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Exhibit details an arresting past

A new arrival at Greytown’s Cobblestones Museum has a salacious history, with at least one serious degenerate having an overnight stay.

The recent addition is the town’s original wooden jailhouse. Donated to the museum by a local resident earlier this year, its currently available for viewing on the facility’s grounds while it awaits restoration.

The small but sturdily built exhibit has two small adjacent cells, each with a stout door. The windowless rooms have only a narrow slot in the door for passing things like meals through, and also presumably for communicating. The slots have the benefit of being covered by thick leather straps in what appears to be a belt and braces approach to security.

Joseph Gillard – co-chair of the museum’s collections and exhibitions team – and team member Pete Price explained how the jail was built in 1883 and remained in use until 1957.

Originally located on Main St, it was moved adjacent to a new police residence at 30 West St after a fire. The wives of the local policemen are thought to have played their part.

“The policeman’s wife was responsible for feeding
the prisoners,” Gillard said.

Generally used as a holding facility for prisoners en route to Wellington, the jail was also a convenient place for locals to be taken to sleep off a heavy night of drinking.

One notable occupant even managed to escape and flee across the Tasman.

Samuel Trudgeon, who also went by a number of aliases, was a thief and horse rustler who also passed himself off from time to time as an author.

“He’d go to hotels and call himself an author, and so the staff would look after him and give him a nice room and meals, and then he’d forget to pay for it.

On one occasion, he was arrested for giving a pair of vases as a wedding present to someone in Woodville, but the vases belonged to the Empire Hotel just down the road,” Price said.

After being arrested in Pahiatua, Trudgeon ended up in the Greytown nick overnight while being transferred to Wellington, but he didn’t stay long – by 6 am the next morning, he had busted out.

“He was gone. Apparently, he’d forced some boards off to the left of the doorway. The thought is he’d had some outside help,” Price said.

He then stole the policeman’s horse, took it over the hill, and sold it in Lower Hutt.

The enterprising escapee was not caught in New Zealand but was subsequently arrested just a few months later in Sydney.

“He must have stowed away,” Price said.

The jail, decommissioned in 1957, has been owned privately till recently. It can be viewed on the grounds of Cobblestones in Main St in Greytown.

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