construction date. But for the prisoners, the regularity of the menu became a useful way to account for time. The number of weeks a prisoner had left to serve behind bars was measured according to how many ‘duffs’ (Sunday pudding and custard) were due to be dished-up from the gaol’s cookhouse.