Punishment in an Early Colonial Society: The Inglorious History of Wellington Gaol, 1844–1931


In 1844, a replica of the famous Pentonville Prison was built in Wellington, New Zealand, shortly after the commencement of British colonisation. It never matched the size and scope of the London original and was demolished in 1931. However, the existence of this incongruous New Zealand institution raises important sociological issues. First, it will be argued that it had symbolic importance in maintaining settler identity with the homeland. Second, it had a functional importance in terms of the way it represented the ability of the colonial government to subdue any recalcitrant who sought to challenge the authority of British imperial power. Third, its closure came about because of longstanding pressure from local citizens, for whom its presence had become an unwanted stain on the otherwise untainted local landscape, reflecting New Zealand’s transition from a frontier society to a modern society with the sensibilities associated with it.

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Published: 2023-03-01
Pages:17 to 29
Section:Special Issue: Historical Criminology
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How to Cite
Bowling ((Kāi Tahu) , R. and Pratt, J. (2023) “Punishment in an Early Colonial Society: The Inglorious History of Wellington Gaol, 1844–1931”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 12(1), pp. 17-29. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2741.

Author Biographies

Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington
 New Zealand

Rebekah Bowling (Ngāi Tahu, Pākehā) is an Assistant Lecturer in Criminology at Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington and is set to start her PhD in March of 2023. Her Masters research examined the experiences of Māori prison officers working in Aotearoa New Zealand’s prison system, and included the interviewing of her father for the project, which was analysed through the frameworks of settler colonialism, biculturalisation and hyperincarceration. For her PhD research, Rebekah seeks to explore the call for Māori data sovereignty and what that means for the justice system’s usage of facial recognition technology. She also teaches undergraduate criminology, and co-lectures in CRIM217: Criminal Psychology and CRIM202: Crime in Aotearoa. In addition to her academic position within the institute, Rebekah is a BodyPump and BodyCombat group-fitness instructor at Les Mills New Zealand and volunteers to coach Korfball at the university.

Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington
 New Zealand

John Pratt is an Emeritus Professor of Criminology at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. His fields of research are comparative penology and the history and sociology of punishment. He has received numerous awards and prizes for his research, now published in twelve  languages. He has been invited to lecture or speak at conferences at universities in South America, North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. His books include Punishment and Civilization (2002), Penal Populism (2007), Contrasts in Punishment (2013) and Law, Insecurity and Risk Control: Neo-liberal governance and the populist revolt.