An introduction to Ashton’s Hotel
Rhondda Harris came across something fascinating when researching in the State Records of South Australia at Gepps Cross for an archaeological dig at the old Adelaide Gaol: a long-lost journal written by the gaol’s first governor, William Baker Ashton. But we’ll let Rhondda introduce the journal herself through this short preamble from her book, Ashton’s Hotel. This includes an excerpt from the journal itself which, yes, may contain some ‘mistakes’. As Rhondda says in the book, ‘I have turned off the autocorrect and transcribed it just as it is in the original. It is an editor’s nightmare but an authentic read.’
June 11 Wednesday: A Poor Woman Named Wilkinson Supposed to be Insane was found at 71/2 this Morning with 2 Small Children Nearly Dead from wet and Cold at the end of the ditch Near the Gaol the Poor Children were in a Dreadful State their Arms and legs being quite Stiff from the Wet & Cold I had the Woman & Children brot into the TurnKeys lodge by a good fire and Mrs. Ashton and Mr Perry took their Wet Clothes off and put warm Blankets on them and they Soon got better . . .
– Sheriff Visited the Gaol Saw the Prisoners and Saw the poor woman & children found in the Water this Morning, wished her to Remain in the Gaol and he would Report the Circumstances to the Government her Husband was for some years in the Government Employ at the port but have left the Colony Since and this Poor woman has no home for herself or Children.
June 12 Thursday: Mrs Wilkinson Still in Gaol and her children Supplied from the Gaol Rations by order of the Sheriff.
This story is from an old journal, written in Adelaide, South Australia. The date was 1845, in the sixth year of this extraordinary journal and in the ninth year of the South Australian colony. This incident, so briefly recorded, is in itself an ordinary story, yet it hints at the far-from-ordinary character of the writer, William Baker Ashton, first governor of the Adelaide Gaol.
There are many such stories in his journal. They provide entry into the little-known underclass of early Adelaide, a world where many of the poor, the inebriates, the prostitutes, the debtors, as well as many Aboriginal people, mentally ill people, children who stole or absconded from their masters, sailors, runaway convicts, petty criminals and serious criminals, including bushrangers and murderers, were collected in the confines of the first Adelaide gaols. Some of these people escaped and were recaptured. Some were hanged. Many were transported by sea to be punished in the penal colonies of Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, out of Adelaide’s sight. They were all looked after for a time by the governor of the gaol, William Ashton; his wife Charlotte; the guards and turnkeys and sometimes their wives; and by visiting officials – doctors, nurses, the protector for the Aboriginal people, the sheriff, religious ministers, and the colonial governor. It is a fascinating journal, a real treasure, and now that it is known, it is a fabulous addition to the story of early Adelaide.
Find out more about Ashton’s Hotel here.